A Modest Proposal;
On the Proper Care and Feeding of a Viable Renaissance Faire

"Communication is a Good thing"

Cassiel C. MacAvity

      "Communication is a Good thing."

Case History------------------------------------------------

      I started working all the renaissance faires I've worked the day I walked onto the Novato Faire site for sign ups and was greeted by a heavyset man dressed as a Scot. He informed me that I needed to be like him and join Friend's of Faire, FOF, the Novato Faire volunteer society. My response was that I'd heard of a group called the Seadogs, one that actually required auditions for its actors, but if I didn't pass the audition, I would take a look at FOF.

      The audition was run by the Seadogs' Guildmaster, Mistress Morancy, accompanied by her show director, commonly known as the nose, from his particularly pointed face. I passed the audition, joined the company of the Dogs, and, as one of the company, helped out and enjoyed the final several years of the Novato Faire.

      As for the man in the Scots' outfit, I didn't join Friends of Faire until the following year, having a membership there while continuing to be a full member of the Dogs, but, late in my first year at Novato I stumbled into a gig with the Chieftain of the Scots' group. Going back to the Scots the next day to return a prop, the actor playing the Chieftain told me that his character was Iain MacIain, of Glencoe, an ancestor of his. Also, he and quite a number of the members of the Novato Scots group were the members of Iain Abrach, playing Clan MacIain, of Glencoe, in the fifteen hundreds, both at the Novato Faire and also at a number of other renaissance faires throughout the RenFaire season. As it turned out, the man in the Scots outfit I'd talked to was also a member of Iain Abrach, and was the blacksmith of the group.

      I am a member of Clan Donald, the MacDonalds, of which the MacIains were one of the five families. Palming my I.D., I handed it off to Iain, asking, "You mean like this?" He looked it over, looked me over, and commented, as he handed the I.D. back, "You belong with me."

      I joined Iain Abrach a couple of weeks following the end of that year's Novato Faire, and while it took me a year and a half to get around to working the small faires, I then did, retiring from Iain Abrach only after I retired from the stuttering remnants of what's since tried to follow the Novato Faire.

      A few years after I joined Dogs, someone else joined us who seemed to be a good catch, as he was interested in acting and had a lot of talent as a comedian, and needed to do little more than learn to fit in with us. His wife was not a performer, and like her husband, had no faire experience, but started hanging around with us and generally started schmoozing her way into the Novato Faire hierarchy.

      In the following year, between sessions of the Novato Faire, the newbie and his wife threw a few parties for Dogs and other Faire personnel, and in doing so met a woman I dated for a few months who showed up at Iain Abrach events in '94 solely because I was a member.

      In that following year, between faires, it turned out that not only did the woman I was dating turn out to consider me merely property, she also considered as property a friend of mine in Iain Abrach, a young girl whose background was so hellish that I saw myself at that age. As that year's Novato Faire approached, the newbie's wife announced that even though she had absolutely no experience whatsoever with any faire, let alone the Novato Faire, she was going to be the second in command of the education department booth. Furthermore, even as the woman who I'd been dating had demonstrated to one and all that she considered herself above actually Working a faire---as long as she could show up---She was not only going to work in that booth, but the newbie's wife had ordered that all fees and workshops be waived for the woman, so that she could not only work a faire about which she knew nothing relevant to helping run it, but she would not ever learn anything in the process, such as working with anyone who did know something.

      My friend, the young girl, also worked Novato for the first time that year, taking the workshops, continuing to be one of us who were working the faire, and taking part in what went on. On the other hand, we found out later, the woman I'd dated still considered her to be property, and spent that Novato Faire actively stalking her. In turn, after Novato, the final gig of the Faire season is Celtic New Year, in Reno, at the beginning of November. At that earliest main opportunity, following my friend's return from Reno, the woman raped my friend so brutally that my friend's personality was absolutely shattered and wiped. The woman's hatred left no soul, no life, no recovery, just an empty shell she then claimed was her fiance, as she used it as a live masturbation toy.

