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Posts Tagged ‘renaissance faire’

Immediately after I wrote about how awful the beginning of Scarborough was, things started to get better. The very next day, we got invited to a steak dinner at the home of a swordsmith who works at the faire. We spent the evening making new friends, enjoying an excellent meal, watching fireflies, and taking a tour of the workshop where he forges the swords. That week, I got a little faster and better at making the kids’ knight costumes, and I started feeling a little more like I am where I belong.

But then of course a lot of boring, mundane crap got me down again. I got a bit disillusioned with the faire for several reasons. Last year I thought that everyone who works at the faire is doing what they love, but I’ve since met a lot of people who aren’t inspired by their work; they just feel like they’re trapped in the lifestyle because they don’t know how to do anything else. There’s not as much camaraderie among the folks at Scarborough as there is at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire. People keep to themselves a bit more, but rumors spread just as quickly. I hate gossip-mongering, but half of my brainpower is taken up with other folks’ interpersonal drama. And the faire bureaucracy is a bit of a downer, too. It seems like every decision, no matter how small, is a great political issue. Turns out Ren faires aren’t places of freedom, peace and love; they’re just corporations with costumes on.

Luckily, before I got too deep in existential crisis mode, Sunday happened.

On Sunday, I got hugs from two people I had never met before. The first one was from an artist who draws horses. She came to the faire to get some good source photos, and she liked the jousting knights’ costumes and started a conversation with me about costuming. She’s also a seamstress and wanted to know about costuming as a career and what life on the road was like, so I told her about how Travis and I met, my experience in school, and how we ended up back here. We only spoke for a few minutes, and she lives in Mexico, but we felt an affinity and when it was time for her to leave, she hugged me, said “God bless you”, and wished me well with my travels. I was so touched. I hope I’ll run into her again some day.

The second hug made me stop in my tracks and reevaluate everything.

Two boys came up to the booth after the joust to meet the knights. They were cheering for Sir Corwin (Travis), and they had gotten wooden swords and shields earlier that day at the faire. Travis signed the swords for them, and the older boy got a Sir Corwin costume. His mother told me that his birthday was this week, and he always gets to go to the faire and pick out a present for his birthday. I asked the boy, whose name was Brandon, if he went to the king’s knighting ceremony that was held that afternoon. With a stricken face, he looked up at me and said, “No, I missed it,” which may as well have meant, “and now I’ll never get to be a knight!”

Travis, without missing a beat, dashed backstage and grabbed an old broken lance piece, cut it down to size, and painted it is his colors. He returned with the lance and his sword, and asked Brandon and his younger cousin if they would like to be knighted. One by one, the boys knelt down and solemnly vowed to be honest, defend their family, stand up for those who are smaller than them. The ceremony ended with the accolade, a (very gentle) slap on the cheek to remind them that even if though it may be painful, a knight must always try to do what is right. As Travis described it, “I drew my sword and was overwhelmed with memories of seeing my father do this very thing when I was growing up. It is a strange alchemy to make a decision and when you act upon it to see your father’s hands carry it out. Thank you dad, for teaching me how to be a knight. I didn’t truly understand what that meant until today.” The family was so moved by the experience that when the boys rose as knights, Brandon’s mother cried and hugged us both and thanked us for giving her son such a meaningful birthday present.

The men of Noble Cause Productions pride themselves on being knights rather than just jousters. Anyone with enough physical strength, dexterity and a pinch of insanity can learn to fall off horses and fight with swords and shields, but it takes a person of extraordinary character to put aside his ego, pain, frustration, and exhaustion, and take the time to genuinely impact the life of a child. I am so proud and thankful to be married to a true knight.

On the drive home, I realized that all of the frustrations and doubts I had been harboring about the faire, the weather, the slow sales, and the depressing people pale in comparison to the impact we made on Sir Brandon’s family. I’m not in this to make a ton of money right away or to be comfortable all the time. I am slowly but surely building a business that will bring joy and magic to children and will remind adults of the value of play, and I’m learning a lot of important lessons in the meantime. This faire season is kind of like an internship: it’s a lot of work, all of the lessons are learned the hard way, and the pay isn’t great, but the experiences I’m gaining are the most valuable thing of all.

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There are some days where I feel like I’m exactly where I want to be — doing positive work, building my career and my skills, connecting with family and friends, spending time outside.

Then there are days when I wonder what the hell I’m doing.

The opening of Scarborough is proving to be as much of an emotional challenge as the opening of the Pennsylvania Ren Faire was.

