I’ve now been doing the Ren Faire thing for three months. I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned with anyone who might be interested in this lifestyle… and with myself for when I hit the road again after a luxurious, civilized winter living in a house with carpet and hot running water. Therefore: a few tips on how to survive the dirt, the wicked weather conditions, and living with hundreds of strange folks ranging from the extremely talented to the nearly insane.
1. Make friends with as many people as you can. You gotta live with these folks for a few months, and if you work the circuit, you might be seeing them all year round. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by being an arrogant jerk to anyone. Introduce yourself to your neighbors. Wave to people when you drive past them. It’s a lot easier to live with people you can get along with. And gossip gets around fast, so if you make an enemy, you’ve probably made enemies with their friends too. Just… try not to do that. Besides, almost everyone here is exceptionally cool and just as eager to make friends. Go to every party, bonfire, D&D game, and jam session you can.
2. That said, don’t assume everyone loves you and wants to protect you until they prove it. There’s some grody people out here. There are people who will lie to you about being a Navy SEAL and people who think they can get in your pants even though they are 35 years older and swimming in unmentionable diseases and people who want to start drama because they’re bored or insecure. Don’t give into it. You can exist in a bubble of positivity. Tell yourself this every day.
3. Certain patrons are going to say superbly weird things to you. They’ll try to convince you they know everything about swordfighting ever because they’ve been in the SCA for eight years. They’ll try to use their post-burrito gastrointestinal distress as a pickup line. (“Hey baby, are there any bathrooms around here besides these port-a-potties?”) You don’t want to be the single-handed reason that a well-meaning patron never returns to the faire. But you don’t want to get caught up in their nonsense either. If you give them too much to work with, they’ll start telling you about their divorce and their dying cat. It’s not your job to be their best friend or their therapist. Be nice, but shut them off when they go too far. I learned a neat trick from my dad (though I’m pretty sure he never meant to teach it to me): when you want to cordially discourage a behavior, just give a polite little closed-lipped smile and don’t say anything. It’s a great way to end a conversation without hurting feelings.
4. Figure out where the hospital, vet, and auto repair shop are. Write it down. Bad stuff happens. Don’t get screwed because you have to get directions from somebody stupid.
5. You can’t keep your place clean. That’s okay. There’s just going to be a lot of mud. But don’t let that affect your personal cleanliness and hygiene. If you’re not sure whether you need a shower, you do. If you can find a shower with a flash heater, use that. It heats the water right as it comes out of the shower head, so you won’t be getting alternately scalded and frozen whenever somebody turns a faucet on. But keep an eye on it because sometimes they explode. If you see water droplets starting to boil around the shower head, turn the water off. Or run for your life. Whichever is faster.
6. You live in a community. Take care of your community members and support their work. Go see their shows and buy their wares when you can. There’s an organization called the RESCU Foundation that helps Ren faire performers and craftspeople with their medical bills when they need it, so donate to them if you can afford it. Oh, and don’t smoke in the community showers.
7. Have a mud costume. Machine-wash that baby.
8. Let it go. Make peace with the fact that some of your stuff is going to get destroyed. Your shoes are going to wear out really fast. Something you love is going to get lost or fall in the mud or get crushed by a horse. It’s just stuff. If you can’t live without it, leave it at home.
9. Remember that this is theatre and therefore a hierarchy. Never pull the “Don’t-you-know-who-I-AM” card. For one thing, everybody hates that and it makes you look ridiculous. For another, unless you are the god of the faire (you’re not), you’re going to have to make compromises to make the show go on. If somebody above you asks you to do something, do it now unless you are certain they are wrong, and then ask them respectfully if they’re sure that’s what they meant. Being snarky to your superiors is a great way to get a morning star in the face.
10. Be proud of what you do. You quickly figure out that it’s not glamorous work. But like my costume design professor taught us, theatre is about making the world a more magical place. Even if you play a small role in it, the world is happier and more vibrant and more playful because of what you do. You get to shape people’s beliefs and attitudes. A little boy is going to walk away from the faire this week with the courage to stick up to a bully because he saw a knight do that at the joust. A teenage girl is going to feel beautiful because she gets to dress up in a gown instead of squeezing into skinny jeans. A grown man is going to rediscover his sense of wonder watching his daughter run around in fairy wings chasing bubbles. Your work is worthwhile. Don’t forget it.