      Nearly a year later, the people who knew my friend had figured out what the rapist had done, only partly because of how blatantly obvious it was that my friend's body was just an empty possession with only the personality, malevolence, and even almost the appearance of the rapist. This easily observed knowledge only made it the more bewildering when it was announced that the newbie's wife was not only going to be in charge of the Education booth, but the rapist was going to be her second in command, with the empty shell of my friend, who would still have been a minor, getting transferred from her Novato Faire middle class guild to the education department booth. Again, both the newbie's wife and the rapist had all classes waived, and, this time, the rapist's toy also had classes waived, where, if my friend had lived, she would have had a second year's full complement of pre-faire workshops.

      By that time, in the Scots, Iain Abrach had separated out several years earlier, with several people going to middle class guild, which is why my friend's one year at the Novato Faire was with the middle class guild. At the same time, in the Dogs, Mistress Morancy had stepped down as guildmaster a couple of years earlier, and, for lack of anyone who would take the job, the nose, her show director, was making do. One reason I had been enjoying the Dogs as much as I had was the evident lack of politics, where we set up our gigs, we did the gigs, and we had one person after another across the rest of the Novato Faire announcing "Damn!! . . . They look like they're having Fun!!! . . . . I wanna be a Seadog!!!" At least until '95 . . .

      Two weeks into workshops, the nose pulled me aside and announced that he'd been watching how I'd been doing for the previous two years, that I had been attending all the gigs the group did, but that wasn't enough, I should go join the Scots' guild, and no, I was to have no explanation, no warning, no probation, nothing.

      Going over to the Novato Scots, I talked to the Guildmaster, who pointed out that he knew me and knew that as a veteran of both the Novato Faire and Iain Abrach, I certainly could fit in with the rest of his guild. On the other hand, it was very obvious that I did not belong in another guild on the grounds that I was a Seadog, everyone knew I was a Seadog, and even before saying a word to me about my transferring to Scots, it had clearly been the duty of the nose to talk to him about this before just tossing me thataway. So, the Scots' Guildmaster concluded, the first thing for the three of us was for the nose to come and talk to him about this matter that was clearly at the guildmaster level, and to see if some sort of sensible answer could be found in this.

      When I went back to the nose to report this, the nose announced point blank that he saw no reason why he should discuss anything of the sort with the Scots' Guildmaster, as it obviously had nothing to do with either of them, and, yes, I should go. Returning to the Scots' environmental area, I quoted to the Guildmaster what I'd just been told, watched him politely go through the roof at the nose's inexcusable rudeness and general incompetence, agreed with the all around bewilderment at the situation, and went from there.

      Of the general bewilderment, it was a combination of there being no cause anyone could figure out for my getting tossed, combined with the confusion that the entire faire was dealing with due to the Renaissance Faire Corporation, REC, which had bought out the Novato Faire owners the year before. On one hand, Dogs I talked to were totally shocked and bewildered, and on the other hand, non-Dogs I talked to were totally shocked and bewildered and as they considered the nose to be a total idiot--- to put it politely---I was to be congratulated for not having to put up with him anymore.

      With the rest of the faire, I was one of many who were watching really strange occurrences going on, from mysterious and unjustifiable screwups in paperwork to FOF being a badly run disaster to the central events of the faire being altered at whim by the REC without bothering to calculate what the aftereffects would be.

      In Iain Abrach, on the other hand, things were basically fine . . . We were finishing up a full season of events, with a few more to go, events for the next year were being projected, exact information to follow. The most difficult matter I can think of was the shifting logistics of who would have what vehicle available at what time with which to pull our props trailer.

      At that point, as too many variables were just Not making any sense, I asked both my boss at work and Iain for a general evaluation, how was I doing, and so forth. In the stated opinion of both, I was doing just fine, I had nothing to worry about, and yes, by the way, what they were hearing of the screwup with the Dogs did indeed make no sense whatsoever.

      Within a week or so of my getting tossed from Dogs, the newbie's wife stated publicly that she was not surprised at what happened, as not only had she been expecting it, but she and I had discussed it earlier in the year. When I heard that, a few hours later, I had no idea what she was talking about, as we had never had any such conversation, and called her the next night to ask about it. . . and she had no explanation for her own words.

