News: 1999-05.21-FairPraise

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T: Renaissance fair was a family affair
D: May 21, 1999
A: Linda Locke
C: Contra Costa Times

THE BEGINNING OF MY affair with the Renaissance Pleasure Faire was when my children were about 10 and 13 respectively, about 1973.

Both my son and daughter had been inculcated in theater since early childhood. History was a truly fascinating subject for them. Early one Saturday in late summer, I gathered them up and we three went to Novato to see the Renaissance fair. Both reported on the event later when school opened in the fall.

We arrived before 10 a.m. and were treated to the nobles and the queen entering the fair with trumpets and cheers from the crowd. Even in those hippie days the crowd was orderly and well controlled. I was aware of security but it was not ominous, only firm so as to not let things ever get out of hand.

We entered and were offered costumes to rent, booths for food appropriate to the Elizabethan crowd, and then there we were at the jousting tournaments. My son was thrilled and said, "It's so cool to see the knights on horses." There were, for lack of a better word, "cheerleaders," men who, in full regalia, raised cheers for knights on either side. They booed when their knights lost and cheered when they unseated the opponents. The riders were from the center for creative anachronism. They appeared as chain mailed knights, on fully caparisoned steeds with lances that were blunted but to the children did look lethal.

The knights charged each other several times and after much cheering, one was unseated. He hit the ground with the thud of metal on the ground but arose unhurt and the next riders took their places.

We had other things to see and left the jousting with the promise to my son that we would return. We then saw the procession of the nobles and Queen Elizabeth herself. My son leaned to bow in the proper fashion of the day and my daughter dropped a fair better curtsey than I. Both were as awestruck as any child of the period might have been to "see the queen."

As we wandered through the fair, we saw the Puritans having arguments with the Church of England clerics and pointing fingers at who staggered from the ale house and out of those places of "low repute" which were also a part of this fabled Elizabethan London.

We then wandered past the merchants of wares suitable to the period. Scotsmen in full clan kilts, the skirl of the bag pipes, folk singers, food booths, black smith, beggars, vendors of Bibles and books "for them what could read."

We made our way to the globe theater and sat for Shakespeare's "A Mid-Summer's Night Dream" and then attended a Punch and Judy Show. We saw the jugglers, played the fair games for the crowds, ate the food of the period, and attended all three of the theaters. Karl had to have sword-handling lessons and a close look at the weapons at the black smith.

As we left after the late afternoon (and a return to the jousts) they both wanted to come again. Back at school, both were well educated about the Elizabethan period and what it looked and felt like.

Karl gave his class a story about jousting and Erika could talk to her class about Comedia del Arte, Punch and Judy and Shakespeare.

In later years I returned with the children in costume to sing folk music with my harp, while they worked at booths selling ribbons and children's toys. Before the fair they attended classes to learn character, accents and who you would portray at the fair. Costumes had to be approved and authenticated, rules of conduct explained to them and characters assigned from street urchin or washer lady, to merchant, apprentice, minstrel, lord, lady or noble. It was a quick lesson to the children that the lower you were in class, the less heavy clothes and gear you had to wear in the summer heat.

My son has gone on to his own life in Idaho but at the age of 35 still has fond memories of the frequent trips we had, first as audience and later as participants in the fair.

My daughter and granddaughter have been active in the fairs, as was my ex-son-in-law. They were participants and theater technicians. They have wonderful memories of the preparation for the fair. As for me, I had to give up my participation as I became too arthritic to really perform and carry a folk harp, but was still able to enjoy, to people watch, and to find myself in another era for a few hours, and most of all see others take their young children to such a wonderful living history performance. All I can say is that it is a wonderful way to learn, to be entertained without fear, and to be involved.

Problems of traffic can be resolved. Drinking to excess at the fair results in being asked by security to leave and a ride arranged. No drugs are tolerated, no threats allowed, all swords and knives that are used as part of the costumes must be tied down and drawing of steel will result in being escorted out and possibly arrested. If other problems arise fair security takes the matter in hand and radios the local police or Highway Patrol. The modern security technology is state-of-the-art but unobtrusive, and might be in the hands of a beggar or a knight. Local authorities have reported few problems.

On the plus side, few events can provide as much employment for artists, craftsmen, actors, and the community in general and provide a learning experience for our children. What a rare opportunity to stimulate the imagination.

Huzzah for the Renaissance Pleasure Faire.

Linda Locke is an Antioch resident and president of Antioch Regional Theatre of LMC. The views expressed in this commentary are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Ledger Dispatch.