Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Buddy, It's a Ren Faire.

To the tune of "We Will Rock You"
words by my very talented friends, not me

Buddy, it's a ren faire
you can get a beer there
find someone to braid your hair
and paint your face

they got henna tattoos
games to win or lose
minstrels on the stage
rockin' renaissance blues

Weekend, Weekend Ren Fair!

Summer, 1995.  Bristol Renaissance Faire/Festival/Thing.  My mom & I went to go shopping and see stuff, which is what you do at these sorts of things.  I got my face painted and bought a dried flower wreath for my head.  I was 14 and impressionable, loved theatre and playing dress up, so it was a perfect diversion for me.  My mom & I did not wear costumes.  We shopped, maybe saw some shows, but that's it.  I don't remember much about the people who worked there other than the fact that they wore costumes.  I had a great time, and everyone I knew told me I should work at a renaissance festival.  It seemed like the perfect job for me--drama, costumes, make-believe... but I had no idea how to get started finding out how to get involved, and with my particular lack of ambition and abundance of enthusiasm for whatever happened to be in front of me, I forgot. 

Each summer, I would make one trip out to the festival.  I would shop, wear my wreath, get the same spray of blue roses painted on my face, eat food, see stuff, and come home happy.  The summer between my junior and senior year I went with a boy whom I had a ridiculous crush on.  I remember buying this ear-cuff & earring set in gold with tiger's eye beads and when I showed this boy, he touched my ear and it was this moment of uber-specialness in my little teenage head... but that is pretty irrelevant to the story at hand.  At least I think it is, because I don't intend to ever tell the story that would feature that particular moment as an important plot point.  No one (including me) enjoys that story.  This is a different story about how I would up able to call myself a semi-professional musician and actor even though I work in a cube 5 days a week... I think that's the story I'm telling.  Anyway, that was my last trip to a renaissance festival for a very long time.

Ok, now we can fast-forward many years to the fall of 2003.  I moved to Texas and my big brother worked* at a renaissance festival, so now I had my connection and my way of knowing how to get started.  He introduced me to his friends who also worked there.  I took a trip with said friends to a festival near Houston that wasn't the festival they worked for and my brother's girlfriend (spoiler alert: he marries her later!) dressed me up in her clothes (even though I'm 6" taller than she is) and I went about in costume for the first time ever.  It was fun!  It was what I thought it would be like--shopping and eating and seeing stuff, in funny clothes.  Then, I got sucked into this crazy card game called "Between the Sheets" which isn't at all as suggestive and naughty as it sounds.  It's sort of like "Truth or Dare" with cards, only there is no "truth" option.  Anyway, I made a ridiculous dare, the cards did not turn out in my favor, so instead of my opponent having to go make a fool of himself, I had to do it instead.  It involved talking a vendor out of a pair of fairy wings, a small child into giving up his Italian ice and convincing him, and his parents, to let me scoop him up and give him a "fairy ride" (like a pony ride, only with a fairy... because I was wearing the wings... but dressed as a pirate, because... well, I just was).  And I did.  And everyone agreed and it happened.  Right there, in front of a pub and a million (or so) people watched me do this crazy thing. 

And it was fun! 

So, when January rolled around, I auditioned for the festival that was much nearer to where I lived, and where my brother and all his friends (who were becoming my friends) worked.  I made it.  I had NO CLUE what I was doing, what I had agreed to do, or what I was really in for.  After 7 weekends of rehearsals where a lot of kind, knowledgeable people stuffed my brain full of information on improvisational acting, street theatre, the history & customs of 1533 England and how to create an easily identifiable character in 2.5 seconds, I still had no idea what I was doing or how to spend my day.  I thought I knew, but I didn't know.  I wasn't sure.  I was horribly mistaken about the nature of my performance and what my day would consist of.  Then for 8 more weekends, I talked to strangers.  I said random stuff and embodied this character who was basically me, in funny clothes, and let other performers show me what it was all about.  I got the hang of it.  I liked it a lot! 

My friends and I created this other world where we invited grown-ups to play like kids again.  We asked them to pretend with us.  We told them they were characters in our game of make-believe and they played along.  I'm not kidding.  You can do that.  You can walk up to strangers and get them to play a game that you just made up in which the rules always change and there is no such thing as a wrong answer. 

That was 8 years ago.  I'm still doing that, along with many of my friends and some family too.  I also have become one of the friendly, well-informed people who teaches other people how to do this: talk to strangers in an engaging way that will leave a positive and lasting impression.  I sing on a stage and ask for tips too.  It's hard to believe sometimes that this is my life.

For the past 7 years, I've kept a list of "what I learned" statements from the weekends.  This includes such gems as "Always pee BEFORE the Tart Show" and "The best thing to take off twelve-hour lipstick is fried chicken."  This year, I haven't been as diligent.  It's not because I haven't learned things, but because I haven't made the time to put it into words yet.  This is sort of the distillation of what I've learned about why I keep doing this.  The simple answer is because it's fun.  The complicated answer is because it's fun and there's no where else to do this particular kind of thing. 

So come see me!

*On the weekends, because this is a weekend only gig.  The faire is only open Saturday and Sunday.  He worked another job during the week as well, as does the rest of the cast, which is different from the people who make their living doing this, traveling from place to place.  I mean, some of them work on the weekdays too, making and selling and doing stuff, but they travel to lots of places to do that, and the cast is generally local people who just do this kind of thing on the weekend, instead of like as a full-time livelihood...

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