Salutations lads and ladies! Hark ye! Heed my words! For I will play both steward and yoeman to guide you through this prose. I will recreate a tale of swordsmen, wenches, revelry, and good strong ale. The application of my words, a balm on the dull crowd of ear-bussing circling your lobes. Begin then, as I propagate Feast-finding dreams into your slumber. Goose this bauble into a quill! Here stands the prologue, the epilogue to follow anon. Trip with me fair maidens, the Renaissance Faire we fly to now, the bullseye of our aim.
Previously, the closest I came to a Renaissance Faire was High School. I won some rounds of the Shakespeare Union’s monologue competition. I won my school and the Borough only to get torched at the city finals by dueling Shylocks. You try taking down crying teenager’s, “Hath a Jew not Eyes” with Benedict from Much Ado’s comical, “I do much wonder”. But all the New York City finalists were invited to perform at the Westchester Renaissance Faire and that meant me too. The day of, they canceled the performance. It’s funny now to think about how upset I was. Nothing draws a crowd like a 16-year-old performing Shakespearean protesting how he’ll never marry. Oh, and a sonnet too. All I had imagined was a modest recreation of the Globe Theater and me bringing down the house. Have a feeling it might have gone a little differently. We’ll never know. Today, as I walk towards the entrance, a wry smile creeps across my face as I watch a girl get laced up into her corset in the parking lot. The closer I move to the gate, the more trucks and vans I see decorated for the event. Tonight happens to be the final episode of Game of Thrones. I thought this would be appropriately themed to get me in the mood. As I locate the digital ticket on my phone, I’m snapped into the moment when a heavyset, African American ticket taker dressed as a ruffian shouts to me, “Good day kind sir! Here to enjoy the merriment?”. I’m at the Renaissance Pleasure Fair, only minutes from Pasadena (as the advertising crows). He’s so on, I shrink and startle all at the same time. But I recover in short order, choosing a gracious bow instead of launching into accent and character. He returns the gesture and I’m inside. My first ever Renaissance Faire is a go. Oh, look, beer.
Libations first. I mean, always right? First and last? That’s a famous saying by someone super important, I’m sure of it. Gandhi? So I grab an ale from one of the beer wenches and begin my exploration. Side note: the prices for all the food and drink at the Renaissance Faire seem to end in 50 cents. Like $7.50 for this, $12.50 for that. And they always give you half dollars for change! I can’t help notice, assume it’s on purpose and find it oddly adorable! Where’s my leather coin purse?! Back in real time, I sip my ale and stroll down the dirt path that’s speckled with patches of grass. It’s an overcast day, but the sun picks its moments to shine through. The further I walk the more I am engulfed by the world. Blacksmiths ply their trade, butter is churned and quilts are sewn. I tour a myriad of period clothing shops, jewelry stands, woodworking displays, rare booksellers, fine crafts, swords, daggers, guns and Renaissance weapons of every kind. I take in some jousting and later some processional dances. There are a soothsayer and turtle races. Separately, I run into two casual acquaintances who both do a terrible job at hiding their judgment and confusion that I’m attending the Renaissance Faire by myself. “Wait, you’re here alone?!” I show considerable restraint passing on the ax throwing booth afraid my balky shoulder will tear clean off. I’m dumb enough to still try archery, but the wait is almost 45 minutes, so I begrudgingly walk away. I listen to a casual conversation between a pirate and serving wench about Russian literature. I inhale a quarter chicken and, okay, one more beer for safety sake. First and last. Maybe it was Malala?
A huge part of the Renaissance Faire experience that cannot be denied is the people. I’m in the minority today, dressed in jeans and thermal. Most, I’d say 3/4 of the people attending are dressed in costume. And many that aren’t quickly take advantage of the many buying opportunities to conform. There are no strict rules that apply when dressing up. While most people are in standard Renaissance attire, I also see the Three Musketeers (twice), the Man in Black (Princess Bride), Pirates, a variety of mythical beings, Avengers, Moulin Rouge dancers, and no less than ten Game of Thrones Khalessies. The dress may be the first recognizable component of character but not the last. Walk and talk is key; often loud, proud and in your face. There is no shortage of bad British accents, old English wording or limit to folks’ enthusiasm when using. And the more laced with sexual innuendo the better. The real beauty of the Renaissance Pleasure Faire is watching folks let their freak flag fly. Their joy and commitment bring such a huge smile to my heart.
I gotta say, I totally get the appeal. It makes sense for me, being a lover of Shakespeare, history, and Game of Thrones. I also think there is a larger appeal, seeing it, for most anyone. It’s a chance to explore another world. It’s something fun and different and an escape from ordinary life. I take a moment during my day to wonder who I would be in the world. But funny enough, despite my performer roots, the dressing up and parading around in character part does not call to me. Still, at one moment, in a sword shop, I spy a dagger I really like. While handling it, I notice the price is $65. I think to myself, “I’m gonna buy it” and then before I do the thought cuts through my excitement, “why do I need a dagger?”.