Faire Thee Well

Being a big dork who enjoys dressing up in costume, I love Renaissance Faires. I’ve never been hard core enough to get a season pass, but I’ve attended them on and off since junior high. This past weekend, we attended our local Faire with friends of ours who have a two and a half year old son. While Sprout wasn’t old enough to fully appreciate it, I enjoyed it and I definitely want to bring him back in the future.

Probably my favorite thing about the Renaissance Faire is how it inspires imagination. Despite being set in a pseudo-historical world, there is no question that this is pure fantasy. The Simpsons episode where they visit the Ren Faire (“Behold the mighty Esquilax, a horse with the head of a rabbit…and the body…of a rabbit!”) isn’t all that far off. For goodness sake, they sell corn dog bites and cheesecake on a stick! There’s tremendous value in learning about real history, but the Society for Creative Anachronism this is not.

But in place of actual historical fact, there exists a whimsical space for visitors to fill in themselves. In contrast to Disney (which has incredible world building, but it’s heavily controlled), participants are invited to jointly create a world with the performers. We are the rabble at the foot of Shakespeare’s stage, the lords and ladies in the Queen’s court, and the ordinary folk attending a joust. In fact, if you come in costume, you become a performer and character yourself. It was actually quite difficult to tell the difference at times!

Because of this combination of loose requirements and interactivity, the Renaissance Faire seems open and welcoming as a community. We saw all sorts of costumed attendees, ranging from people wearing custom-made elaborate corsets to a combination of mall-bought clothes that was suggestive of a pirate outfit. Personally, I wore a regular dress in a vaguely Renaissance style and a ridiculous hat. Unlike comic book conventions, where women are often accused of being “fake geek girls” if they don’t meet some vague and arbitrary level of comprehensive knowledge, the Renaissance Faire doesn’t have any set characters or standards. In fact, the booths even had a variety of costumes for sale, so even if you were totally unprepared and wanted to join in the fun, you could.

Similarly, the looseness of the world building means that visitors can remake it in their own image if they want to. So what if girls weren’t knighted at that time? They are here! So what if black and Hispanic people wouldn’t have been heavily represented in the court? They can be here! When fiction may not represent the full variety of fans, these in-person places give everyone the opportunity to step into a fantasy world and make it our own. (This is not to say there aren’t any issues with sexism or racism at Ren Faires, but I personally found it to seem like a more welcome atmosphere.).

In short, I like that I can bring Sprout to a place where imagination is celebrated by adults and all are welcome to participate in the co-creation of this shared world.

Lastly, I actually enjoy the commercial aspect of the Renaissance Faire. Almost all, if not all, of the vendors at our Faire are small producers who make their products themselves. From chain mail to swords to dresses, there was no shortage of beautiful goods. I like dealing directly with small crafters, knowing that they take pride in their products and are getting paid fairly for their efforts. As Sprout gets older, I like him knowing that you can buy toys from places other than the toy store and meet the people who make them.

Fundamentally, the Renaissance Faire is a silly place for adults and children alike to have light-hearted, imaginative fun. And it’s good that such a place exists.

7 thoughts on “Faire Thee Well

  1. We are starting to have something quote like that in Italy, too. They are organized in the summer, especially in those little villages on the hill, and basically are made for the tourists. No acting or dressing up for the “common” people, just for the organization and for the vendors. So it’s more like a show than something participated and acted like you described, but still it’s fun and I appreciate a lot, as you pointed out, that is a great occasion for local artisans and small producers to have space and recognition. A completely different chapter is for historical traditions like the Palio in Siena: even if they dress up, the whole thing is “real” just like going to a football match. So maybe what we lack here is a space, as you said, of shared imagination for adults. It could be and idea for the future!

    • That’s fascinating to hear how different cultures have these different festivals and events. In the U.S., a lot of it has to do with a growing acceptance and popularity of “geek” culture. I’m glad that you’re starting to see more events that allow for that stretching of imagination there!

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