As the weather (slowly!) gets warmer out here, my thoughts tend to wander to Renaissance Festivals. “Fest Season” is a normal thing among most of my friends, and I sometimes forget not everyone considers that its own part of the year. Of those who do, not everyone has worked or volunteered at any – though it’s 100% something I’d recommend.So, is it the food? The mead? The bodices and layers of clothing that ensure I have to be extra-careful on hot days so as not to get heatstroke? Having an excuse to shout, “HUZZAH!” at random? Perhaps it’s the almost permanent dust cloud that will turn your snot black for days, or that when it rains the grounds become a giant, cold, wet, mud puddle?I’m not doing a good job of building up the “fun” levels of this, am I?It’s interesting to me that I’m so drawn to RennFests and Faires despite generally being uninterested in other large gatherings of people. I tend to actively avoid State Fairs, and I’ve yet to build up enough motivation to get to a sci fi con despite being in an area that has some lovely ones. I usually don’t much enjoy being shoved into crowded areas and even an opportunity to geek out rarely sounds tempting enough to win out over that. Maybe it’s because being outside at a RennFest feels more “outside” than it does out at a State Fair; or because my best memories are from when I was working or volunteering, and thus had access to the “backstage” areas, away from the crowds. I think it’s more than that, though.RennFests are one of the places where it’s ok, even as an adult, to use your imagination. Super cheesy to say, I know; but there is a sort of magic in that. For a day, for a weekend, I can be a pirate or a peasant, a faerie or a thief. (I maintain that faeries often have the most fun, as any action that should be inexplicable can easily be waved away with, “It’s a faerie thing, you wouldn’t understand.” ) A friend of mine did a video on costumes in MMO’s a while back in which he mentioned the lack of opportunities for adults to run around town in strange outfits. Part of me would argue that I’ve spent plenty of time running around in strange outfits while I was on a Rocky Horror Picture Show cast…but I think that would only prove the point. Being on a RHPS cast, which probably deserves its own blog someday, is another “excuse.”
There’s also a kind of camaraderie in any job that deals with the public. Anyone who has worked a customer service job with a good crew knows it can bring people together. It’s not always in an “us-vs-them” sense as much as a very strong feeling that you’re all in this together. A situation like a RennFest pulls that customer service feeling together with the closeness you get while performing with people into a lovely mishmash of a family. Sure, sometimes it’s hot and miserable and you’re covered in questionable dust…but MAN you guys are doing some awesome work today!
I can’t absolutely promise this at all events, but I’ve also always loved the way RennFests bring out all kinds of geeks. True, you have folks who are there purely for the Fest experience, but you’ve also got plenty there because they love doing costuming, leatherwork, juggling, music, improv…the list goes on. While purists may facepalm at seeing Storm Troopers, Gandalf, or Captain Jack Sparrow out at a Fest; it’s hard to deny that we’re obviously attracting a geeky crowd. I have had some amazing sci-fi and lit conversations with people while hanging out backstage, and made friends that I’d be happy to hang out with anytime. While part of me agrees with the purists…it’s still kind of fun to randomly see a hobbit wandering around Fest grounds. If everyone is having fun, I’m not going to be the one to accuse folks of having fun, “the wrong way.” Come to think of it, that reminds me of folks in some games constantly annoyed at other players breaking their immersion…
I think the biggest thing I love about Fests and Faires, as cliché as it sounds, is seeing the kids, though. For reference, I’m not necessarily a kid person. I don’t hate children on sight or anything but I’m not someone likely to volunteer to babysit. Having said that, if there is any magic at a RennFest, the kids definitely see it. As much fun as it is running around with my friends, dressed in green crushed velvet with faerie wings on (no, I don’t have pics of that outfit, sorry!), there’s another level when you see a kid staring at you with wide eyes, or hear them as they tug on their parent’s shirt, “It’s a FAERIE! Do you see her?!” Moments like that pull me out of just noticing the fun level for myself, and remind me that I’m helping create memories for people. And that’s a pretty amazing feeling to have.
As it happens, I’ve been out of the Fest habit for the last few years. My jobs haven’t lined up with taking weekends off in the summer, and my health was super displeased with the whole, “Running around in the heat for hours at a time wearing ridiculously heavy clothing.” Things are looking a bit more hopeful this year though, and I’m hoping to at least get out to the one closest to me. I’ll have to get up early on a day off, I’ll be wearing uncomfortable clothes and entirely too many pouches, it will be either crazy hot or crazy cold out…and I’m sure I’ll absolutely have a blast.
[Bonus trivia – The RennFest I’ve spent the most time at is the Minnesota Renaissance Festival. If you know the Fest grounds, you can easily identify landmarks in the artwork for Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman #73 . I’ve always thought that was pretty awesome. Also, about the last picture: I am well aware that transition lenses are not appropriately period. I can only afford one pair of glasses at a time, and it was the best I could do that day.]
I live in the American Midwest with a black lab mix named Loki, three cats, and a chinchilla. I’m in my 30’s, and I’ve enjoyed reading, writing, gaming, and assorted geeky pursuits my entire life. I’m a panelist on Beyond the Veil, a regular guest on a few non-Holosuite livestreams, and have a gaming/writing blog over at www.lfgryph.com.
Other than writing and gaming, I’ve worked at a few different Renaissance Festivals and I used to be on a Rocky Horror Picture Show shadowcast in the Twin Cities.
I love otters, ST:TNG, D&D, Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, and setting zombies on fire. My Twitter is @darkgryphon42 if you’d like to keep up with what I’m doing.