I am thinking of you-that’s right, you with the poet shirt, jeans and  maille jewelry, this is for you :)

A friend of mine with The Guild of Saint Maurice told me she never went anywhere without wool inserts(for shoes and boots.) Since we know someone with an alpaca farm, I made use of their store and bought two sets of Alpaca Wool Inserts (scroll down on the page)

As it happened, when we met for historical study, another friend mentioned she dances with a group and spends long times on hard surfaces-so I gave her a set. I would like to give these a big thumbs-up. I’m not sure it can take the pounding that concrete gives (I’ll still use Gel Soles) but on more forgiving surfaces it’s great and a bonus is that will keep your feet warm!  My dancing friend gave an endorsement for inserts light slippers in cold New England ballrooms!

Gloves-these folks are less expensive than a number of other places and get your order out FAST. So if you are buying gloves especially (but be sure to check out some of the other items) I order 4-5 pairs of their soft leather gloves and 2 pairs of the harder leather. (We are very hard on gloves, and we pass on old pairs to new members)
Darkwood Armoury

Need garb/costuming? Have no idea what? Not at a renfaire?  These folks have a good range of initial items. Recently once of our members realized he was missing a simple shirt and couldn’t wear his older stuff-easily solved, two quick oufits! Will I vouch for historical accuracy-no. But a serviceable items, quickly gotten and machine washable, plus great sales.
Renstore
Looking to move up on the kit chain? A bit more pricey but I love everything I’ve bought.
Historic Enterprises
Want to make your own?
Reconstructing history (patterns)

Starter swords-don’t invest big if you aren’t sure. We recommend the practical longsword. Kult of Athena

Like to have a little ring to your sword blows? Takes a beating and keeps on beating? Starfire

Boots-buy them in person, sorry :) But a starter vendor is often Son of Sandlar or House of Andar.

Stuff/accessories

Phoenix Swords own list
Links we’ve compiled

Disclaimer: I don’t do sales for these people or receive any gratuities. I am not a “kit” purist, I post these to help out new folks to the renfaire community.

gas1

We often have to ride that fine line between being practical and looking somewhat authentic.  One of the jokes I make when someone dismisses some of our equipment. (We are performers first and only in a limited capacity reenactors) my response is
“Historically if they could have used it, they would have!” and we have a good laugh about it. That’s why we have tapestry covered folding chairs, bungie cords and other items. But one has to be inventive about hauling around equipment and storage so I’m sharing some of the ways we do that or-

 How a troupe has used perfectly ordinary items for a nonintended use

sword_rackTool RackThis is a Rubbermaid tool rack. It collapses down into two bases and some short plastic legs and it fits flat in the car. If you’ve packed up a car for an event, one can appreciate a device that anyone can manhandle out of the car and can sit in the boot of most SUVs. We have two troupe-colored covers fastened with elastic and a safety pin. The rack is held in place by the very bungies that kept it a unit. It’s a terrible tool rack because it is HARD to take tools in and out but a GREAT sword rack because handsy people can’t just grab things and it is always a good idea to move a sword, slowly and carefully within the confines of a tent.

Car roof webbing: This turned out to be too elastic for most of our rooftop needs but when even the sword rack takes up too much room it makes a great hanging web for storing those same swords. One of the limitations is that it does not have the same capacity as the rack but if you have few people but need more real estate inside the tent-it’s ideal. And it takes up even less room than the tool rack. Available at most automotive stores

Hockey bags-Over the years we’ve tried a number of different sword bags. We use gun cases for our more expensive swords. (Aside, did you know that at certain southern airports no one blinks at a gun case but tell them that you are checking in a sword and they freak out? Just sharing that information so you are prepared) But frankly, the gun cases take space and so we have found the most tough and resilient bags are hockey bags. They are built to hold skates with blades, meant to be manhandled and some of the larger ones come with wheels. Golf Bags are also a good all-around choice for a number of items-we use them for tent parts, sword bags and general equipment. They are easily available and inexpensive so can tide you over until you can invest in something higher-end. We generally buy at Dick’s Sporting Goods.

