1. These mofos are serious. From the 1,000-member staff that refuses to break character to the hoards of role-player geeks who cough up an additional ten bucks to participate in RenQuest, there is an alternate reality going on here. And after staring deep into the wild eyes of a mute fairie, the Royal Falconer and Robin Hood himself, I can tell you that the act continues until these people are home on the couch, annoying their wives with their dirty feet and Elizabethan speak.
2. Role-player geeks are awesome. I approached a gaggle of big-breasted wenches to ask about their life as Ren Faire gals, only to be informed that (a) they were not, in fact, employees but paying customers of the faire; (b) they were not into RPG (role playing games), as I stupidly enquired, but are practitioners of LARP (live action role playing); and (c) I was holding them up from seeing the Dread Crew of Oddwood, a traveling band with an inordinate amount of groupies, and I needed to get out of the way before the stampede.
3. With the exception of the Dread Crew of Oddwood (who are from San Diego and are actually a pretty talented band; think Godspeed You Black Emperor fell down a wormhole and landed in an Irish pub circa 1500), most of the performers are lifers, and locals. "Robin Hood" and "Little John" have both been with the Faire for more than two decades, ditto for the jousting knights of the Hanlon-Lees Action Theater. Most of the actors tour the country working as many Ren faires as they can, but when asked how they pay the bills, a few sheepishly admitted to part-time day jobs as computer techs or in data entry. Best. Cubicle-mate. Ever.
4. Dining at Ren Faire may not be a historically accurate experience. The food and drink options at Ren Faire are massive, but this is the one area where I’m calling bullshit on historical accuracy. Credit for the smoky turkey legs of my Ren Faire youth and the sassafras stand (even if the latter is just your standard root beer), but where are the roasted game meats, soups, pies, fresh breads and boozy ales? I’m not a culinary historian by any means, but I’m pretty sure that chocolate-covered bananas, steamed artichokes with hollandaise and tempura vegetables—as tasty as they may be—are not foods of the Elizabethan era. But who knows? Maybe Shakespeare was a sucker for pepperoni pizza.
5. Traveling to the English Renaissance era is like traveling to Vegas—you will leave much money behind. There may not be slots, strippers and blow to suck your wallet dry, but even after the $20 entrance fee you’ll find yourself shelling out for everything you come across (save performances like Adam the Whip Cracker or the Mud Show; perfect as mindless entertainment in 90-degree heat with a beer in hand). Want to walk the pirate ship or shoot a crossbow? Five bucks. Feel like throwing tomatoes at the village idiot? Five bucks for five of ’em. That turkey leg, eight dollars. Beers, six. And don’t even think about outfitting yourself in a bunch of period garb unless you have a Benjamin to spare. Poofy shirts, potion pouches and leather lace-up boots do not come cheap, people. Go big or go home.
Bristol Renaisance Faire runs through Sept 5.