As Cosplayers, there are times when attention to detail is critical. That particular shade of color could make or break the recognition factor under the horrid florescent lights shining down on the Convention Floor. You worry, bite your tongue, try to make last minute changes; anything to get it just right so that people stop to take pictures while you rock your favorite characters. And then there’s the Renaissance Faire. When I was growing up, Renfaire, or just Faire as almost everyone I know calls it, was the place you went when you were secretly into the Elizabethan Era, loved Medieval Times or found yourself wanting to live out your D&D game. My mom would take us to the Glen Helen Pavillion, slather us in sunscreen and then escort us around while we made terrible decisions eating giant turkey legs, riding the viking swing and begging for hair garlands we would lose before we even made it to the car. My dad even took my sister and I to get our hair braided at a Faire somewhere outside of Denver as well. While we popped in and out for a few years, I eventually got “too old” for it all and descended into my gothy dark madness where Victoriana was the thing and eating a turkey leg in public was just too crass.
Then college happened. As I was ascending the steps from college to the realm of the employed, being a Geek became…cool? Talk about blowing my mind. Things I was mocked for loving were now on nostalgia t-shirts and everyone was talking about their planned Doctor Who weddings. I’m sorry, what world was this? Hadnn’t I just finish four years of being mocked for my love of Buffy the Vampire Slayer?
I was lucky enough that my good friend Hannah (who I met through mutual Buffy love, thanks very much) went every year to Faire with her family and wanted me to come along. I hadn’t been in years and we had never dressed up when I was a kid. She hauled out several tubs of garb, dropped them on the table and we had at it. Bodiced and peasant-bloused out, we descended upon the madness that is the Renaissance Pleasure Faire located at the Santa Fe Dam in Irwindale, CA. I have been going back ever since. After several years of returning, making mistakes and having a heck of a good time, it was time to give back to you the fabulous readers.
Here’s a few things I’ve noticed over the years and a little advice to survive your experiences enjoyably:
A) Pretty much only the Faire volunteers are close enough to be considered period accurate, so stop stressing
This was a little overwhelming to the girl who just borrowed garb out of a plastic tub in her friend’s garage. At first I was a little worried that not being period accurate would set me apart from the other attendees. Then I saw the sheer number of people dressed in Pirate Halloween costumes and quickly calmed down. When you walk into the Faire you discover there are costume rentals and the option to purchase garb. Then, you realize how much this stuff actually costs, cry a little at your lack of time or sewing materials, and go eat a turkey leg. This year, for example, three members of our group rented garb at the front entrance. The cheapest garb set back one of our men 35$ and he had to have it back by 6:30pm or face an additional fee. If you have your own, great, but no one is going to corner you and mock you for your lack of a codpiece or lack of snood.
Of course, SCA people will be accurate and likely have hand-sewn their intricate Italian bodice themselves. Yes, there will be someone in a middriff trying to be a Roma (or gypsy to more common speak) and badly failing. Yes there will be a crap ton of people dressed and pirates and fairies. Seriously, don’t be that person who complains about other peoples’ costumes. Just put on a costume and go throw an axe. Axe throwing is fun.
This year I was delighted to discover that Faire volunteers kept asking for where I bought my corset. ( VioletVixen.com. Not period accurate, but pretty. Order early because their shipping takes FOREVER).
B) Hard Cider in a Pewter Mug
I bought a pewter mug last year and was not disappointed. This year I set it up on the counter and the tavern lady dumped ice water in it, swirled it around and waited for the pewter to get cool while she prepped our drinks. Talk about service. Also, the most popular booze stands will be right when you walk in. If you’re willing to move around a bit, the less visited stands often offer specialty drinks that are a combination of cider, mead and port. The Oubliette at the Southern California Faire is my favorite to stop by and highly recommended, though the White Hart is a close second.
While the pewter mugs are pricey, and mixing back and forth between cider and beer are frowned upon, it doubles as a costume piece.
C) Portapotys are disgusting and strangely similar to the concept of a chamber pot
Try to use the restroom before you get to the Faire or go as soon as the doors open. The longer the sun has to bake the portapotty, the worse it will smell later on.
D) Actors WILL NOT STOP ACTING until they are “off stage”
This means that if you have your cellphone out and are taking a picture, someone just might comment about how you have a magical witch image capture device. Do not punch these people. Someone will try to sell you fake food out of a basket. Volunteers may wield period-specific insults at you in an attempt to be funny. Don’t threaten them or get in their faces. They just might stop acting long enough if it’s to punch you. Just like you don’t want people hassling you at your job, these volunteers just want you to have fun.
E) You Will Get Dirty and Sweaty
There’s no getting around it, you will end the day with dirt in your nostrils and under your fingernails. Most Faire’s are held in dusty areas and you will find yourself turning your bathwater gray later in the evening. It’s a bit like going to an outdoor music festival. I suggest keeping baby wipes in your car and hand-sanitizer in your bag.
If you don’t want to get dirty, you can always stay home with a bottle of Meade and watch Game of Thrones.
F) Pub Crawl
If you want to drink a great deal, get a comedy show and get a pewter pin to show off, go on a pub crawl. It usually costs in the realm of 45$, but with alcoholic drinks being normally around $9.50 a go anyhow, this more than helps if you were planning on day-drinking. The pub crawls are usually once an hour and hosted by some seriously salty people. Don’t bring your kids and be prepared for some less than PC talk.
G) ALWAYS KEEP HYDRATED AND WEAR YOUR SUNSCREEN
It is hot. It is sweaty. If you’re drinking, you’re going to want water. Worst case scenario if you don’t want to spend $4 for water is to keep a good supply of water in your car, get your hand stamped, and then go out to drink it. It’s not worth passing out in a corset.
If you’re fair-skinned or burn at the second you step from a car, wear your sunscreen. Parasols are also available for purchase and super helpful for the fairer-skinned among us.
H) Stay with your group or have a meeting place just in case
Getting lost sucks and it makes it equally more difficult if one or more member in your party have been on the Pub Crawl. Establish a meeting place.
I) Bring Cash and buy your tickets on Discount
Most food and drinks are cash only. Some of the merchants will have credit card machines, but there will also be a good number that still rely on cash only as well. The ATMS at the Faire will charge you a service fee of upwards of 4$, so it’s better to stop at the bank beforehand.
Buying your tickets early is also a great way to save a few dollars. Goldstar.com, Groupon, Wallgreens Drug Store and usually the Faire’s early-buying specials will save you some change.
J) See a Show
The Poxy Boggards are bawdy and foul-mouthed, as are The Merry Wives of Windsor. If you’re in SoCal, see Broon. I have an uncomfortably deep love for Broon. There are often hypnotists, feats of strength and the absolutely necessary knight battles to become the Queen’s champion.
The most important thing is to have fun. Every year is different; heck every weekend is different. We’d love to hear your stories and see you Faire pictures in the comments!