I attended my first Renaissance Festival in sixth grade. Earlier in the year, my fannish destiny had been revealed to me when I saw The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, but I hadn’t the remotest idea of where to look to pursue those passions. (I didn’t even know Dragon*Con happened every year, a mere hour away from my slice of suburbia, until my sophomore year of high school—the same year I discovered television shows came on weekly. Yeah, it was like that.) When the mother of a friend of mine invited me to join them on their yearly outing to the Georgia Renaissance Festival, my mind was absolutely blown.
Since then, I’ve been attending the Georgia Renaissance Festival regularly. Yesterday, however, I had the opportunity to attend the Colorado Renaissance Festival and compare notes. It was a blast, but it made me realize that I didn’t know how something I do my utmost to go to every year got started. Whoops. Well, the Internet raised me better than that, so let’s correct that gross oversight, shall we?
In 1963, Los Angeles schoolteacher Phyllis Patterson was unimpressed with the lack of arts education provided to her students. Along with her husband Ron, she decided to start providing after-school art and theater workshops in their backyard. The workshops proved so popular that, on May 11th and May 12th, the Pattersons expanded them into a weekend fundraiser called “The Renaissance Pleasure Faire & May Market” for a local radio station KPFK. The station actually broadcast from the event! That six-hour broadcast was recently edited down to forty minutes by David Ossman and paired with photos from the event by Kevin Patterson. As someone obsessed with twentieth century fan history, this is amazing.
The Renaissance Pleasure Faire & May Market became an annual event. By 1967, there were two faires in California—the Renaissance Pleasure Faire of Southern California and the Renaissance Pleasure Faire of Northern California. Both were organized by Patterson’s education-focused nonprofit Living History Center, which went bankrupt in 1986. While the southern faire was purchased by the Renaissance Entertainment Corporation, handed off to Renaissance Entertainment Productions, and rebranded as the Original Renaissance Pleasure Faire, I can’t quite find out exactly what happened to the northern faire. It looks like it evolved into the Northern California Renaissance Faire, based on location alone, but there was definitely a significant change in ownership. In any case, the Pattersons’ work inspired other faires to open across the United States, the first and foremost being the Minnesota Renaissance Festival in 1971. (Fun fact: Penn and Teller’s first show happened at the Minnesota festival in 1975. The more you know!)
While the Original Renaissance Pleasure Faire still adheres to Phyllis Patterson’s vision of a 1580s Elizabethan marketplace, each festival has its own approach towards historical accuracy. (This Renaissance Faire worker considers them to be “historical fiction,” which I quite like.) Some have specific dates; others are more general. For instance, the St. Louis Renaissance Faire, which is put on by a charitable education corporation, aims to recreate a 16th century French village, while the Great Lakes Medieval Faire and Marketplace hosts both an “Alter Ego Tyme Travel Experience” and a Roman theme weekend.
But whatever your nearest Renaissance Festival’s historicity (look it up on Wikipedia!), it’s still an interesting time. It’s often said that fandom is not what you love, but how you love it, and the people I encounter at faire every year absolutely live up to that. Yesterday, I learned about candlemaking, scenting sculptures, and endangered big cats, just to name a few things. Plus, there’s something magical about an event that combines costuming, fantasy, and history with the atmosphere of state fairs. Case in point: fried ice cream.
(Of course, this is merely the foodstuff of the timid West. Georgia has boasted fried Coca Cola and fried brownies, among other delicious abominations. I can only imagine what you can get in Texas, the home of fried bubble gum.)
This, of course, is just what I could glean from a variety of sources online. Rachel Lee Rubin’s Well Met: Renaissance Faires and the American Counterculture looks like the book to pick up if this history is interesting to you. There are also a few documentaries about Renaissance Festivals available. Renny: A Festival Way of Life is available on YouTube in its entirety, while Faire: An American Renaissance is available to purchase on DVD.
