November 18, 2016 – Last month, I took a trip back in time and visited the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire.
As a first time visitor, I had expectations but tried to keep an open mind after hearing stories from people who either enjoyed or despised the experience. Faire workers, for example, dress in period costume. I expected that. Referred to as actors, they wander through the grounds unable to be pulled out of character, much like the Buckingham Palace guards when faced with a Lucy Ricardo in the crowd. Wenches pour drinks and sing lewd songs; poets recite bawdy poetry and then apologize for it; and street performers juggle knives, swords and other objects, and wrestle in lots of mud.
One of the many interesting oddities you’ll come across at the faire.
The impressive four men, who acted as common villagers walking through town, for example, had a rather lengthy conversation about “displeasing the King and serving at his pleasure.” They didn’t miss a beat and included me in the conversation as I followed them for several minutes. However, the musicians mesmerized me most, as they entertained with the likes of Greensleeves, Scarborough Fair, and a few modern classics made to sound as if they belong in the middle ages. From the guitars and harmonicas, to hurdy gurdys and fiddles, they enchanted the crowd with their serenade.
Ladies singing in the Town Square.
With this blog post in mind, I wanted to ask questions, especially of the four men I followed, but decided not to. The actors would have cooperated, or else they face a fine, so I did my best to learn what I could by paying attention and eavesdropping. Many of the workers camp on the faire grounds during the 10-week season, some even travelling from faire to faire. Those on the national circuit are also mostly pagans, but I’m not sure if that means they are a part of the well-known motorcycle club or they practice paganism, the nature-worshipping religion. Finally, the people who work the booths and sell their wares are independent business owners, known as boothies.
One of the boothies selling her wares.
Here’s what I didn’t expect. The crowd lines up at least an hour before the faire opens, and the majority of visitors dress in costume. I expected some to dress for the occasion, but I didn’t expect to be the minority. I had ample time to ask this group questions as we waited together, and here’s what I learned:
- Many of them (old and young alike) are season ticket holders and frequent visitors to the faire.
- Since I was dressed in 21st century clothing, I am a “Mundane” or ordinary person.
- People who attend dressed in costume are known as playtrons. (Just a hunch, I’ll bet they also play Dungeons and Dragons).
- Playtrons enjoy interactions with the actors, but it’s frowned upon during the scripted events. However, that doesn’t always stop them, and it could be difficult at times to tell one from the other.
- The faire has an actual theme, recreating a village from 1500s England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. When I referred to something as Victorian, a few hard-nosed playtrons glared at me in disgust. Other events, they told me recreate Victorian and Edwardian eras, but “official” Renaissance Faires are only Elizabethan.
- The idea for the faire began in California in the early 1960s when a teacher created a living history exhibit in her backyard as a high school project for her students. The idea caught on and has been active ever since.
Entertaining the King and Queen in the Town Square.
I’m not ready to become a playtron, but I did enjoy my time at the faire as a mere Mundane, and I’d visit again. The village is set in a wooded area, with stunning foliage against the backdrop of a bright blue sky, making it the perfect autumn experience.
If you decide to give it a try and plan to dress in costume, wear sensible shoes. My Fitbit clocked nearly 20,000 steps that day!