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

"The Law of pieces"

Cassiel C. MacAvity

      "A renaissance faire, being anything but a monolithic mass, relies on the smooth integration of its several and varied pieces."

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

      Let's get somewhat hypothetical . . . . Especially as any attempt at a renaissance faire that has enough things wrong won't be remembered to have anyone tell of it. In turn, when a faire has things that go right, one really can't cite a separate history and analysis, as the parts of a faire are really more of a list that one can check off. Although one can try to separate . . .

      Of a functioning faire, pieces that come to mind, in no particular order, are the location, the guilds, costuming, characters and accents and such, the booths, setup/teardown, admin/ticket taking, security and first aid and other support.


      As a thought on location, the end of the RenFaire season for Scots Clan Iain Abrach is the Celtic New Year celebration in Reno the first week of November. The first three years were on Virginia street proper, with high winds the first year, Dick Clark's '50s casino blaring it's signature theme for eight fornicating hours right over our shoulders the second year, the third year it was uniformly damp and trying to rain, and the forth year, in '95, it was a mile or two down the road, away from the casinos, and in a livestock exhibit hall.

      We were able to make good use of the main arena area, where we did a couple of weapons demos, the SCA did some combat demos, the bagpipe band competitions had lots of maneuvering room for the bands And the judges, and so forth. The boothies were set up on the upper perimeter walkway, as was our pavilion and some of our props . . . and that's where it got interesting . . .

      We did have enough room for some general setup, given that two historical groups were compressed into the space of one, and the gewgaw booths had more than enough room for their setup, and inside of 40 minutes, our veterans were quite unmistakable. Sharks cannot inhale to breathe, and thus must keep swimming to keep from asphyxiating. When they are in a tank, they endlessly circle the tank, doing loop after loop after loop, and so did we . . . For variety, we looped the other way, and, either way, checked in back at the pavilion once every loop. Unlike the interaction and variety that was available at even earlier years, let alone other events, can you say "bored"?

      What comes to mind for guilds is that Iain Abrach, with it's longevity and history of knowing which end is up, has not only been regularly invited to faire after faire to take part, but because of the level of knowledge and accuracy, has been made an auxiliary member of Clan Donald, the living descendants in the 20th century of the five clans of which Iain Abrach was one. People know the Clan and know that a good presentation will be made, and that there will not be any personnel problems, such as, courtesy of some other group one year at the Valhalla Faire in South Lake Tahoe, and at the San Louis Obisbo, SLO, Faire, another year, fighting with live steel while drunk and getting quite sliced up. An ambulance was called twice for the same body in the SLO faire stupidity. After the first visit and quite sufficient bandaging on the part of the paramedics, he with brainlessness of a yuppy/preppy type staggered off to his tent--- still drunk, remember---and nearly bled to death.

      Quite possibly in such category comes from the year that saw the back to back releases of Mel Gibson's "Braveheart" and Liam Neeson's "The Bridges of Edinburgh County". I've been told that in that year, SLO received applications from forty, *40*, clan type guilds, most of which evidently had no faire experience whatsoever . . . As I recall, that year's faire featured one other clan besides Iain Abrach, Maybe two.

      In costuming and characterization, Iain, Chieftain of Iain Abrach, likes to tell of the earlier years of the Novato Faire, when graduate students in history would be sent out to nail down actors on the subject of "Who was your grandfather, what do you do, what does your wife do . . . . ."

      Iain Abrach itself has a series of workshops at the beginning of each year which concentrate on building a character, figuring out what your character does, your character's locations, and learning how to spaek wi'oot 'n acc'nt a' oopoosed 't yon Sassena--er, th' Aenglish.

      On the other hand, there are definitely the "We are to be seen being seen at faire, because it's the Cool thing to be seen doing" . . . Who seem to spend unbelievable amounts of energy avoiding actually mixing in and working with us, and wind up absolutely wasting their time and ours, especially on the occasions when they schmooze their way into actual positions, another sign of something going wrong at such an event.