      A couple of weeks later, while I was indeed fitting in with the Scots at Novato, the rest of the events at Novato were getting to be entirely too bizarre, and opening weekend, I, like many others that year, retired. We showed up to work the '95 Northern Renaissance Faire at Novato, and as it had been cancelled, we went back home.

      Within two weeks of my retirement from Novato, the latest stories were interesting. From the nose, it was suddenly proclaimed that there was a specific reason after all that I'd been told to leave, and it was that I'd been missing Seadog gigs. At the same time, the newbie's wife began to announce publicly that she had not been surprised by this, and had in fact discussed it with me *three times* in the previous year.

      The Yuba City Scots' Games had just started up, during the time of the Novato Faire, and Iain Abrach was invited to take part. It was observed that as I had retired due to the lack of Novato Faire that year, then I could work the games. And on that little notice, I did, I went, everything went quite smoothly, and the event with Iain Abrach was a definite success.

      On the other hand, as more time went by, more really weird stories floated out of Novato. During the remainder of workshops, after I'd been told to leave, numerous people were reported to be horrified; if I could get tossed without reason, they could be next. While the other guilds were in rehearsal, where the Seadogs had in the past drilled and drilled and drilled, the few times that any rehearsals did occur, they were a disaster. During the run of the faire, what surfaced was not only the newbie screaming non period jokes from the Dog's own stage, but someone deciding that hazing the apprentice Seadogs was Just the thing to do . . . .

      I did hear that the hazing did get put to an end, but I never did hear the justification for it's beginning. I did hear that the newbie was finally given specific instruction in acting, staging, and theatrical awareness, but not only was it not the nose who did such, but he just didn't seem to care.

      In the meantime, as a contrast, Iain Abrach continued on, did the two more gigs of the season, further integrated a group that had recently joined up with us, and almost matter-of-factly finished the year. The one exception occurred at Celtic New Year, when some of the newbies in an associated group really screwed up on Saturday, and the first thing Sunday morning, Iain made a very pointed, definite proclamation about the screwups, that they were inexcusable, and that they had better not happen again . . . and to the best of my knowledge, no further word was said or needed to be said.

      In my case, watching a sequence of the Yuba City games to the Folsom Faire to the '95 Celtic New Year, I was finding that while I was clearly a practiced, valued, and knowledgeable renaissance faire veteran, I really had no explanation for myself of why I was taking part. At the end of the weekend at Celtic New Year, I asked Iain aside, told him how I was feeling, and that I would be retiring, effective that evening.

      Since then, I have been quite busy with everything else I wasn't doing when I was off working faires, and have not only kept in touch with fellow faire people, but keep getting deliberately told the latest stories. Even in retirement, I talk to people . . . .


>>> If it works, it's invisible and unnoticed.

      In a number of circumstances, I've noticed that little attention is paid when something works the way it's supposed to, but when something goes wrong, especially when it isn't getting fixed, Oh Boy does that get remembered!

      In this case, communication, clear and truthful, is something that one would like to take for granted, but when it doesn't happen, that is never forgotten. In an earlier essay, I commented that the sinking of the Titanic is a long remembered example of multiple screwups, and much of the above would certainly seem to be in that same category.

      When there is good communication, things run smoothly, no one gets hurt, and more gets done, from getting work done to just having fun. When the reverse happens, things are chaotic, no one enjoys anything, especially when people get hurt, and no one has any fun in any of it. Of things that work, they're only remembered as a part of a special event. And of things that don't work, they are remembered because they are the event in themselves.

      Of the above, there are actually more things that went right than those that went wrong. There are, concurrently, five years in one guild, and five years in another, with things running smoothly, gigs that went off with perfect timing, easy integration of new people, and the return of older people, and all this blurs in memory, because it worked, and because it was simply what one did.

      When I joined Iain Abrach, I had just finished my first successful faire with the Seadogs. As the Dogs were an international group, there was never any problem with my playing a Scot, as there were always two, and sometimes three playing Welsh, at least one other besides myself playing a Scot, and, as I recall, one year someone joined us as a Moor. In turn, as Iain Abrach was still a part of the Scots guild at Novato, it was agreed that while I would obviously be working with Iain Abrach at the small faires, the simplest arrangement for Novato would be for me to stay entirely with the Dogs and not to try the confusion of switching costuming and scheduling back and forth. Having talked that out, from the beginning, there was never any confusion about my associations at which faire.