Back in the early days…our current tent is much nicer
popup

Pop-ups and poles-we used popups for years.  I honestly thing these are the heart of all small renfaires. The bigger festivals can afford to be fussy but this is the town that appears overnight  so that you can have a renfaire.  Also some folks have limited hands and mobility so this is much easier than a canvas and pole set-up which generally takes a minimum of three-to-four people. We love having our tent but when doing one-day festivals, or when it rains,  I miss having a popup. And you can really make them zing with covers and accents and in some cases, I think they add a certain insouciance that reminds stuffy faires of their roots. Some folks have cover designs online and some folks sell them.  We used to buy our tents at Dicks (see above) or there are good sales to be had in the winter at Elite Deals. And if you can’t afford sides you can grab inexpensive tapestries (see below)

Organizer bits-our favorite is the hanging shoe rack which is perfect for all those faire gifts, wallets,  glasses etc. and did you notice that it packs flat?

tapestries

Bedspreads/tapestries/Curtains –these are great for covering gear, coolers, setting up change areas and dealing with water control.  We pack a bag of nothing but these to bring with us. I generally but from Indian Bedspreads but if you are inventive and crafty you can do canvas floor cloths as sides (google will bring up a host of DIY sites)

The last item I have on here is not authentic but such a great windfall that I have to share. We use an inflatable cooler  for keeping water and other  items corralled. The Inflatable Pirate Chest.  it’s cheap, it’s ugly and it is hard to blow up but it does the job and packs into a tiny bag. We didn’t have high hopes but it has survived two years with us.

Two of our members-Valkyrie and Monica are amazing at coming up with new ideas for making us light, mobile and efficient (several of these are their brainchild) And I am sure that many of you out there are coming up with some great stuff. So feel free to share in comments and I hope you found this useful. With any luck, we’ll have found a NEW batch of artifacts in a few years and will be revising this blog post!

lian

With spring coming (eventually) I look forward to swinging  around swords and fire without so much hazard and clothing. But winter does lend itself to sitting down, reading manuals and doing some interpretation and scholarship. This generally leads to some peer review, some plays from history and if we’re lucky, a shared class and a new demonstration for the historical show.
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V_fire_14

One of the first experiences I had at a faire nearly put me off them completely. But I’m a born mistake maker-you know the person who has to do it twice to make sure of it. And in many cases that has saved me from making a hasty decision I may have regretted. Last entry I talked about non-renfaire entertainments with a “medieval” flavor. They are varied and wide just as being in a renaissance faire can be a buffet of what we take in for ourselves. So it really torques me when people explain how it is that I am expected to enjoy and or participate in a renaissance faire. It really goes right up my proverbial…nose.

Going as a patron-anything goes because one PAID  TO BE THERE.

When you are part of the ambiance,  having fun is not the number one priority-it can be a high one but you are paid to do a job (even if it is comp tickets) So I have been thinking about the experiences that I  personally enjoy.

I am a strange person who enjoys the setup as much as the show-fortunately we have others like that as well. Our group basically travels like a field trip-they get dressed, pack a lunch and expect a tour guide with written directions. If that’s what you want, that’s what you get- it leaves more head space for a performance, but I can’t go on comfortably without lists, discussion and touching everything.

Doing a good job-when we engage and it goes well that really warms me up inside. It means weeks and years of hard work have dragged our sorry butts here and we have earned a laurel crown that we get to wear until the next show. And it’s an accomplishment, it looks easy to be an entertainer but especially here in the Northeast, there is a certain cynical element that one needs to cannon-blast through to reach the audience.  We have to tone some things down when we travel to other parts of the country (that’s another blog entry) but when you have built a show brick by brick and it stands, there is nothing like it.

Being in the moment.  It’s funny to see how different this is for each different performer. For me it’s getting on-site and sitting down after setting up the tent, the moment before I have to start practicing our first bit for the day. It is especially satisfying if I get to sit in my own chair, but barring that, sometimes it’s just sitting on the grass or a cloak and taking in everything around me. And then it is listening to how a sword sounds or getting a sense of the performance space.  A habit I have is “walking the plot” or getting a sense of how big the stage is, how weapons fall in a disarm, where there may be holes in the ground or red ants, or a loose rope stanchion. Knowing it helps work in or with it. The performance itself passes in a blur so I rely on cameras, friends or other performers to tell me how it went. I don’t have a lot of mental capacity onstage and so it’s my game face and the task at hand. And being in the space is part of the greater faire as well. My eyesight isn’t the best at distance and I can’t wear contacts  so I rely on some of these same things to procure water, find a bathroom or just chat with visitors to the faire. I have what we jokingly call “retail face”  because no matter where I go, people expect me to know where items live, the location of first aid and the bathrooms.