As it turns out, my costume booth is in possibly the worst location in the entire faire. It’s tucked away in the corner of the tilt yard, and no one walks past it. You can’t see it at all from the main path, and you can barely see it from the joust audience seats. It’s next to the petting zoo, so the bleating and braying of farm animals drown out all of the other sounds of the faire. It’s also next to a bush that spews pollen into your face every time the wind picks up.

We have had some pretty foul weather (including a tornado!), which means no one comes to the faire and I end up with mud all over my dress. On Saturday, fewer than two dozen people showed up to the first joust, the sheep got vociferously irritated at being wet, and I had to figure out how to use the port-a-potty without trailing my gown through any unsavory substances. At that point, I had a very strong desire to go home and rethink my life. I don’t know if I’m the type of person who can handle not knowing if the weather is going to completely sabotage my entire week’s income. Or, for that matter, if I can even handle being hot/cold/wet/windblown/dirty/stinky all the time. Why didn’t I choose a nice, clean, safe field like accounting or mail sorting? Why do I keep thinking this gypsy life is so rewarding and romantic anyway? I know I’m trying to use my passion and my skills to make the world a more magical place, but I have to wonder if sitting around in the rain with the sheep and the hippies is really the best way to accomplish that goal.

Selling my wares has been alternately rewarding and frustrating. Kids seem to really love the knight costumes. It’s great fun to watch them try on costumes and talk to them about the joust, the horses, the faire, Zombie Dice, dinosaurs, and whatever else their brains associate with polite conversation. I get really discouraged, though, when the sunburned, cigarette-smoking, bleach-blonde or buzz-cut parents snap, “You don’t need that!” (insert stereotypical NASCAR-crowd Texas accent* here) and drag the kid away by the wrist. I wonder why parents even take their kids to the Ren faire if they won’t let them get a souvenir. Isn’t that just a day-long cruel tease? But then there are the parents who walk into the booth saying, “My son loves the black knight. I want to buy EVERYTHING.” (Actual quote.) So I’m trying to focus on the customer interactions that end like this:

Another discouraging thing that I forgot about over the winter was the very odd, contentious communication style among the faire folk. A lot of people out here (not everyone, mind you) can’t have a conversation without trying to one-up you or belittle you. I walked in the first weekend carrying a big Rubbermaid tub of knight costumes, and one person asked me what was in the bin. When I told her it was full of costumes, she replied, “OH. I have THREE bins of costuming.” WTF? Lady, I’m not impressed. I’m not even the slightest bit interested in having a geek contest with you. I’m trying to sell these things because it’s my job. Yes, I’m proud of my work. Yes, I think what I do is pretty cool. But it’s just work — not my identity, not my insecurity-pacifier, and not something I’m trying to use to outdo anyone. And no matter what you do or how good you are at it — costuming, fencing, horseback riding, anything — somebody at the faire is going to try to prove that they’ve been doing it since before it was cool, and they’re much better than you’ll ever be. I’m just not interested in having that conversation. All I want is to make costumes and try to get along with everybody.

Last Sunday was more encouraging than the rest of the faire has been so far. The sun came out (symbolically!) and business picked up a bit. I finished the weekend by sending an awesome kid home dressed as his favorite knight, which, simple as it may be, reaffirmed my faith in my work and boosted my mood exponentially.

I think the two-week hump at the beginning of the faire is over, and I’m ready to see what the rest of the season will bring. It’s going to get better. I just have to keep going. Because:

*Texans, don’t get mad. I’m from Texas, and I illustrate this stereotype with all the bluebonnet, sweet tea, stars-at-night pride in my heart while acknowledging that most of us aren’t that way.

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I am very excited right now.

This is because on Tuesday, Travis, Random and I will be heading to Scarborough Renaissance Festival in Waxahachie, Texas.

That was the first Renaissance faire I ever went to, and it’s where I met and fell in love with my knight in shining armor. And now I’ll be working there!

As a little kid, fantasy and magic ruled my world. I spent hours in my room drawing scenes from Robin Hood, fair maidens dancing around maypoles, feasts in great halls and wild mythical beasts. When I discovered The Lord of the Rings, orc ambushes lay around every corner and a neighborhood alley could lead you into the ethereal wood of Lorien. My CD collection consisted of Riverdance soundtracks and Enya albums, and I played “fairies” with my friends well into middle school. But when high school started, I decided that social adequacy was more important than fantasy, so I put aside my games and drawings and started buying rock CDs and wearing black nail polish. I remember being 17 years old and having the opinion that life was just one long string of calculus classes and anticlimactic breakups and that Chuck Palahniuk novels and Nirvana albums were really inspiring pieces of art.

