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As someone who works at a Renaissance faire, the term “revisionist history”  takes on a whole new level of absurdity that one either accepts with a whole heart or causes head-splodey madness .

 

One of  my personal pet peeves is people who take working at the faire WAY too seriously or in an amazingly open-minded atmosphere, settle on some facts and never revisit whether or not they may be true.  Few things go straight up my –ah-nose more than a “faire” purist. Do I understand wanting something to be perfect, historically represented and with some validity? Yes! Do I accept that faires are not a pure reenactment event and are provided for entertainment. Yes, I am afraid I have to accept that as well.  Hand-dyed muslin meeting horse dukey is an excellent analogy for why, if you are fact-searching for history, the festival may not be the first place to start.

 

Accuracy; I like to think of faires as being “inspired by” or “based on real events.” If you have ever watched a movie with these disclaimers it is an unsaid rule that although what you receive may be BASED on something that happened, it has been changed, tweaked and rewritten to make it more entertaining.  History IS fascinating and far dirtier, sexy and violent than most high-school history teachers are allowed to pass down to the children in most public schools. I hated High School history but when we (troupe founders and members)started looking at historical translations, diaries and manuals, the past became much more fun and interesting.   Although the Victorians would have us believe that medieval and renaissance history was only occurring in Europe with light-skinned people, that is a complete falsehood. In fact, they took it upon themselves to rename perfectly serviceable items that are now known in the popular vernacular as accurate. And I could go another paragraph but this is a blog not a monograph so let’s move on and summarize. So when I hear someone at the festival give a name to an item, swear it is accurate, and then when I question the validity of said source material and it causes anger and loud voices, a learning opportunity is lost. There should be growth on both ends –from the presenter and from the person visiting the festival.  People should be open to questions and periodically check to see if something new has come out from historians. 

 

Clothing; like the hand-dyed muslin, if it can’t be thrown into a washing machine at the local laundromat, it’s probably not a the best choice for a performer who wears this day in and day out. Most expensive items are not worn directly against the skin so they can be brushed, sprayed and keep their shape. Accuracy would be lovely but the hard facts of doing community theater or working an event are that the performer needs items that *evoke* the past while taking advantage of modern materials. Do I know and love people who have saffron-soaked linen and hand-stained it to wear at the festival? I do although I also told them they were nuts, face-to-face.  I have great admiration for those with this passion, who COMMIT to accuracy and detail. Most of them are lovely, many of them decide this a license to be nasty bullies. There are even Guilds at the faires dedicated to this level  but honestly,  it’s a lifestyle choice and like other lifestyle choices, it should teach respect, not barriers.  If someone is that concerned about someone else  being a “farb”  then I recommend the SCA or reenactment events, not faires.

 

Intention; what is the purpose of being at the festival-you are there to entertain and as a secondary, inform. If someone is there to drink beer, eat turkey legs and look at codpieces and bodices, then let the visitor do so and then you can sneak in some humor and history.  I don’t judge folks coming through the gate, they are my paycheck. (Okay, I judge a little) And the truism we see all the time-just because something is awesome to you, doesn’t mean it is awesome to others-so you need to actually care about what your audience thinks. I understand, I’ve stood there saying to other troupe members
“But how can swords and fire not be fun and amazing?” wearing sad puppy face. But it doesn’t matter, people come for their own reasons and it is your job to accommodate them.  This means if your audience is staring at you with a glazed expression, you need to find a way to connect. It means you might have to give up the much-vaunted, clutched to chest like pearls…

 

Basic Faire Accent. If you can do this clearly and concisely and could read the yellow pages and be riveting-go for it. Some of us blessed with less charisma settle for enunciating and speaking clearly and do not mock the paying audience. This also goes for using buzzwords local to your workplace. Nothing alerts me to someone committing actorbation and elitism faster than using bizarre phrases that isolate from our paying audience and volunteers.  It doesn’t make you cooler than the other kids, it just perpetuates an inability to empathize and create a sense of true connection with other human beings.  Do we use buzzwords? Yes. They are closer to the ones used by department stores to indicate lost children. For us it is broken props, the need to go pee or costume malfunctions-all of which I’m pretty sure the paying public doesn’t even want to hear about or be in “in the know.” But if you are a purist, I expect your Shakespeare to sound like this (video)

 

People attend Renaissance Faires and festivals to joke around, have a good time and have piece of history. Sometimes that history has to be wrapped in a corn dog to make it palatable and easy to hold in the hand.  Anyone who feels that this is health food is kidding themselves and they need to sneak a little tasty and accurate center into the festival –maybe to help others develop a palate for more sophisticated food. Or just love the festival for what it is, an entertainment event, that is “inspired by” history. With some loving touches added by people who adore history.

 

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