Some Reflections on Renaissance Faire
I don't generally blog about myself, but the recent passing of Ron Patterson, and the things people have been telling him via Facebook, have caused me to reflect on the impact his Faire has had on my life, and I am blogging about it not because I think you are all just dying to hear my dark secrets, but because I think my experience is very similar to that of many people I know, and I would like to just add this to the discussion that has been sparked by Ron's final journey.
I didn't know Ron Patterson, but I know the thing he created with his wife Phyllis: the Renaissance Faire and the Dickens Fair, and his passing has given me occasion to reflect on the role it has played in my life and the lives of so many people I know.
In my particular time of life, I no longer need the Renaissance Faire. My wife and I no longer go -- though we still regularly visit the Dickens Fair, as a way to help maintain a connection to many friends and fond memories; but we do live every day with what the Faire gave us.
The Faire and I got together at a crucial moment in my life: that transition from childhood to adulthood. I started in my senior year of High School, as a shy, awkward, repressed and very up-tight boy. I had a life long passion for history, which is what initially attracted me, but having lured me in, it used that opportunity to work some fundamental changes in me.
My first gig at Faire was as one of Ken E. Millikan's peasants, and I have very distinct memories of finding it extremely hard to relax, have fun and act like a loony. Eventually, under the tutelage of the Master, I got over that.
I was then introduced to the "Court" and Dickens Fair through Pam Phelan, a teacher at my High School. I guess it was the '70s, but when I look back at it, the idea of a teacher bringing her charges into an environment so awash in sex and drugs and rock & roll, seems a bit surprising. I doubt it would be tolerated today, but back then no one seemed to think twice about it. I for one am glad of it. For the most part, we High School kids seemed to find our way through that adolescent minefield, and come out the other end better for it. Those few who lost their way were dealing with issues unrelated to Faire, and I fear were already lost.
As for me, what I found shaped the rest of my life, and perhaps saved me.
The awkward boy who had never had the nerve to ask a girl out in High School was thrown into intimate contact with smart, delightful, creative and wonderful women who helped me down the path of figuring out how this love and relationship thing was supposed to work -- and then I found the woman to whom I have been happily married for almost 30 years. I honestly don't know what would have happened if I didn't have an environment as intense as Ren Faire to push me along. I might have gone into the Army (as I was already obligated to do after college) and, lacking any particular reason to get out, stayed in as a bachelor soldier until I was killed, maimed or they just didn't want me any more.
I also learned how to perform. I learned how to get up in front of a group, take center stage and speak comfortably and confidently (I am often more comfortable talking to a hundred strangers than to one) -- and I also learned how not to be boring when doing so. This has proved amazingly useful. It served me well as an Army officer and has made my Powerpoint presentations a bit more lively than you will generally find at a business meeting or professional conference. I owe this entirely to the training and example of the absurdly talented people I met at Faire.
It has also connected us to a community where extraordinary talent and creativity are commonplace -- a community that has expanded well beyond the bounds of the Faire to infiltrate any number of history related activities - vintage dance, historic preservation, education etc. and while Faire veterans may not be the majority in these other activities, you can often pick them out as the ones with the energy, passion and an instinctive sense of how to put on a good show.
And finally, it has given us so many lifelong friends. I have some good friends from High School (many of whom, I should mention, are also quite brilliant and accomplished), a few more from college, work or daily life; and some more I have met doing the activities to which we have gravitated since Faire; but the people I met back in the '70s and '80s, while wearing tights, top hats or baggy pants, have formed the core of the people I seem to find myself with most often -- and these people seem to have stories very similar to mine.
So, thank you Ron and Phyllis Patterson for creating this wonderful stage upon which so many of us had such a great time, found love, found so many friends, and found ourselves.