Then one April day, my best friend Jackie invited me to Scarborough, where her choir had performed the week before. Suddenly my world exploded in a cacophony of brightly colored ribbons, fiddle music, smells of herbs and spices and roasted meat, clattering windchimes and glittering jewelry. I stood in amazement watching the parade of adults who were getting paid to dress up like fairies, knights, and gypsies and gallivant about the fairegrounds. I watched a man play Irish folk songs on a set of goblets filled with water, and another man use a whip to cut a pencil in half as his partner fearlessly pursed the pencil between his lips. Something turned over in my head that day: do some people really make a living out of playing?

I spent the rest of the year anxiously awaiting the opening of Scarborough. That fall, I took a semester of Shakespeare class, and we had a whole unit in Spanish about the gitanos (gypsies). All of the imagery and ideas filling my school curriculum made me pine for the freedom and wonder of the faire. When spring arrived, I bought season passes and cleared my weekend schedule, but I was not prepared for what I would find there.

My first faire day that year was sunny and glorious as expected. On our way out the gate that evening, Jackie and I walked past a tall, suntanned and strikingly handsome young man who locked eyes with us briefly as we passed. I’m still not sure why I did it, but I grabbed Jackie’s hand and insisted we turn around and talk to him. He asked us if we had seen the joust (we hadn’t) and then introduced himself as one of the knights. We promised to return the following weekend to see him joust, and then we walked out the gate. We paused in the parking lot, only to see the knight following us with a rose in each hand and a dazzling smile on his face. He asked us to forgive his manners as he should have given us the roses the moment he saw us, kissed our hands, and turned back into the faire.

On the one hand, I knew that it was all an act and part of his job. On the other hand, no boy had ever treated me that way before! I spent the rest of the week positively swooning.

The following weekend, we watched the joust and caught up with our knight afterward. His name was Travis, and he introduced us to his squire, who charmed Jackie instantly. The two escorted us around the faire, and we talked about books, music, traveling… and so began my spring romance with the man who would become my husband.

I wasn’t terribly interested in starting a relationship. I was about to go off to college for the first time, and besides, he lived in California and jousted for a living, for goodness’ sake! But he took me out dancing under the stars on a balmy May night, so I said, “What the hell!” and kissed him. And suddenly we found ourselves swept up in the kind of affair that made the whole world sparkle.

Then began the long-distance romance, the heartsick phone calls, and several moves back and forth between the two states until we both wound up in California and got married. Now we’re in the happily-ever-after part of the story, and six years later, we’ll be returning to Scarborough Faire. He’ll be jousting again, and I’ll be making and selling knight costumes. (Come check them out if you’re in town!) I can’t even express how thrilled I am to be going back, and this time I’ll get to create part of the magic. I hope Scarborough brings as much joy and wonder this year to others as it did to me.

If you’re in the North Texas area, you really do need to see this faire, and you can buy tickets here.¬†My knight costumes will be for sale in the joust merchandise booth next to the tilt yard, so come send me some love!

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Now that I have a clean, peaceful space to live and work in, my perspective on faire living has shifted a bit. I’m not quite as worried about falling through the floor or turning into a giant bug as I was last week, so I’ve had some time to notice the magical things that drew me here in the first place. I have a bit of an obsession with magic, both of the wizard-y variety and the more mundane, small-moments-with-a-big-impact type. That’s why I want to be involved in the Renaissance faire: it’s a place where magic happens. Sure, it’s magic in that it’s an escape (for the participants and the patrons) from an office job, traffic, responsibility, whatnot. And it’s a place where little kids can see the queen and pirates and fairies and strange men on stilts. But it’s also a place where people do whatever it is that makes them come alive: fire swallowing, jousting, costuming… No one’s in this to make a lot of money or to impress their dad. People are here because they want to be, and all of that creative energy charges the environment.

I walk the adventure dog every morning and evening in the outlying areas of the fairegrounds. We pass a bunch of trailers and tents on our walk, including one big red trailer in particular that is parked a little farther out than all the others. This week I found out why: it’s an elephant trailer! I got to watch the elephant tromp around in his little pen behind the trailer, doing whatever it is that elephants do when they’re in little pens. And for a moment I was utterly amazed that I get to be a part of this community of artisans and jugglers and dancers and people who own a freaking elephant. That’s MAGIC! I spent a lot of my childhood daydreaming and writing stories about exotic lands and people with unusual powers and bright colors and the scent of spices everywhere. And here I am with a freaking elephant in my backyard! So cool!

