A Little Reenacting…Huzzah! Time Travel to the Renaissance

Last fall I spent a day wandering the grounds of the Lady of the Lakes Renaissance Festival outside of Orlando, Florida. I’m habitually traveling in the spring every year and miss the one in my hometown, but I chanced upon one outside of Orlando last fall and the lure was too much to resist; I went and played for the day.

My previous participation in (and on going love with) Renaissance Festivals is one of those things that my friends tease me about even though I know they love me (it ranks up there with the “let’s laugh at Shannon because she was once a synchronized swimmer” jokes). The thing is, they’re not exactly “mainstream;” when the State Fair comes to town, that’s “normal” whereas Ren Festivals appeal on a slightly different level.

So what exactly is a Renaissance Festival?

The Queen and Lady-in-Waiting at the Lady of the Lakes Renaissance Festival, Orlando, FloridaLord and Lady of the Lakes Renaissance Festival, Orlando, Florida

Well, it’s a handy way to time travel. Yep, that’s right, even cooler than round the world travel is time traveling back to Elizabethan England. Well, at least, in my book it’s cooler.

Renaissance Festivals take place all over the world (just looked that up to be sure, and they do indeed have Medieval Fares all through Europe and Australia too)  but I’ve only ever experienced a US Festival. And boy do I love them. It may tip my dork-o-meter off of the charts, but I still love them.

Looney Lucy at the Lady of the Lakes Renaissance Festival, Orlando, Florida

In fact, if any of these travelers I meet all over the world actually come to visit me, I’ll drag them to a Renaissance Faire because once you go, they’re actually less odd than you’re thinking. People fall on one of two opinions on Ren Faires:

  • Those who have never been, think it’s supremely odd, ranks it up there with Civil War reenatments and never want to visit one.
  • Those who have been, know its supremely odd and habitually attend for a day of playing with interactive actors, creative games, crafts, and unhealthy food.

My sophomore year in high school I auditioned for my local Faire, the Bay Area Renaissance Festival. I got in and promptly forfeited every weekend of my life for six weeks in excahange for dialect lessons, interactive acting classes, and character building workshops.

Peasants at the Market Cross at the 2001 Bay Area Renaissance Festival.Me and my Faire Father, the Executioner, at the Bay Area Renaissance Festival in 2000.

By opening day of our six week Faire I had perfected a 16th Century lower class English accent, sewed together a raggedy peasant costume to highlight my inferiority in the class system of Renaissance England, and fallen in love with the open acceptance and alternative community of adult actors also acting in that year’s Faire.

Monday through Friday was the humdrum of highschool classes and all-night study sessions. But come Saturday I traded that in for a whole new persona. A character I built from scratch and could adjust, change, and humanize while I played with all of the turkey-leg toting visitors to the Ren Faire.

Robin Hood and archers at the Lady of the Lakes Renaissance Festival, Orlando, Florida

That first weekend of Faire was the first time I really feel in love with acting; the character and experience was an escape and I met people my parent’s had never previously exposed me to – they were “alternative,” a bit crude, but warm and accepting.

If you’ve never yet visited one (and I sadly suspect that’s a large portion of people reading this), the character actors at the Faires are a hoot. Many of the Renies (think Carnies…but decidedly different) have perfected these personas over decades and take their Renaissance characters and costumes touring Faires all over the US.

Yeah, they do it for a living.

The Spanish Ambassador and his Spanish Ladies (me included) at the 2001 Bay Area Renaissance Festival.

That concept floored me. My parents both go to work every day in an office and Faire was my first exposure to a more nomadic existence…and the community you can still create as a nomad.

Back in high school my weekend escapes acting in the Renaissance Festival gave me an “out” from the stress of high school and that notion of “fitting in.” All of the Ren Faire actors are just a tad wacky…and it was nice to be accepted wholly and totally no matter what I said, did, wore, thought (a marked contrast to high school let me assure you) – whatever I did was all welcomed with a “yes, and” (which is a standard improv game where you just build upon what the other actors feed you, never negating an idea).

Really, it just feels open. I went last fall and though I didn’t know half of the people at the Orlando Faire, I know they’re the kind of people I’d love to grab a beer with and lose an entire evening to swapping stories.

The Mistress of the Goal at the 2001 Bay Area Renaissance Festival.

To write this post, I flipped through my scrapbook and there was a catch in my throat as I thought about those years. There’s this nostalgia writing about the Ren Faire. It’s only in retrospect that I value the experience and see how it shaped who I am today.

I love the memory and now enjoy going back as a visitor,  walking the festival grounds and reveling in the quirky Renaissance environment I tried so hard to perfect a decade ago.

Visitors are invited to walk around for the day shunning modernity and instead playing games made out of wood and ropes. There’s the jousting and human combat chess. Princesses and peasants.