My time here at the Denver Publishing Institute is halfway over. It’s almost jarring how quickly the time is flying, especially since I feel so exhausted at the end of the day. I did manage to finally finish Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra: A Life yesterday, proving to myself that I can do this and keep up my reading at the same time.
This week’s links:
- Two last Comic-Con links!
- One of the new Monster High dolls is an alligator girl with the most glorious afro I’ve ever seen, plus she’s from New Orleans and makes films. I must have her.
- A glorious Green Goblin costume. I didn’t know it was possible to make him adorable.
- It’s Tor.com’s fifth birthday! They’ve put together an ebook consisting of all of the original fiction posted on their website over the years.
- Rule 63 states that every character has a counterpart of the opposite gender. Most art along these lines is, essentially, porn, but the Rule 63 rules! tumblr collects pieces that are examples of thoughtful redesigns.
- Mod Carousel created a genderflipped version of “Blurred Lines” this week, but does it actually subvert the misogyny and rapey overtones of the original if women in suits are telling men in make-up “I know you want it”? Feministing considers.
- The Doubleclicks’ “Nothing to Prove” is a song about lady geeks being forced to defend their credentials against incredulous dudes. The music video is lovely. Pro-tip: “Where can I find girls like you?” is not a compliment. (Actual answer to that query: in the past, inventing science fiction. COME AT ME, BRO.)
- The Awl’s Ask Polly serves up some hard truth when she tells a letter writer “Don’t ever design your life around the need NOT to be That Woman … [because] We are That Woman whenever we dare to behave like regular human beings.“
- Food critic Ryan Sutton is talking about his fellow food critics in this piece, but I think we can all relate to his last paragraph: “I’ve always said there needs to be more criticism in food writing, especially in food magazines. That doesn’t mean we need more negativity. That means we need more critical thinking, particularly along the lines of the excellent and hard-nosed food writing found in Esquire and GQ. People lament we live in an era where everyone’s a critic; what I lament is that everyone isn’t. “
- Racialicious tackles Pacific Rim.
- I don’t know how many more cute lesbian weddings I can take, y’all. This gorgeous Indian wedding just about killed me, it’s so lovely.
- At The Book Smugglers, author R. J. Anderson discusses diversity in speculative fiction and writing characters outside of your own experience.
- At Tor.com, David Moran contemplates the future site of Starfleet Headquarters.
- LiveJournal user hesychasm has written a lovely tribute to fandom. I disagree that fandom is “not enough exercise” (what is an elliptical machine but a detached mecha cockpit?), but “Fandom is signal and response” is so brutally true.
- Karin L. Kross talks about how simple doesn’t mean stupid in the context of Pacific Rim at Tor.com.
- Gavia Baker-Whitelaw orders us to watch Blancanieves at once.
- Queen Bey is wearing a Batman mask. That is all.
- As a trained literary critic, I sometimes have trouble remembering that to analyze film, I have to understand that it’s a visual medium. Sam at Storming the Ivory Tower reminds himself of that after seeing Pacific Rim with his lady.
- Some people say that a Wonder Woman movie can’t happen because she lacks an iconic villain. That’s because Diana actually deals with her villains, okay?
- A gentle soul attempts to be manly in this Pleated Jeans sketch. “Hiding Your Emotions” is the best joke in the bit.
- Some discourse theory about “I don’t know” reminds us that women are taught to downplay their intelligence and not intrude with their beautiful minds and thoughts. We’ve been talking about filler text in my editing workshops, so I’m noticing this more and more in my own writing, and it is frustrating as all get out.
This week’s acquisitions:
Added: Death by Misadventure by Kerry Greenwood (via Tor.com), The Cheese Monkeys by Chip Kidd (via class), Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes (via class), The Informant by Kurt Eichenwald (via class), His Wife Leaves Him by Stephen Dixon (via class), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson (via class), The Old Man Mad About Drawing by Francois Place (via class), The Rebel by Leonor Villegas de Magnón (via class)
What are your experiences with Renaissance Festivals? Got a favorite? Never been?