For twelve years we have worked for a particular organizer and we have been with him through his financial and personal ups and downs. He’s been loyal to us as we have been loyal to him. This year he finally had the opportunity to use his own property and save the cost of renting a site. This had downsides-it was marketing a “new” faire and there was another in direct competition that fared poorly head-to-head and they had not put in the dues of mistakes. In spite of all the altered event still pulled in respectable numbers and everyone had a good time.
I’ve run a number of faires, and if you have a stable staff-it mostly gets easier but it is never, ever, the same. But I do love working this type of event even with the quirks.
First the Pros
You know who is running the show, chances are you’ve even had a beer or two with person since they were actively courting you as an act. Large faires don’t bother and often the discard rates of acts is high with them. The organizers of small faires want the community to form a relationship and for locals to be invested. This means seeing the same acts , “neighbors” if you will, time and time again. And if it all hits the fan, you know the top of the food chain.
Intimate locations-this doesn’t have to mean “small” but it does mean you know your neighbors and you can work together if need be. This is one of the first faires a complete stranger ever asked me to watch their booth. In other cases the vendors knew our group on sight and had a bit of a “I know where you live,” as backup. And knowing one’s location means flexibility of acts and stages. In our case there was a stage conflict so we just went with the flow and were able to work with another act to share a location. It was very informal, we all had face-to-face discussions and we happily left behind charged crowds for the next act. And with this location, it might be perfect for a scavenger hunt because the site was a maze of tents and new things to discover. Although large sites can have wide lanes and indoor amentities, the small child in me loves getting lost in all the unexplored corners that can’t be taken in at a glance.
Setting the tone, traditional faires were the locals getting together and holiday are when your fellow villagers came out for Spring, made fools of themselves and everyone made memories. Having a site that was not paved, with plenty of trees and having artisans working on-site without access to electricity was so wonderful. And dogs were welcome and part of the event, since I like animals this was just more good news and added to the overall atmosphere. And the fest was not made up of only fresh young faces and I found that far more inclusive. Because of a heavy SCA presence, plenty of period tents, armored people, and costumed participants, it said “festival” to me. There was much less of a fourth wall between the performers and patrons, we had a number of great conversations and heart-to-hearts that might not happen at a bigger and more formal event.
Fixing what needs to be fixed. I already mentioned the stage issue, but we helped others erect a tent unexpectedly, sorted out our own site issues and did our best to make the lanes and directions as easy as possible for the patrons. We were empowered to make things seamless and we did what was needed in the moment-no bureaucracy. Anything that went askew was a learning experience, and not blown into bigger proportions by a large staff playing telephone.
Limited bodies-once issues pile up it becomes more of a firefight and less of a priority-setting list.
Less money coming in the gate
Heavy reliance on volunteer help (and sometimes not the best choices) This speaks to training, accountability, background checks and personalities.
Overall though, I LOVE small faires-mostly because contributing to the fest in such a direct way is a rush and a responsibility. Everyone has their own style and that shows up more plainly in a venue that is not competing with “more of the same” to attract big money. One of my biggest peeves at bigger faires is feeling as though they are all working from the same template: “Turkey legs-check! Women in corsets-check! Some comedy act where the guy wears a jingly, horned jester hat-check!…” (you get the idea)
After being around a while it’s nice to have a choice of venues and especially to have favorites that are happy to have you year after year. And the good, smaller faires are the masters of turning a business venture into a pleasure for everyone involved