Prepping for the jousting match at the Lady of the Lakes Renaissance Festival, Orlando, Florida.Chess Match at the 2001 Bay Area Renaissance Festival.

The people are friendly and if you’re outgoing enough you can spend the day captivated in the story the interactive actors have created for you. There’s almost always a plot to assassinate the queen.

One of my favorite shows was in Orlando this year; the Washing Well Wenches are raunchy (which I adored back in high school and I was thankful to see it’s still funny now) and they tie with the Mud Show as best show to catch. My first year working in the Faire I visited the mud pit as a part of my morning ritual so I could slather my face in mud and really feel like a peasant…commune with the dirt and all that jazz.

Both shows tour the US Faires extensively so if you’re visiting the US, and a Faire is nearby, how lucky for you that you get to attend!

Washing Well Wench at Lady of the Lakes Renaissance Festival in Tavares, Orlando.Washing Well Wenches in a show

Also have to shout out to Empty Hats – their music pulls at my heart and I was so glad to hear their tinkling melody at the Orlando Ren Faire…because Faire is just not Faire without them. My Ren Faire memories are thoroughly laced with the sounds of these talented musicians.

Empty Hats playing at the Lady of the Lakes Renaissance Festival, Orlando, Florida.The Village Idiot at the Lady of the Lakes Renaissance Festival, Orlando, Florida

If you get the chance, I have to say – just go. I know it sounds weird. Even people who know me think it’s strange. But seriously. Go. It’s a bizarre slice of culture you won’t find anywhere else and a travel experience in its own right.

Ever been to a Ren Faire? Want to go? Think I’m a dork who should lose all speaking (er…writing) privileges? ;-)

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  • http://www.tourabsurd.com Katrina

    I, too, was once a Ren Faire geek. Being that, in fact, prompts me to point out to you that the Renaissance and Medieval eras were different. Their respective festival events should reflect that difference, as well. (I was part of the original faires in California (http://bit.ly/ejB7lR), so I feel a bit of pride/snobbery/geekery about these kinds of details. ;)

    Faire is definitely a haven for members of all kinds of alternative community members. As a visitor one will probably not pick up on that, since much of that is revealed behind the scenes. Most folks I know who visited loved it, however, and took it at face value: a great kettle of messy, cheeful fun!

    I credit Faire for kindling my interest in history and questioning what we are fed in school texts. History in school was dull, dry, boring. The faires bring it to life with tremendous engagement and great humor. Now that I am traveling, I am glad I was able to learn the skill of looking beyond the obvious markers of contemporary societies, see how little things fit into larger trends, and to connect with the REAL people of a culture instead of empty stereotypes.

    Thanks for the memories! Cheers (or should that be “huzzah!”? ;)!

  • Anonymous

    Huzzah to another geek! You win for a comment that started my day with a
    smile :) Did you act in those Faires in Cali? Vendor? They made it over
    here to Florida in the late 80s and I remember going with my best friend’s
    parents and walking around fascinated.

    I’d agree about the history aspect as well, I know and retain far more
    information and history related to Renaissance Europe than…well…most
    other time periods and it’s precisely because I DIDN’T learn it in school.
    When I was required to learn the Renaissance history, accent, fabrics, and
    clothes it had such a direct application to my life that I learned and read
    voraciously.

    Huzzah to Faire, culture, and an end to empty stereotypes! :)

    (PS: The time periods are definitely different, but I mentioned it because
    they’re similar enough (and they have medieval faires even in Czech and
    other places in Eastern Europe – how cool is that!)

  • http://www.livecollarfree.com/ James Schipper

    You may have crossed paths with Maria before this year if you worked at BARF. She still has friends who do it every year.

    • Anonymous

      That is awesome! I bet we do have some mutual friends for sure, we’ll have to swap stories this summer when I’m back :)

  • JLDempsey

    As one of the organizers of the Lady of the Lakes Renaissance Faire (and a fellow Rennie) I just wanted to tell you how much I loved your post! I met my husband at faire and have made added many dear friends as a result of being involved in them. (My husband is the rogue-ish cad in the picture on the top right wearing the black hat and doublet.)
    We hope you’ll come out and play with us again as your travels allow!

    Yours,

    Jennifer Dempsey
    Lady of the Lakes Renaissance Faire
    http://www.lakerenfaire.com

  • http://twitter.com/FindingMyFeet3 Shay O’Carroll

    how do I sign up… I would love to do this! I have also been a huge medieval dork…

    • Anonymous

      Find your local Faire with a Google search and then email them about auditions – our Faire auditions were typically 3 months before the annual Faire. You would love it and a great way to have fun outside of college classes and the such! :)

  • http://solofriendly.com SoloFriendly

    I’ve never been to one of these, but I’ve always thought they looked like fun. I’d go for sure.

    • Anonymous

      Yay! If you hear of one in your hometown you’d love it…bring some friends and you’d have a blast for the day :)

  • Krista C.

