Saturday, May 28, 2022

Ren Faire: Stories You Can’t Get Anywhere Else

In 1963, Phyllis Patterson, along with her then-husband Ron, worked with a local radio station in California to create the first-ever Renaissance Faire (a.k.a. Ren Faire), which is now known as the Renaissance Pleasure Faire of Southern California. Their goal: “Tickle into learning with a laugh.” From the sound of the smithy hammer as weapons are made to the sound of cheers and clash of metal as the knights fight in the arena, not to mention the smells of turkey legs and shaved ice, the Renaissance Faire is a feast for the senses and very recognizable.

Now almost 60 years later with the phenomena grown worldwide and some permanent places created and built, like at Sterling Ren Faire in New York, one would think that outdated stereotypes of “Rennies” would fade away. But alas, partly due to the media, the heavily dorky and off-putting character associated with Ren Faire still gets created and very often laughed at. Let’s break down those assumptions to shine a light on why Ren Faire is worth experiencing and who the people behind the “dork” stereotypes really are.

Jousting and Sword Fighting

One of the most dangerous assumptions about Ren Faires is that the fighting is fake enough that with no practice, you yourself can be a knight! But this is not accurate and potentially could get you killed. They will not let you on a horse unless you are trained. It takes up to a year of training on a horse to prepare, oftentimes more than that. Horses also have to be trained not to react to shiny metal and loud noises with the ground combat. Ground combat is like televised wrestling, choreographed with some real danger. Those are REAL swords. If you really feel the pull of weapons and combat, please go to the right people to get lessons properly!

Men in Tights

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This is not entirely inaccurate. There are a variety of costumes and cosplay at Ren Faires. Most people go for the traditional renaissance Elizabethan costumes depending on where you go, but there are also pirates, fairies, elves, and more. The glorious thing about Ren Faire is that you can dress up as anything you want! Some of the costumes can be quite expensive. A noblewoman’s gown goes for at least $1,500. This includes fabrics (silk, satin, velvet), any embroidery, and any beading or “jewels” sewn or glued on. A good chunk of this is hand-made and takes months to create, and they are worn in numerous types of weather. Rennies are a hardy and prepared bunch!

Girls Don’t Go To Ren Faire

The cast of Disney Channel’s ‘Jessie.’ Eric McCandless/Disney Channel

An episode of Disney Channel’s Jessie had the main character Emma as the only girl at the faire. But there are plenty of people that go, both men and women alike, for a variety of reasons. While some may go for romantic reasons (fun fact: my parents met and had their wedding at a Ren Faire!), there are plenty of other activities. Some women go to learn lessons in proper combat. Some women go to shop, with some items that are sold at booths so unique that you can’t find them anywhere else with the quality and detail it deserves. Others go for the food, like shaved ice, turkey legs, and buttered corn on the cob. Most Ren Faires even have vegan options! It just depends on personality type. The nice thing about Ren Faire, is it’s for everyone!

People Are Their Personas

Having a persona is like having an RPG (role-playing game) character come to life. With elaborate costumes and real weapons, it’s very easy to get sucked in. It’s the ultimate acting challenge. But that’s all it is: acting. Now, there are some people who think of their costume as their rank for the day/weekend. But if there was some sort of an emergency, the façade would definitely drop.

Rennies Have No Lives

Most that attend Faire just come for the day or the weekend. They have conventional jobs and just want some entertainment and excitement. Many are simply interested in stepping into history for a bit. For more hard-core Rennies, you will usually see them as stunt performers, extras in movies, and actors in theater. Big battle scenes in epic sagas? Rennies. Dangerous important jousting scene? Rennies. Hard to imagine Hollywood blockbusters even existing without those scenes.

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Ren Faire is not just a bunch of dorks in tights … or maybe we are. Rennies love history, working on honing skills that should be extinct to enable everyone to prosper. They brave all kinds of weather to come together as a community. Dedication like that should be celebrated, not mocked. These assumptions still stick today. Ren Faire is a sanctuary, a balm for the soul for anyone who has felt different, much like attending a fan convention or going to a Disney park. Instead of taking those tropes for fact, take a day to explore. See the community for yourself and make up your own mind. The Renaissance calls. Huzzah!

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