The Tudor Roses

The Tudor Roses

The Rose Blog

What is this American Renaissance festival and what are those Yanks doing?

Of all the events in the United States of America that can be categorized as “uniquely American,” Renaissance festivals and faires likely are near the top of the list. Celebrating the age of the European Renaissance in Great Britain and Northern Europe, these festivals bring to life characters from an age 500 or more years ago.

 

Many Americans are crazy about British and European history. So much so, that we’ve created entire entertainment venues to slake our thirst for experiencing it as it was…or as it might have been. Our Renaissance faires and festivals are so popular, they inspire many of us to want to go the next step and (gasp!) visit the actual countries represented at our events. Brace yourselves, more tourists are coming, and you have American Renaissance festivals to thank (or curse) for it.

 

Renaissance festivals and faires are outdoor weekend gatherings, open to the public and commercial in nature. They recreate an historic period for the amusement of their guests. Some are permanent theme parks, while others are short-term events in fairgrounds or other large public or private spaces. Renaissance faires generally include an abundance of costumed entertainers or faire-goers, musical and theatrical acts, art and handicrafts for sale, and festival food. Some offer campgrounds for those who wish to stay more than one day. Many Renaissance faires are set during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England. Some are set earlier, during the reign of Henry VIII of England, or in other countries, such as France or Scotland, and some are set outside the era of the Renaissance; these may include earlier Medieval periods (including Vikings), or later periods, such as 17th-18th Century pirates. Some engage in deliberate "time travel" by encouraging participants to wear costumes representing several eras in a broad time period. Renaissance fairs encourage visitors to enter into the spirit of things with costumes and audience participation. Many welcome fantasy elements such as wizards and elves.

 

The Renaissance Pleasure Faire of Southern California in Irwindale was the first renaissance faire in the U.S. It was started in 1962 by Ron and Phyllis Patterson, and the non-profit organization Living History Center. The Pattersons launched an industry that has spread through nearly all fifty states in slightly more than half a century.

 

I began my own career as a Renaissance festival performer in 1997 at Scarborough Renaissance Festival in Waxahachie, Texas. I had attended the faire as a guest and was captivated by the street theatre performances of the faire’s cast. I’d been an experienced stage performer in traditional theatre and I was ready for an exciting, new challenge. I auditioned the following winter and was cast in the role of lady-in-waiting to our Queen Anne Boleyn. The following season, I was re-cast as Margaret Tudor, sister of Henry VIII and Queen of Scotland, the role I have played ever since.

 

What does the cast of a Renaissance festival do? Picture, if you will, that wonderful television program Whose Line Is It Anyway? set in a recreation of 16th Century Scarborough, York, England and filled with  characters much like the cast of the old series Are You Being Served? …except live and right in front of you, speaking and directly interacting with you. Our cast currently consists of nearly 135 performers who play the parts of village residents and courtiers of the courts of Henry VIII of England and his sister, Margaret Tudor of Scotland. We have no script, except for some shows on stage. Off the stage, every interaction with each festival guest is original and done on the spur of the moment. You get to experience a conversation with the village blacksmith over a beer in a pub, a mud beggar in the streets, the King of England during a court dance, or have your engagement announced on the steps of the Market Cross by the Archbishop of Canterbury all in a span of seven hours on a Saturday or Sunday. You are not just watching the actors perform as historic and historically-based characters, you are in the action itself performing right along with them. It is living, historically-inspired, entertainment.

 

 

Renaissance festivals are not 100-percent historically accurate, though they are based deeply in the history of the time period they present. Performers, merchants, and other participants strive for as much accuracy and authenticity as possible within the perimeters of entertainment. As we like to say, “We’re here to recreate the sights and the sounds, but not the smells of the Renaissance.” We also like to think of it as recreating history not as it was, but as we wish it had been. We are family entertainment and it is a bit of a downer to have someone’s head snicked off in front of you while you eat your noonmeat (lunch).

 

All that being said, it’s rather impossible to truly describe a day at a Renaissance faire and do it justice. It is an entertainment experience unlike any other. For a day, or a weekend, you are immersed not just in another place, but another time, where duels with blades happen around you, knights joust for the hand of a lady, and music of another age comes to life among handcrafted merchandise made on site in front of you.

 

For me, as Queen Margaret of Scotland and the Isles, performing at a Renaissance festival is a chance to make the childhood memories of tomorrow’s adults. I am that real, live princess for a child, with a little dash of history and a pinch of Walt Disney. For a day or a weekend, your son or daughter gets to be a prince or a princess, a knight or a lady by order of the Queen. You can take the extra step, don a costume of your choosing and become a courtier in my court. It is your escape, sometimes better than therapy, after a long, difficult week. That is the service I provide in my entertainment career.

 

Having read all this, I do hope you’ll take that leap across the Great Pond and visit us. We would love to host you at our festival. If you wish to learn more about my particular festival, you can find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/QueenMargaretofScotlandandtheIsles or Scarborough Renaissance Festival at www.facebook.com/SRFestival and at our website, www.srfestival.com.

 

Guest post written by Janna Zepp
Queen Margaret of Scotland and the Isles

 

 

 

A big thank you Janna from us all at The Tudor Roses for this great article and to Dennis Hevia Photography for the photos.


 

 

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