There is the bonding element that is important. My devoted percentage to this seems to be smaller than that of most people. I’m fairly binary-can I get through this with you or not?  Sometimes the answer is “just through the performance.”  This is something of a lifesaver because I don’t generally need the approval, desire to be liked or friendship of another performer, this allows me to work with the ‘tough cases.’   Often we’ll have that “bee in a bonnet” at a job and it’s my duty to close my fist around it and take the sting for the team. My partner does this as well, we tag-team often. When it’s positive I really enjoy it. I may not need it to be as salacious, raucous or epic as everyone else, but I still enjoy it. And I like hearing how it went from my fellow performers-the retelling is part of the experience as well.

Faire hangover-I think this a different experience for everyone. My “day job” is at a conservative workplace with high politeness standards and indoor voices. I enjoy it very much. But when the time comes for doing performance I have to turn up the decibels,  be more outgoing and put on my arse-kicking boots. (I fact have to do this at practice every weekend so *shrug*) But without the filters, profanity limiters and hijinks ensuing, it can be hard to squeeze that genie back into the box. Fortunately for me, one of the bigger shows falls at a time where I have some transition. When I don’t have that, I’ve seen the reaction by my other set of employees and it’s like getting a face full of megaphone. But the two worlds are very different experiences and sometimes it’s hard not to laugh when placed back-to-back to one another.  I feel blessed to have both available.

If you asked many other performers it’s another set of the quiet and loud moments in different amounts, like a recipe or a sound check-tweaked to your personal needs and outputs. It’s not one thing to all people. So while I tell faire participants to get their friends involved, I do so with this caution-let their experience be their own and compliment yours, not clone it.

blog_knight blogwench

We are a bit spoiled, we cater to renaissance faires and in that respect there is expectation built into how our audience receives us. BUT if you want to appeal to a wider audience sometimes sacrifices must be made in order to be nimble enough for mass consumption or you just have to be in such narrow band that you are a take-it-or-leave it kind of act. The first one that comes to mind is the Badpiper-he is a kilted guy who plays a flaming bagpipe. Is it Celtic? Is it musical busking? Is it flame performance? Yes it is all of the above and you can hire that for any event that comes to mind except for perhaps a paper and accelerants convention.

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hibernating

Generally in our troupe we take off some of December- this year all of December so we could do other things and everyone seems to have enjoyed the time off. But in addition to developing new historical sword demonstrations I also enjoyed a lot of media input thanks to Netflix and my digital TBR pile (as well as a physical one)

The series Monarchy
This was well-researched and some folk may find it a bit dry. But it was solid, had that dry British humor and some Historical tidbits we hadn’t heard before. I agree with some reviewers about it skewing away from some of the sexual issues and bawdy bits but I think anyone over 12 would be able to watch it as they skim over certain things with language parents will understand but you might have to explain later to the kids. (Note: also on Netflix)
Marco Polo on Netflix
Do not listen to Rotten Tomatoes, this is a fairly high-end epic series. If you remember some, like Shogun and others, this is *much* better and employs some terrific Chinese actors who deserve more screen time. Joan Chen has been a favorite for a long time and she and Benedict Wong pretty much make all the other actors superfluous every time they are on screen. Although the series revolves around Marco Polo, he is one of the least interesting characters. Sure we had some historical quibbles (Weren’t BOTH sides using cannon at this point in history? Wasn’t the Empress Dowager more politically active?…well you get the idea) But if you wanted to give someone a leaping off point to be interested in global culture this is a good start.
If you wanted to read something similar there is the Conqueror Series by Conn Iggulden, and LOTS of fiction thrown in to make the characters relatable. Some instances read similarly but the costume, culture and POV is pretty well-done. I can’t speak to how well the historical timeline runs and the author admits he leaves out some of the darker aspects to keep it somewhat enjoyable.
On youtube, can’t say enough nice things about Anglophenia on YouTube, head over there right now. Views and tidbits about British Culture and language. The accents episode is endearing.
The Art of Combat has been reissued via Amazon UK, sadly, not here in the US
And a shout-out to our friend Jessica Finley and her Medieval wrestling book. She founded the Great Plains Fechtschule, ran another academy in VA and is now starting a Historical European Martial Arts group in Canton, GA -if you are in that area-recommended.

I read and watched a lot more but it would only relate to what we do tangentally (history, swords, fire)

However I will leave you with a fun recommendation of this book: As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride which , if nothing else, absolutely hits home when they discuss that lovely swordfight that had to be extended last minute…

Hope you take a look at some of these, and as always, I’ll be uploading anything we find interesting to our Facebook page.

jousters1

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.

Cons:

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

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