>>> If it doesn't work, it is Very visible and Very noticed.

      As for matters of things Not going well, of obvious *lack* of communication, lack of seeing that things would and did run smoothly, lack of thought as to what could and did go badly, I am rather happy to have never gotten any closer than the periphery of any such . . . . or so it has been communicated to me . . .

      Of the case history, the first screwup that I can point at directly is that the newbie's wife was given a post for which she was clearly unprepared. As I reported, she had spent the time previous to the '94 Novato faire schmoozing her way up the local hierarchy, specifically by throwing a series of dinners which, unsurprisingly, did not get repeated after that, as she'd already gotten in. Obviously, as the Only relevant example of how not to screw everything up, there would have been no problems with letting her work her way up through compilation of time and experience, just like everyone else.

      The next communications screwup is the waiving of classes for my friend's rapist. Waiving of fees can be considered, since, unless I'm Greatly mistaken, a main point of registration fees is, yes, adding to the coffers, but, also, keeping the administrative staff entertained as they go through the newbies' paperwork. Usually, if a person is senior enough, freeing that person up for other matters is quite reasonable, as was shown by the decreasing number of classes required of increasingly experienced people at the Novato Faire. If there had been attention paid to levels of experience, both the rapist and the newbie's wife would have been required to take their fair share of classes, actually learning something of the people and situation which they later sought to ruin so thoroughly.

      As another observation regarding the classes, had they been required of the rapist and the newbie's wife, as they actually are, this could have also served as a filter, not only protecting my friend, who might have then lived, but also saving a lot of people unnecessary aggravation. Regarding anyone who might try to claim this as some sort of elitist gesture, the undeniable fact remains that, by definition, a renaissance faire is a theatrical situation. The workshops for such are the required preparation for that theatrical situation, and someone who runs a booth is merely a boothie Who Has Taken Classes, as opposed to a member of a guild, who is merely a guild member Who Has Taken Classes. It is not required that the opening parade feature a recitation of "This is the winter of our discontent." The classic that will suffice is, in an attempt at Basic Faire Whatever Your Language Accent, "I am visiting the harvest fair with my family".

      >>> People's exhibit 32A, or, If you're going to screw up this badly, at least make it memorable.

      Of much of the remainder of the above, looking at the inconsistencies, aberrations, and outright lies, it's become clear that my getting tossed from Dogs seems to have had nothing to do with Dogs or how I was doing within the Dogs. Instead, the evidence has indicated it was the newbie's wife who ordered the nose to throw me out of the Dogs, probably by using her husband as leverage, arguing that if her demands were not met, she would yank her husband and his comedic talent from the guild and send him somewhere else in the Novato Faire. As the nose lacks the ability to be a guildmaster and stand up for his own people, he, so to speak, willingly dropped his pants and bent the guild over.

      As examples of communication screwups in That fiasco, when the nose told me to leave, and while doing so, acknowledged that I had a perfectly fine record of working the Seadog gigs, he should not have tried to publicly claim otherwise a few weeks later. Obviously, in turn, the newbie's wife should never have tried the lie about discussing it with me, whether the time she lied about one conversation, or the time she lied about three.

      Her actions in themselves are thoroughly bizarre, as the closest legitimate connection she had ever had with the Dogs was that her husband was a member. As one with such distance, she is clearly unable to comment on the functions of anything within any guild, including the Dogs, as it is none of her business! The closest anyone can get regarding such is to critique how a guild is doing as a whole, in relation to the performance of putting on a renaissance faire.

>>> Let's get theoretical . . . .

      Now, as a purely hypothetical exercise, let us postulate that my getting tossed from Dogs was in some way justifiable, as if there was indeed a reason for it. Let us then take a look at each item and interaction as it occurred, and each person.

