I went to my first renaissance faire 14 years ago. I lived in Ohio at the time, and I went to the Southern Ohio Renaissance Festival. It started each year in August and lingered into October weekends. On my first trip I fell in love with the costumes, the shopping, the food and mead, the atmosphere, and The Swordsmen. I made it a point to see their show twice. I loved the contrast between going in the blaze of the August sun with humidity soaking the air and then attending in October wrapped in a warm cloak and lining up for hot chocolate. I had opening weekend marked on my calendar at least six months out.
I get a lot of raised eyebrows when I spill my weekend plans for the faire though. This isn’t unusual, but the stereotypes people hold about renaissance festivals and faires are surprising. I hear a few topics that come up repeatedly:
Don’t I have to wear tights?
You do not have to go in costume or in exact period attire to attend a faire. In fact, sometimes I choose not to wear a corset or bodice simply so I can eat more food. I have priorities. I leave them behind when I want to shop for new costume pieces, too. That said, costumes are fun. Until you take out your smart phone to Tweet about the handmade shoes you just bought, you can almost pretend you are in the time period of the faire (it varies from faire to faire). Also keep in mind that costumes do not have to be one hundred percent historically accurate to count. Unless you are a member of the SCA (Society of Creative Anachronism), you can use non-period fabric and metals. For the most part, vendors won’t try to upsell faire newcomers into fancy costumes. However, they will do their best to get you into peasant garb. Try not to feel pressured, no one will think less of you for not wearing a costume. If you decide you can’t wait to jump into velvet tights, check out these tips.
All the performers ask for tips.
Performers at faires have stage shows, wander in the crowds, or sometimes have certain areas where they will play you music, act, or insult you (yep, I’ve seen a professional insulter). Performers with the faire usually have to wear a certain color ribbon or a badge so that you can know you are giving your money to someone who’s supposed to get it. After a show, performers usually pass around a hat. Don’t be the jerk that sits in the back so that you can duck out before that part. If you can’t give anything, the artists understand. If you can give even one dollar, they very much appreciate it. Stationary performers typically have a jar that you can leave cash in. Some performers are contracted by the faire and get paid, others do not. Remember that tips help them survive. If you like what you see or hear, give what you can. If you can’t afford to, don’t just avoid the show altogether.
I don’t like audience participation.
One reason people give me for not coming along is that they don’t like audience interaction or participation. This one’s actually valid. Faire performers and vendors will give you a ìGood day m’lord or lady, and if all you’re going to do is mumble a response, faires might not be for you. It’s not unusual to get harangued by the folks manning the games or to be randomly grabbed by the washing wenches. In fact, you can get involved in an act just by walking down the thoroughfare. If you attend any shows, you increase your chance of being a part of the entertainment. You’d be amazed at what you are okay with when you’re on a stage in front of a crowd. I let a performer crack his whip less than a foot in front of my face once (that’s not a euphemism). All of this is in good fun, and I think it makes the day more enjoyable. I know it’s not for everybody.
Since that first visit, I’ve gone to at least one faire every year since. Southern Ohio, Northern Ohio, Southern California, wherever I am. Part of it is about tradition, but just a small part. Where else can you wear a corset and eat a turkey leg the size of your head? To me, renaissance faires mean good times. I can watch jousting and belly dancers all in the same day! I look forward to attending, and I assume that everyone is just as excited as I am
The renaissance faire is the equivalent of the nighttime carnival without the rickety rides and scary attendants. Let’s not forget about the variety of food available on stakes. It’s one of the most vibrant atmospheres I’ve ever been in, and I’ve found that to be the case no matter where the faire is located. Now get to a local faire already. Use this site to find a renaissance faire in your area.