Posted by: Aunt Magaidh | May 23, 2010

Musings of a Ren Faire Newbie – Suspend your disbelief

Disclaimer:  If someone takes issue with what I write here, please understand that as a newbie, I can only speak to what I have experienced over the last couple of years.  I don’t know much about the politics or history of the various guilds, performers, or faires.  No disrespect is intended.  Remember, people, this is my personal experience and opinion, not gospel.

I’ve recently had some really great conversations with some faire people about the historical themes vs. fantasy themes of faire, about how most faires are entertainment sites vs. historical sites. In this day and age, it’s got to be hard to be purists and make enough money to continue presenting a faire.  Times being what they are, faire production requires flexibility that is directly in line with the desires of the public.  Simply put, if a faire doesn’t draw enough patrons to stay profitable, they die.  Hence, the mixing of fantasy and history at a Ren faire.

I understand the use of fantasy characters at faire as catalysts to bring family audiences to faire.  I will readily admit that I really hate seeing dozens of Jack Sparrows at a Ren faire – it’s just wrong.  However, I will also admit that the vinyl dragon character at faire has been great for getting kids to interact with faire, and – Gods, Goddesses and Little Fishes know- he’s been a godsend when my encampment has been bored on a slow day.

I also accept that my personal likes and dislikes are NOT the rules of the road.  It boils down to if I want to play at faire, I accept the faire rules, whatever they are.  If dragons are at faire, then it’s time to, as my high school English teacher said, “suspend your disbelief”.  Heck, we have to suspend our disbelief when there is a cyclone fence, power pole, cinderblock restroom, or fire extinguishers liberally sprinkled around the guild encampments at faire.

But as a parent, I have always wanted to find something for my family that was both fun and slightly educational.  I know that many of the parent-patrons that I’ve spoken to at faire liked the historical – when it is accessible – not just the fantasy.  I also know that (as patrons) my family and I have drifted away from encampments that were just doing a fancy meal thing vs. a meet and greet or a hands-on demonstration or a skit.  I really liked dropping in to eavesdrop on Shakespeare presenting to the Queen a rough draft of a play he was working on. No, not likely historical, but great for public interaction.

In my opinion, interaction with our patrons is key. Having walked the faires the last 2 seasons as a Rennie (still not used to that), I am aware there is limited interaction with the patrons.  I have less problem with the dragon than I do with the example of encampments that seem more like museum exhibits you just look at or places where people socialize within their own groups than places where patrons feel comfortable asking questions and doing stuff. For this reason, I (being the recreation/education bent person I am) try to really draw families/kids to my gig/character.  In fact, for the first season I really was worried that I would get in trouble presenting my craft outside of the roped area or inviting patrons in.  Last year, I simply moved the rope behind me when I did my demo (at least 3 hrs each day) and put my wheel/craft materials behind the rope when I was on break or there was a safety issue (like toddlers with quick fingers trying to grab the metal hooks of my flyer).  I really like doing our cooking demos as close as safely possible to the patrons so we can explain what we are making for breakfast or what fish is being stewed or whatever.  I’m trying to create those moments for our patrons like those I experienced as a kid at faire – oh so long ago. (I liked the dyer’s shop with the vats of dye and the smithy and the weaver.)

Find your bias and own up to it. I know that I have a distinct bias for the historically accurate vs. what is convenient for showing at faire.   Personally, I choose to be as historically accurate as I can afford (in money and time and physical comfort), and that is my fun and the standard that I hold MYSELF to (but don’t impose those ideals on others).  I also bear in mind that faire is where worlds collide.  Remember, we have groups at faire – English, Italian, Scottish, German, etc. –  playing together, who would NOT have interacted historically.  Come on… in that period people were really suspicious of other cultures and were not all one big happy family.  We’re creating a fantasy.

I think it may be better to focus on the commonalities that are shared between fantasy performers, general reenactors, and history snobs.  Remember that we are there for the public…and that we can’t really tell what they are going to grab hold of…whether it’s the joust, or the potter at her wheel, or the Queen complimenting a little princess on her hot pink gown.

As a performer/reenactor, I think there is opportunity in this gap between fantasy and hard core reenactment.   I don’t have a solution, but I’m trying to figure out where I can take those steps to be accessible, interesting, and fun while being historical.  Nuff said.

Now go outside and play nice.

Aunt Magaidh



  1. Once again…Well said, Kat:)

  2. I completely agree with vonnie. Well said…And good job! I love all of your posts..:)

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