      In such general category, I do remember one group that tried to declare that in warm weather, a Scot would not prefer bare feet or simple shoes with a linen, much cooler than wool, leine, or Celtic shirt/large covering garment. Instead, they chose to make rather distinct fools of themselves by wearing sort of kilts of blankets over late twentieth century hiking boots . . . and claiming to look like the 1500s . . . . They could have gotten by with the blankets, but with no leine, and below all, the hiking boots . . . If one wishes to affect such an outfit in the 20th century, fine . . but . . .

      For the booths, compromise immediately comes to the fore, as the European 1500s clearly had no plastic cups, Samurai swords on sale from weapons sellers, and rather evident propane stoves frying the food handed out on the paper plates. On the other hand, standard attire for boothies is the same 1500s clothing as everyone else, credit cards obviously do not exist yet, but there often are signs regarding the familiarity with their excellencies Master Card and Lady Visa.

      Setup and teardown and other facets of administration and maintenance vary from faire to faire. At the Novato Faire, what was done was to hire a number of people at the beginning of the run to help with setup and teardown, security, and the like, where boothies would tend to build their own booths, often having the same location each year.

      From what I've seen of a number of small faires, much is volunteer, some paid, but, again, the operations overhead of booths and guilds are their own, and the main concern of the faire is the location and support. Iain Abrach has a trailer from which comes a pavilion and such props as chairs and some tables, and a complete cooking area, and setup and tear down are the responsibility of the clan.


>>> Location

      In the case of choosing a location, what the Celtic New Year's producers did was to choose someplace that would be good no matter how bad the weather. That the weather that year was perfectly fine turned out to simply be a bad guess. What comes to mind as the important points are;

      Sufficient, secure parking for customers with separate, even More secure sufficient parking for actors and boothies.

      Secure camping area for actors, boothies, and staff, and easily available showers are *Quite* appreciated.

      A stage/faire area which provides sufficient maneuvering and staging room for all the actors, the actors' guild areas, and for the booths and their customers. Food booths in particular require areas for the customers to sit, which can be done by either having a collective seating area, or, often better yet, hay bales or such seating scattered hither and yon to break up the clump of mastication in favor of more access for interaction and basic people watching.

      Easily accessible areas for such things as first aid and privies---what a combination!

>>> Guilds and such

      Costuming and characterization depend on the origin of those doing such. For a large multipart organization such as California's now defunct Living History Center Faires at San Bernadino and Novato, relative accuracy and uniformity is kept up properly because all guilds in such are simply respective boxes from which the collected pool of actors work, and everyone is required to have the same workshops and minimum level of costume, ability, and skill.

      Independent, self supporting guilds have their own responsibility for keeping up appearances and practices, and this can result in not bothering to do much of anything, such as those I really can't cite because they just don't last long enough to be noticed. This can also result in a guild that's so together that the members are advising a new faire on what's right and wrong because they do have the experience and the knowledge.

>>> Booths

      Booths . . . The approach that works is to borrow from the SCA and it's unofficial battle cry of "Duct tape *IS* period!" and, while remaining in the 1500s, simply extend things forward, much like Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy series. In that, for example, at a time in the late 20th century, a bullet is confirmed as having been fired from a particular semiautomatic pistol by sprinkling powder on the bullet, powder in the pistol barrel, saying the correct spell, and watching the bullet pop back into the pistol---and then reporting back to His Majesty's investigative officers.

>>> Running the faire

      Setup/teardown, security, admin/ticket taking, first aid and other support are also a matter of large faire organizational needs in contrast to smaller ones.

      For the large multi-weekend faires, setup and teardown can be handled by the same people that handle support assistance during the run of the faire, quite possibly as basic hired staff. Support assistance in this case can be anything from ticket taking to taking out the garbage. Security and first aid are more specialized, but as such can be arranged as setup is being completed at a large, multi-weekend site, would need to be arranged ahead of time far more then the setup personnel at a one weekend gig. As stated, for the smaller faires, the rest does tend to be arranged through a supporting volunteer group . . . . sometimes . . . depending on the faire.


      Whether one is working a relatively small one weekend faire, or a relatively large multi-weekend faire, the basic pieces of both are the same, and simply require implementation with attention paid to the variables of the situation. If one does Not pay attention to all the pieces as equally as possible, and does not hold all to the highest possible capability, one's attempt at a faire will have a limited occurrence, and No history.

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© 1996 Cassiel C. MacAvity