Friday, August 21, 2015

American Nomads: In Praise of the Renaissance Faire Community

One more thing I found from my archives........

"I always felt like the show was a dirigible that somehow, when we opened, was up and God knows how the hell it got there.  Admit it, we all wish the village could somehow last forever.  When I leave the Bristol Renaissance Faire, I always remember a town full of people, and I'm glad that, even when it's buried beneath the snow, it exists, it will come back.  It's like Brigadoon.

It's all transitory really - it's only right now that we have anything, anything at all.  And that's what the Faires are.  They're a celebration that bubbles up literally out of the dust, sometimes in spite of the producers, the corporations, the personalities…….the magic is always there."

Bruce Bramson

I've been  in Renaissance Faires for 30 years.  I've stood in many a booth, eaten many a roasted turkey leg, danced beneath a full moon, shared gossip around campfires, and packed and unpacked many a camper.  I've been a mask maker, an amulet maker, a tarot reader, and a dancer, rolling across the country with winter always to my back.

I never meant to join the circus, so to speak. After graduate school I intended to become a professor of art.   But I guess, like most of us, I just fell in love with the Faire.  And, like all love affairs that begin with a lighthearted kiss, one never thinks, at the time, that the charm of this chance meeting might just change the course of your life.  That it might become a marriage, a career, a family, a way of life…...well, perhaps we are blessed that most of us lack the gift of prophecy.  Not that I have any regrets!  

The truth is, I write this as a love token, homage to a very special community.  And this year, 1999, is the first year in many I'll come off the road, to have what my friend Cora the Wheat Weaver calls an "out of bodice experience".  Peggy and others will manage the Rainwalker booths this year.  Well, I'll try, dear ones.  But I doubt this is my last Huzzah.

The festivals began in California in 1962, with the genius of Phyllis Patterson, a history teacher.  They began as a fund raiser for KPFK, public radio in Los Angeles, and offered participants an opportunity to join in the fun of reenactment.    Renaissance Festivals across the country are now a multi-million dollar businesses, a far cry from the counter-cultural encampments they once were.  And there are  three generations of "Rennies", many of whom have grown up on the road.  Some of us have noticed that we are growing old with the shows….strange in a world that, like the Fairy Isles, seems to be timeless.

My first encounter was in the early '70's, when I wandered into a circle of interesting people doing some interesting dancing at MacArthur Park, in Los Angeles, one sunny afternoon.  They invited me to step into the magic circle, and before I knew it, I was dancing with them at the northern California Renaissance Festival, my velvet gown swirling behind me as I bowed to my partner, to the beat of drum and dulcimer music.  I do not think I will ever forget, late one night, as the flaps to our troupe's admittedly noisy tent parted.  Within the aperture, framed by the yellow light of a lantern, coated, cloaked, and formidable, stood the Sheriff of Nottingham.  "Thou dost disturb the peace!" he said.  Busted!

Many "Rennies" are nomads, which is a phenomenon in itself worth writing about.  Why do people become nomads?  What draws them into a lifestyle of constant movement?  I'm curious.  I've been asking myself that question for a long time.  Perhaps it appeals to a certain kind of restless soul who thrives "enroute" without, at least on the surface, the physical and emotional commitments that being "landed" engenders.  Maybe it's more primal than that: the Renfair community is rather tribal, and there are not many opportunities left to live a tribal lifestyle these days.  Like all tribes, it has its touchstones, rites of passage, weddings, births, deaths, rules, and ethics.  It's simply always on the move, coalescing and dissolving with each show.

There's a familiar rhythm.  It begins with an excitement that mounts as the show goes up.  For a month or more before the show opens, energy builds as, literally, it comes to life.  Booths go up, new paint and banners appear, trailers and tents sprout like mushrooms.  People drift in - craftspeople setting up their workshops, trying to get stocked for the show, performers rehearsing, carpenters with stages to build and roofs to shingle, kids with beat up vans, piercing and dreadlocks, looking for jobs.  The on-site schoolhouse opens,  potlucks are organized, birthday cakes are baked, drum circles might happen.  And then all too soon there is the amazingly fast breakdown.  A stream of vans, buses and trucks hauling trailers flow out of the gate, for points west or east….perhaps you pass them on route 40, and honk, wave.  "See you in New York!  See you in Maryland!"

It never fails to strike me that this is, well, Zen.  There is a living metaphor here, as I watch each show melt like a snowflake.  Here is a lifestyle that will not let me forget the fragile transience of our lives….we're all nomads, really.  We come together for a while, we make a family, a village, we dance together, we celebrate, we fight sometimes, we create, and then we pack up and we're gone, all in different directions, until next year, next cycle, next lifetime.

Until we meet again.  Same place, same season perhaps.  In the summer when bagpipes call from across the green or in the fall when the trees are crisp and brilliant, and multi-colored banners are flying from some fanciful turret.  

To all  who have celebrated with me for so many years, friends, colleagues and customers, I offer my deepest gratitude and praise.

Lauren Raine
(Berkeley, 1999)

"And we'll all go together,  to pull wild mountain thyme,
All among the purple heather, will ye go, laddie, go?"

With thanks to so many bodiced ladies, and the men in tights who wore them so very well:

Dellie Dorfman, Berkanna, Vicki, Taylor Marie, Barbara and Rick, Michael Stewart, Chris the dressmaker, Heidi the wanderer, Laurette, Pam DeLuna, Madame Ovary, Ceil, Peggy, Cora, Rosanna, Tracy the mask maker, Judy, Sandy and John Lockwood, Kathy and Thor, Judith, Mari, Jayvanti, the Mud Men, Robb Fletcher, Duncan Eagleson, Pat Murphy, Kerry McNeil, Dan, Jeff , Mitch, Cliff the Greenman, Bob, Seamus, Bruce Bramson, Kip, Michael Valentine, Herb and Rita, Bob Lepre, and so many more.

May we remain evergreen.


Rain-in-the-Face said...

In astrology, a peregrine Jupiter gives "itchy feet".

Anonymous said...

Huzzah! You speak to me...the feeling of love around, the smell of Faire dust and roast, the sounds of festivity and hawkers...all unforgettable, thank you Lauren.

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

What a beautiful post!! May we meet someday, Lauren.

micki said...

Beautiful! For many years I too was a member of the "Tribe", singing in the streets and pouring ales. Truly a magical community!

Linda Marie said...

thank you for the lovely story and the quote from Bruce

Randi Bling said...

Thank You for such a beautiful picture of Tribe...and a great one...and the villages are indeed always a family at some point...and always Magickal

DonnaTX said...

Beautifully written thoughts. My faire family is the family of my heart. They are a gift that this universe crossed my path to keep my life interesting.