Of course, lest I get too excited, I got a healthy dose of the not-magic, too. My job in the booth continued to suck. I made only one sale again this weekend, which meant I worked for four days and made only $100. I also got a little disillusioned talking to some of the vendors and performers at the faire. A lot of folks with bad attitudes think that having a bad attitude makes them smarter than everyone else and therefore qualified to be rude to other people. An actual quote from an anonymous former faire employee: “I loved my job at the faire. I just got to insult patrons in Old English all day and they were all too stupid to even know it!” (The irony here being, if you didn’t already catch it, is that Old English wasn’t spoken during the Renaissance. It wasn’t even spoken in Chaucer’s time. The Shakespearean English that we try to use at the faire is in fact early Modern English. And someone’s just too stupid to know it!)

On the other hand, some of the faire folk are so lovely you can’t help but feel like the universe is a friendly place when they’re around. I watched as a clown named Ima Nutt¬† bent down to look a four-year-old girl dressed as a fairy princess in the eye and have a very sincere conversation with her about stars and sparkles and magic wands and puppies. And I’m certain that little girl left the faire feeling like the things she cared about really mattered and the world wasn’t just full of boring grown-up stuff. Oooh, magic again!

I got to watch the joust on Saturday. That always feels magic for me because Travis was jousting when I met and fell in love with him. So every time he rides out onto the field all armored and majestic, I get the butterflies in the stomach all over again. Sappy, I know, but it’s a conditioned response and I can’t help it. So I sat in the stands with a favor (that’s a ribbon-y thing you give to the knight you’re cheering for) in his colors, and these three young Marines sitting behind me started giving me a hard time. “What’s that thing? Why are you giving it to that guy?” Well, that’s my husband, and I’m rooting for him to win. “Aw, is he actually gonna get stabbed? Your husband’s gonna die!” And so on, throughout the joust, until at some point the swordfighting and explosions became more interesting for them than teasing the married girl. I got to see the magic take over and suddenly they were all standing on their feet, fists pumping in the air, shouting for Travis, “BAD-ASS! BAD-ASS!” Ah, Renaissance faires. Capturing the imaginations of grown men with buzz cuts.

On Sunday it rained again. The wind blew the rain into the booth from the front so that even if you were standing at the back you got drenched. Patrons/potential customers left the faire in droves. I made up my mind to quit the booth job because if I’m not making any money either way, I may as well be able to stay inside when it’s raining, right? Still, I felt nervous and guilty because I didn’t want anyone to take it personally that I was quitting and I certainly didn’t want to make any enemies at the faire. So once the day was over, I slogged my way back to the barn to change into regular clothes before giving the manager my resignation. I peeled off my soggy boots in the hallway and opened the bedroom door to find soft lights, Simon and Garfunkel music playing, a towel and a set of clean, dry, matching clothes laid out for me. My knight in shining armor spent his day trudging through mud and falling off horses in the rain but still took the time to make my day better. MAGIC!

Feeling much drier and happier, I returned to the booth, quit my job without hurting anyone’s feelings, and got a hot plate of food and a pint of the faire’s craft-brewed amber ale to celebrate.

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Tomorrow morning my husband, my dog and I are driving from San Mateo, CA (near San Francisco) to Manheim, PA (that’s Amish country) to work at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire for three months. He’s jousting with Noble Cause Productions and I’m making costumes to start an online store and put my Theatre Arts degree to good use. We’re going to live in an apartment above the barn. This will be pretty ritzy living conditions for a Ren Faire, by which I mean it has electricity and is not a tent.

Our car is packed full of costumes, armour, sewing machines, fencing gear, musical instruments, art supplies, audiobooks and laptops. It’ll take four days to get across the country.

I’m expecting to meet a bunch of interesting people on this trip, so this blog’s purpose is to share their stories (how did you decide to become a fire swallower?) as well as to chronicle my own adventures setting up a costume shop in a barn 3,000 miles from home. I want to share an inside view of the Ren Faire so that whoever reads this can follow this gypsy life with me instead of just thinking of it as that weird thing that Travis and Hannah do. And to dispel any notions that Renaissance Faires are just for hippies and weirdos. I happen to own a smartphone, use conditioner, and have a day job to come back to in the fall, thankyouverymuch. And I bet a lot of the folks in kilts, corsets, and fairy wings do, too. I’ll let you know.

So check back later for exciting tales and fabulous pictures.

~H

and shouting

Him

Her
Adventure Dog

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