      First off, when the nose told me to leave the Dogs, he did so late Saturday on the Second weekend of preparation workshops. Proper communication, as performed by a guildmaster, rather than just a show director, would have me receive a phone call, or at worst, a letter, no later than mid summer. That way, I would have known of the decision As I arrived at Novato for sign ups, instead of inconveniencing myself, the Dogs, and the Scots, or any other guild or group to which I transferred.

      The nose began by claiming that he had been watching how I was doing for two years. Actually, if he had been watching, and had not been satisfied with anything I had been doing, he owed it to the guild, and by extension, the Faire, to tell me of this and what options were available for all of us a very long time before two years had passed.

      Furthermore, whenever such dismissal was given, it would also be obliged of a guildmaster that he explain what was amiss, that he give me a coherent, complete description of the particular faults. "Not doing enough", to quote him, was an insufficient and incompetent generality, and "Not pulling my weight", another quote, is a nautical irrelevance.

      If he did indeed have an explicable reason for my dismissal, and did speak to me of it, then barring an absolutely major screw up---in which case, again, why did it take two years to make up his mind---it would have been perfectly proper for me to get a probation period, during which, once I had been finally informed that a problem was held to exist, I could work on ending that problem.

      When I arrived at the Scots' area, the Guildmaster had no idea why I was there, and was rather shocked, and pissed off, when I finished explaining my presence. There Are a number of ways involved in transferring from one guild to another. In the case of one person deciding to leave one guild and join another, it is rather a good thing that the person talk to the guildmaster he is leaving, so that that guildmaster then knows that he'll have one person less in the coming season. A visit is then due to the intended new guildmaster, to ask permission to join, to see if the transfer can be made.

      In the case of some sort of forced transfer, there are a number of possible reasons and their accompanying responses.

      One, the person is a problem, and is being forced out for generally known problems. In that case, no self respecting guildmaster is going to toss the problem at another guildmaster, and if the problem makes such a claim, it is a simple matter to check with the original guildmaster, and in a small enough world, the next guildmaster down the line may have already heard of the problem and know better anyway.

      Two, there is a budget, size, or personal difficulty problem, where the guildmaster and the person leaving would prefer that the person stay, but it's not possible. In that case, it is a good idea for one guildmaster to talk to another, and to do it before the faire is going into gear, and not During . . .

      In either case, it is a good idea for the guildmasters to talk to each other and to be certain that all parties understand what is going on. If nothing else, experience with the faire rumor mill alone should call for this.

      In either case, it is clearly unacceptable for someone claiming to be a guildmaster to tell someone to transfer to another guild and not only not discuss this with any other guildmaster, but flat out refuse to do so.

      Again, as an alternative, I and Iain Abrach had no problems, and I rather expect that I can state such for the simple reason that if there had been any problems with me, I Would Have Been Told . . . .

      Now, when I retired from the Novato Faire, I did screw up one aspect. The morning of my retirement, I told both the Guildmaster and his second, but I did not think to tell the person who was next up the chain of command from me that he was going to be a person short, effective that evening. In defense, all I can think of is that I wasn't accustomed to that many layers of people to whom to report, and even then, that I really should have said something Anyway.

      Let's seeee . . . during the '95, uh . . occurrence at Novato . . . I don't remember hearing that there were any particular problems with the Novato Scots, but people made it a point to seek me out and tell me that there were problems with the Dogs, in rehearsals and after. If there was a problem in scheduling rehearsals, an explanation of such was owed to the guild as to what was going on. The apprentices alone certainly could not have afforded the lack of acculturation and general training.

      When the newbie was running about screaming nonperiod jokes--- and his voice Does carry---there is no excuse for someone other than the nose having to take it upon himself to pull the newbie aside and remind him that he was supposed to be an actor, that he was on stage, that if he couldn't do the job, then he would leave.

      And, in turn, when I retired from Iain Abrach at the beginning of that November, I did tell Iain, as my guildmaster, explaining in full what and why, and I had a message passed to the newsletter editor, as the center of communications.


      A renaissance faire is a large, free form theatrical event, and, as such, needs set channels of communication which are used and reenforced at every opportunity. In short;

      "Communication is a Good thing."

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© 1996 Cassiel C. MacAvity