    Good morrow Mistress Shannon! I have been to two Ren Faires and had a great time! I love the knight and horse contests the most. The music is lovely as well and I really enjoy the humor displayed.

    • Anonymous

      Yay for another fan! I wasn’t too sure there were fans who’d find this post. I find the sum total of the experience is just a really nice day every time! The knight and horse are a lot of fun, a fav of mine too :-)

  • http://www.kirstenalana.com/ Kirsten Alana

    I really enjoyed this!! My best friend used to drag me to the Renaissance Fair in our state every year. Eventually, she didn’t need to drag me and I enjoyed going. But I am not sure where those photographs are anymore since they were all shot pre-digital. This makes me want to dig them up!

    • Anonymous

      Definitely dig them up! That’s what I had to do with my Ren Faire ones – they were all in a scrapbook and it was a lot of fun to sort through them and remember all of the ridiculous times! Here’s hoping we both make it to another one soon! :)

  • http://www.noplacetobe.com Poi

    That looks and sounds like one hell of a time! I look forward to hearing you Ol’ English accent!

    • Anonymous

      Yikes! I’ll have to brush up on it if I know we’re going to cross paths soon :) You should def try to catch one if you see one nearby!

  • http://www.mariastaal.com Maria Staal

    Great picts, Shannon! I love these kind of faires. I have been to quite a lot of faires myself, one or two in my native country, the Netherlands and quite a few in the United Kingdom. The faires I went to all had re-enactments as well. Not always specifically a famous battle. I went to several Viking faires, some medieval faires and even a Napoleontic faire. Great stuff! :)

    • Anonymous

      Thanks so much Maria! You’ve seen your fair share of them – I’ve really only been to Renaissance ones, but the Viking and Napoleonic ones must have been really intriguing – would love to see the crafts, games and music at those!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks so much for stopping in and commenting Jennifer! I went with the my
    niece and nephew who home school and it was such a wonderful time – I will
    return the next time I’m in town, thanks for organizing such a fun and
    kid-friendly event!

    PS: A rather dashing rogue you have there for yourself ;-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mickey-Flint/100000642365632 Mickey Flint

    Great posting. I am actually the “Robin Hood” in your pictures (although actually we are Ithilean Rangers from The Lord of the Rings movies :-)

    • Anonymous

      Whoops! I’ll change the caption accordingly Mickey :) You guys were all mysterious and silent so I just assumed, lol. Loved the look though, you were such a fun addition to the Faire!

  • http://twitter.com zablon mukuba

    i love pictures and the costumes are really cool. i went to one of these fairs and i completely enjoyed myself

    • Anonymous

      That’s great that you’ve made it to one – I truly love them and can’t wait to go back :)

  • http://twitter.com/swgraphic Sarah Wu

    wow. it looks like a fun festival. I love those women’s dresses. I bet it will make my waist smaller heheh. Great photos.

    • Anonymous

      They really do make your waist look awesome! I loved wearing a corset for that very reason..sooooo flattering to the female figure. Reason enough to sign up for a Ren Faire, no?! ;-)

  • http://www.musefusion.com Kristal

    This is a great post! I was part of the Dancing Gypsies (not the cast gypsies) at that faire. I also work the Miami and Deerfield Renaissance Festivals.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks so much for stopping in Kristal! I haven’t been to either of those other two Festivals, but Loved the Lady of the Lakes, so perhaps I’ll see you next year :-)

  • http://whirofthesun.myopenid.com/ Naomi

    You’re from the Bay Area? I grew up with that Ren Faire! I used to love going when I was younger, and was totally crushed when it disbanded…such good times :)

    • Anonymous

      What a small world! As a kid it’s so wonderful because it’s soooo different than anything else in this area for sure! :) I was really sad too – it was in such a beautiful and shady spot :(

  • Sofia

    Looks like fun, and odd!

    • Anonymous

      It’s both – in equal quantities too! :)

  • http://thevacationgals.com Jennifer

    I love that you got completely into the spirit of the thing!

    • Anonymous

      That’s the only way to really enjoy them! Surrender and have fun! :-)

  • http://twitter.com/gastrategist Jennifer Barry

    Hi Shannon, I will admit to going to 2 different Ren Faires in 2 different states. :) The last time I wore a chemise, bodice, and skirt. I am not crafty enough to make these though. It is dorky, but fun. I converted someone to wanting to dress up next time too.

    • Anonymous

      Yay! Another rennie hidden in the midst of the travel blogging community! I think you get bonus points for concerting your friend, it’s hard not to enjoy them if you go with someone who’s into them :)

  • http://twitter.com/joshywashington Joshua Johnson

    Oh me! I love a good Ren faire! Anything that allows me to dress up and gallivant around in exaggerated accents!

    • Anonymous

      You dress up!?! That’s so awesome that you play along! I think we should def grab drinks and swap stories if our paths cross Josh, good times will be had. :)