Faire Game

11 Nov

Renaissance Faires have become increasingly popular the world around, often establishing themselves as annual events in specific locations. From jousts to feasts, plays to magic shows, from dancers and musicians to fortune-tellers and artisans, today’s Faire-goers can find any number of events and people to catch their interest and spark their imagination. Countless Renaissance Faires  throughout the world are perfect settings for experiences of a fantastical nature – here you can see legions of players in all their regalia, fighting in jousts, singing to fair maidens, hawking their wares and so on. Many Renaissance Faires are set during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England, as this period has been generally considered to correspond to the flowering of the English Renaissance. Some are set earlier, during the reign of Henry VIII, or in other countries, such as France, and some are set outside the era of the Renaissance; these may include earlier medieval periods (including Vikings), or later periods, such as 17th-/18th-century pirates. Some engage in deliberate time travel by encouraging participants to wear costumes representing several eras in a broad time period. Renaissance Faires (or RenFaires for short) encourage visitors to enter into the spirit of things with costumes and audience participation – many even welcome fantasy elements such as wizards and elves!

Historically, fairs in Elizabeth times were held to celebrate the beginning of spring, when farmers brought their first crops to hawk. Today Faire-goers flock to RenFaires for many different reasons. Some go to watch knightly jousts and exhibitions of falconry, heraldry, archery and horsemanship, while others go simply to watch belly dancers sway in the summer heat or to hear minstrels perform charming centuries-old folk songs. Still others go just to be swept away to a romanticised era – to chomp down on smoked turkey legs and throw back a pint of ale or to dress in elaborate costumes and buy fanciful medieval-looking knick knacks. Picture parades of nobles and jesters making their way through the grounds, master swordsmen calling out for an audience to whom to display their skills, goodwives braiding flowers in the hair of revellers, while artists paint butterflies on upturned faces. There are kissing bandits, mud wrestlers, crafters and courtly dancers – all vying for attention. And don’t forget the the flowery headdresses to try on, the outdoor taverns to sing at, and all the new exhibitions to discover – everywhere there are imaginations daring to be stirred.

No one is really certain when the first modern RenFaire took place. In the United States many Faire enthusiasts point to May of 1963 in Hollywood, California, when Phillis and Ron Paterson ran what was called the ‘Renaissance Pleasure Faire’. This inaugural event drew about 8,000 people and the following year it was said to grow to 12,000. Now the Faires are found across the globe: Bristol Renaissance Faire in Wisconsin, The Grand Valley Renaissance Faire in Colorado, The Kansas City Renaissance Festival, Robin in the Hood in Canada, Brisbane Medieval Fayre in Australia, Festival Medieval in France, Castlefest in the Netherlands, the Jorvik Viking Festival in England and so on. Often they are the haunts or productions of the Society for Creative Anachronism – an international organisation dedicated to re-creating and studying the Middle Ages. Always they are the passion of the visitors who return season after season. Within the RenFaire community, there is a difference of opinion as to how authentic a Faire ought to be. Some believe Faires should be as authentic an experience as possible, with educational aspects like European living history museums. Others believe that entertainment is the primary goal. Richard Shapiro, who founded what later became the Bristol Renaissance Faire outside Chicago, said he favored entertainment. He was quoted as having said, “We were so authentic back then it was almost painful.” I’ll leave you to decide what you’d like to get out of a RenFaire but one thing for sure is that you should try the experience at least once!

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One Response to “Faire Game”

  1. familynomadic December 1, 2018 at 5:19 pm #

    Entertainment!! Mix in the mystic arts, a few additional races and species, and pure escapism is calling.

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