Back when I was in college, in the long ago days of the 1970s, I learned about the Renaissance Faire. There were many folks from the UCLA Computer Club who were involved with Faire, and so around 1978 or 1979 I went, for the first time, to the Faire in Agoura at Paramount Ranch. I went for a few years after that, but then stopped going. By the time I got back into going to Faire regularly (thanks to Nicole), it had moved out to Devore and grown drastically. The Faire is now in Irwindale at the Santa Fe Dam (hence, the appellation “the Dam Site”), and we now go annually.
But the Faire that is at the Dam Site is a far cry from what it was in Agoura. You can see it in the attendees, you can see it in the broader playing to a much broader crowd. You can see it the shear size. You can see it in the greater emphasis on profit. But, for the longest time, it was the only real Faire in the heart of Southern California. That changed today.
In early 2013, the Actor Rep of Simi Valley, in Ventura County, began an effort to bring back a regional Renaissance Faire to Southern Calfornia — back in the area where it first started. As they wrote in their kickstarter, the goal was to bring back a faire like the original. They wanted to bring back a place where visitors could “experience first hand (and hands-on) the lifestyle and handicrafts of the 16th Century.” More importantly, this faire would benefit the community: “A considerable portion of the proceeds from this non profit festival will be granted to smaller non profit agencies in the surrounding communities, and set aside for the further development of arts programs for youth.” The intent was to have the first “Nottingham Festival” (FB) in August of 2013 in Moorpark. Alas, the permitting and land acquisition process didn’t permit that to happen, and so the first “Faire” (really, a taste of Faire) was scheduled for a single weekend in November. In particular, this weekend… and we were there.
So how did they do? The first Faire was held at Rancho Tapo Park in Simi Valley. Easy to get to. Free parking. Not a lot of dust. A lot of trees. Not a lot of drinking fountains. Alas, the weather didn’t cooperate — it was a grey and occasionally drizzly day, a little cool. That’s the risk of mid-November in SoCal, but it is better than 105º!
For a first effort, they did good. There were some major problems. The gate was a snafu, with people who pre-purchased tickets still having to stand in line for up to an hour to get in — as they still had to go to the ticket window to exchange tickets for wristbands. That I write off to not anticipating the turnout they had.
[ETA: Later this evening they posted the following FB status as an update: “What a day! A bit of difficulty with how the gate ran at first, but we already have new plans that will smooth things out. The best problem to have is more people than you expected! If you purchased on line, please allow time to exchange your print out for a wristband. We are going to have people walk the lines to try and save people from waiting in line to do that exchange. Thank you for understanding our growing pains and celebrating our successes with us!”]
They also had a problem with the siting of the bulk of the food vendors — they had merchants on the other side and the walkway was just too narrow between the two. Again, that is a learning experience that will be corrected (additionally, this isn’t the final location of the Faire — that is more likely to be Underwood Farms off Tierra Rejada in Moorpark.
A lesser problem was the merchant mix. This was likely due to the change in scheduling, and the fact that many merchants had probably committed to other Faires or wanted to see how this one would fair before making the financial committment. Many merchants were local to Simi Valley or Ventura County (this is a good thing), including Faire favorite Hearts Delight. You can see a full list here. The mix that was there was good; I just found myself wanting more (especially this close to the holidays). Again, I expect this to be fixed in the future.
Food was good, with the usual faire items present. A big plus was the presence of Cup My Cakez (from Santa Clarita) with delightful gluten-free vegan cupcakes. Alas, the ability to eat gluten-free didn’t carry through — most of the meat items had soy sauce or were in pastry (but Karen did find something — the pork ribs from PC’s Bar and Grill). Hopefully that will improve with a larger Faire. The food I had (cupcake, calzone) was very good.
I found with this Faire it was much easier to interact with the guild people and learn about history. There was lots of fabric artworking on display, as well as other activities. The Faire also had a masters pavilion where a number of historical masters were present; I didn’t get a chance to explore it. We did see a few shows — the Belles of Bedlam, the Passado Action Theatre, and Parrot Cove Morris Dance (we had been hoping it was Nicole’s Morris group — alas, it wasn’t). All were good.
Attendance at the Faire was very good — I think that Actors Rep of Simi correctly guessed that a local Ventura County faire would be a strong draw. Having the Faire in the community also helped (unlike Santa Fe Dam, which is a schlep for many). The vast majority were costumes either somewhat correctly, or at least inoffensively (I guess I’ve finally gotten used to the pirate, steampunk, and fantasy garb). The one major costume standout (which was a wonderfully executed costume, but just wrong) were the three people that beamed down from Deep Space Nine in full 24th Century Star Trek garb. I contrast this to the Dam Site Faire, where there are far too many “slutty” costumes, Jack Sparrow pirates, and costumes that just make you go “huh?”. I’ll note that the Ventura County location seemed to draw from a different socioeconomic pool, but I attribute that more to this Faire being much closer to the original Faire in concept and execution — and thus, much less likely to draw from the mass market of the SoCal basin than the Dam Site Faire does.
Ultimately, what was my assessment? For a first-time effort out the door — very good. Yes, there were a few hiccups. A wise Kindergarten teacher I once assisted once told me “The first time you do something, it’s not a mistake.” Hiccups, for a new group doing an activity like this, are to be expected and are learning opportunities for future Faires. They drew a good size crowd, they served lots of food, I didn’t hear merchants grumbling, what needed to be covered in burlap was covered in burlap, and the people I saw appeared to be having a good time. Once people got it and past the lines, I heard no growsing or complaining. Those working at Faire seemed to be loving it, and everyone seemed to be very happy to have a local Faire back in Ventura County.
In short, huzzah to Actors Rep of Simi Valley and the Simi Valley Cultural Association for pulling this off. I’m proud to have supported their Kickstarter, I look forward to the first full Faire in August 2014, and I look forward to a long history of Renaissance Faires back in the area where the Faire was born — in the hills of the Santa Monica and Santa Susanna Mountains of Southern California.