I’ve been attending Renaissance Festivals since I was in high school. They combine some of my greatest loves: history, costuming and becoming a character. I’m lucky enough to have joined the cast of Sherwood Forest Faire this season, something I’ve been wanting to do since, well, I first started attending them all those years ago. I’ve learned a few things over almost 2 decades of attending faires and even more from the months I’ve been on the other side of things. If you’re new to faires or just want some “insider” tips, read on.
Go to the website and see what the faire has to offer. Most will have a list of shops, entertainers and perhaps even a full schedule of the acts. You can buy tickets and make sure to check for special offers; there are often deals for military, educators, first responders and students on specific weekends or for the event as a whole. There may be map of the fairground, so you can get familiarized before-hand and lessen your chances of getting lost!
To Camp or Not to Camp
Most faires I’ve been to or heard of give you the ability to camp on premises, in a special campground near the faire itself. Camping is a great way to arrive early and leave late, and if you choose to imbibe alcohol, you can walk back ‘home’ instead of driving drunk. Depending on the faire, the campgrounds may have special areas for RVs/campers, shower areas, portable toilets, quiet/family camping and/or reserved spaces for large groups. I come from a camping family, and since I’ve gotten my mother, aunt and a few cousins into faire, we can do two of our favorites activities as a family and at the same time! You’re most likely going to need to have your ticket purchased before you can enter the campground, so have evidence of your purchase, either printed or on your phone, or be prepared to buy your ticket at the camp gate. Refer to tip #1 for information on what and what isn’t allowed in the camping area, e.g. glass containers, ground fires, pets, etc.
Clothes Maketh Man (All Genders Really)
You are not required to wear costumes, or garb as its called in rennie circles, to enter into the faire gates, but I’ve seen many people walk in and wish they could be a fairy, or knight, or pirate. If you’re not sure about what to wear, there are endless ideas on the Internet, but you can also check the era your faire is set in and tailor (that pun is totally on purpose) your outfit to it. Sherwood is actually a Medieval faire, our year is 1197, so the cast isn’t in corsets and codpieces, but tunics and surcoats. Wear what you’re comfortable in, and for all that’s healthy, wear something comfortable. Corsets and heavy suits of armor are awesome, but make sure you can last the day in them, or have alternate clothing plans. If you decide that a real weapon is to be part of your ensemble, keep it peace tied.
From Michiana Renaissance Festival- Q: What does “Peace-tied” mean?
A: Peace-tying a weapon keeps if from being used. As an example, a sword must be sheathed and the hilt of the sword must be peace-tied to the sheath so that it cannot be drawn. Arrows in a quiver must be peace-tied together and the bow unstrung. It is a simple process that helps insure the safety of the guests.
Eat, Drink and Make Merry
One of the best things about Renaissance Festivals, and any fair really, is the great variety of food! Many faires now are cognizant of dietary restrictions and choices, so you’re not relegated to eating funnel cake, turkey legs and everything fried; if you want something vegan, or gluten free, or simply healthier there are likely to be food vendors selling foods to meet your needs. Check with your local faire if you’re allowed to bring in outside food like protein bars, fruit and the like, as the organizers understand the need for snacks, especially if you have children.
As a teetotaler myself, I find no fun in booze, but it’s a great enticement for many attending faires. Most bars in the faire will have standard choices, but also local craft brews, ciders, wine and mead, a drink that’s not easy to find in most modern bars. Whether you buy a bottle for the day or get each drink individually, remember to hydrate with water, especially on hot days and extra especially if you’re wearing a complicated, air restricting garment. Most of the first aid emergencies I’ve seen have been people who drank to much and injured themselves or people who didn’t drink enough water.
Walking the Lanes
You’re going to get hawked at. Performers are trying to get you to watch their shows, and stores are going to want you to peruse their wares. Take a chance on some of those shows or go into a shop that sells curious items. There are lots of hidden gems at faires, sometimes literally. If you feel as if you’re being harassed, tell the person or security, but be prepared for loooots of interaction with people.
Speaking as a cast member, we’re here because we want to play with you. We want you to feel immersed in the fantasy that is the faire. We’re here to make you feel as if you’ve been transported to Medieval England or Renaissance Italy or Viking occupied France. Plus, we know a lot about the faire; don’t be afraid to ask us for directions or show recommendations or what our favorite food is. And don’t be afraid to ask us about our jobs and other interests. Enfys, my character, loves talking about the girls she left back home, her beloved goats. We put in a ton of work on our characters, and we may be able to teach you a bit of history as well.
If you’re don’t want to talk to us, kindly tell us so, though most of us can read when people aren’t interested in playing along. What we ask for in return is that you respect our boundaries. Our outfits are awesome, so if you want a closer look, just ask. Ask before you touch people in general. Questions are awesome, just try to keep them light and not too personal. The peace-tied rule applies to cast members, as well; weapons are only unsheathed during a performance.
Cash is king at Renaissance Festivals. Some shops will take cards, but the transactions may take some time since cell signals aren’t the strongest and a ton of people are on their phones. Budget for what you want to buy. If it’s your first time out, do a once over of all the shops, find items you like and then go back to the shops with the items you absolutely love. You may be making big, or delicate, purchases, so most shops will hold those purchases for you until you’re ready to head out. If you’re lucky, the artisans will be making items while you’re there, so you’ll get to see someone carving a longbow or linking chain together into a shirt. It’s always a good bet that faires will have blacksmithing and glassblowing demonstrations, with wares available for sell as well. Talking to an artisan about their art is extremely satisfying, as is being able to buy directly from the crafts-person.
The Sights and Shows
There are a myriad of shows to see when you come to faire. Jugglers, magicians, musicians, staged comedy, staged drama, and most people’s favorite, combat sports. There’s nothing like watching people on huge horses armed with large sticks ride at each other at great speed. As I said in tip #1, you can likely find a list of entertainers and a schedule on the festival’s website. Most shows will warn you ahead of time if they’re not appropriate for children, with signage, vocally or both.
Speaking of children, most faires have shows and rides aimed at the kiddies. Some even have an entire section of the grounds devoted to these activities, which include things like carousels, petting zoos, games of skill, giant swings, and mazes. And don’t think that because you’re over the age of 12 you’re immune to wanting to knock your buddy off a log with a sack of hay. Remember, while these are activities and areas with kids at the focus, they are not day-cares. Keep an eye on your children please. If your child wanders off, tell a security person and if you don’t see one, tell a cast member or shopkeep and we’ll find security for you, lickety split.
Well, I think I covered quite a bit and hopefully this information helps you when you decide to attend a Faire!