I was having a discussion his weekend with a friend who vends and attends renaissance faires and appreciate her insight. Because of some of the places I’ve worked, my interest is often more about the inner workings than the end product. So I appreciate her outside view when mine is so heavily subjective that I miss basic points about being part of a festival. We discussed a number of things;
Using popular media to introduce concepts of history to people-I know many, many reenactors and scholars who want to run screaming whenever media uses an anachronistic, horrible and completely wrong premise as “information.” Let’s face it, history is like your BFF, you want the best for them, you love them and it kills you when people start terrible rumors-but remember not everyone knows them like you do, you need to do a low-key introduction. Don’t build them up too much or there will be unreasonable expectations. Just let the good stuff flow-take a flawed premise and gently correct it and make the truth even MORE interesting. Nothing turns people off than a red-faced snooty history lover rebuking them for not using “correct terminology.” And frankly, some of these “purists” had best review their own facts, because more than once, I’ve had to pull out a reproduction, facsimile or illustration to cite that yes, I was not feeding anyone a falsehood. Lord of the Rings? Éowyn, the shield maiden, that made an introduction to I.33 that much easier. Game of Thrones? You bet I’m going to watch that and know what their production used so that I can –oh-so subtly introduce the cool things my troupe does and maybe recruit some new members. And Brave? (and to some degree Braveheart) I am happy to be part of that Celtic Pride parade and we’ve purchased some bronze swords to use at shows. I would never look the popular movie gift horse in the mouth. Just as my friend and troupe member, Andy, loved it when Gladiator was released and The Vikings have helped our friend Bill Short and his organization. So I’m a big believer that as much as we may cringe at the way historical items are introduced, it’s really up to us to follow-up and make it meaningful.
Remember Faires are made-up and the points don’t matter. One of my earliest experiences working a faire was both wonderful and awful. Working my first faire I saw a woman dressed as a wench do something violent to someone and I went to an organizer to report it. What actually happened was that the person to whom I reported it made the experience so confusing and awful that I instantly regretted my decision to be helpful. I was interrogated about which wench number, which Wench Guild, did I tell anyone else and that I shouldn’t go making accusations. What was probably going on was the woman in question was concerned about her co-hobbyist’s reputation(when it simply could have been a patron), what it meant to me was a confusion of buzzwords and crazy-making and that I’d stuck my hand in a hornet’s nest unwittingly. (And not my first, nor I suspect my last encounter of this type) I’m a big believer that when bad things happen we need to slow down and rely on time honored ways of dealing with crisis-be calm, ask the person to tell us what happened LISTEN and then make an assessment. We shouldn’t assume people know what a Wenches Guild is or “the privy” or any of a number of in-house faire words mean when dealing with people. If it’s an emergency, break character and no regrets. And be willing to drop a persona of class if it means you have to communicate effectively. I have watched so many faire performers and volunteers cause people to turn away because they were not willing to view the situation through new and unjaded eyes. And that makes my job twice as hard and makes me reluctant to share details of my business with new people because of the damage done previously. Another layer of this-another time another post- is “faire authenticity.” I liken this to being a connoisseur of corn dogs. I’m sure there is a sub-society that appreciates the complexity, variety and joy of corndogs, but you don’t generally bump into them every day and they won’t want to hear you wax rhapsodically about grit texture and case stuffing. And that’s where I’ll leave that.
Handling touching and inappropriate questions.
It would be wonderful if every parent had taught children
And I’m guessing that most parents at least tried. But something about the renaissance faire seems to knock that common sense filter right out as people enter the gate. (I have friends who have worked at Disney and ride parks and they tell me this is a common phenomenon) Perhaps it is the excitement of “Swords!” or “Bewbs!” or one too many foods on a stick, I can’t hazard a guess. So sometimes although our first instinct of response is “No! Bad patron!” (and that’s healthy) but I try to use “Stop, let’s do this thing together!” usually with humor and a reassertion what I call “the reality rules”, you know, that this isn’t actually a tournament, and you wouldn’t grab some guy’s sidearm, or someone’s personal parts. I’m not saying we are there to be the rennie police, (that is security’s job) but we are the first line many people encounter and if we can have a conversation rather than a confrontation, we might make some new friends and renfaire affectionados.
Lastly, be authentic, and by that I mean, let your love of what you do shine through. I know some organizers, vendors, attendees and performers who think that by using exclusive language and being critical of patrons makes them look “cool.” It’s one thing to do it on a specialized forum it’s another to do it in a public “space.” I can’t tell you how many vendors instantly lost my sales (I was in jeans and a tee at the time) when they preferred to have a tête–à–tête with a fellow rennie over asking customers questions or acknowledging them. Equally off-putting is someone realizing that I’m a fellow faire person and suddenly I get “street cred” and then I have value to them. I just want to be treated well like anyone else and I make it a point to remember that whenever I pop on my ass-kicking leather boots (or ghillies if it’s hot) And as my grandmother oft-quoted “love and kindness are never wasted.”
The Shakespearean insult tee featured above is available here