As you may know if you read the last paragraph of my theatre/concert write-ups, we went to the Southern California Renaissance Faire yesterday. I’d like to share some observations of the day.
They drastically changed the layout this year — ostensibly, from what I hear, due to an ADA lawsuit requiring the concrete pathways in the park to remain accessible. This resulted in all the clothing and artisan vendors being mostly congregated in two alleys in the front part of the Faire, with food seemingly much further back, games spreadout, and the stages seemingly much more hidden. I found the new layout a bit harder to navigate (partially because (as usual) they didn’t ensure that each patron got a map as they walked in), but it was nicer to have a lot of the clothes and other goodies up towards the front.
Some vendors seemed to like the layout; others thought it lead to less foot traffic and slower business. I know that some of the vendors appeared to have a much smaller crowd than I’ve seen in years past (the big Hearts Delight booth being a good example of this — they lost their usual corner spot). As we shopped, I asked vendors what they thought — some liked the layout, others thought it brought them less business.
Supposedly, the new layout gave the Faire an extra 6 acres to work with. It also made the ADA restrooms in the park available to all (and all the drinking fountains — huzzah for free water). However, what the Parks Department giveth, they also take away… the new vendor’s row evidently has to pack up quicker than the rest of the Faire because that part of the park must be open to the public by Memorial Day weekend (the Faire itself ends mid-May).
The Faire owners seemed to take advantage of the new space to bring in a lot more vendors. I saw a lot more leather vendors, a few more pottery, a few more clothing vendors, and some new jewelry vendors. However, the additional vendors really reflected the change in the Faire. There was a book vendor that was selling childrens books about pirates… and DVDs of pirate movies. There was a fair amount of steampunk accessories and clothes. I started going to the Faire in the days of Paramount Ranch and Agoura — you used to never see as much non-period stuff. This was also seen in the games — there was one where people were going into large plastic balls and rolling around. I fail to see how this fits the period.
The Faire ownership has also instituted theme weekends — and this weekend was “time traveler” weekend. There was steampunk (of course), people in Star Trek costumes, and all sorts of mish-mashes. In talking with some of the guilds up front, this was a reflection of the transformation of this Faire (the original) from real Renaissance to a more general Fantasy Faire. Although I understand why this has happened — it needed to be done to draw in the audience to support the Faire’s growth — I miss what was once there. Perhaps the fledgling Nottingham Festival in Simi Valley will keep the original dream alive. We really need to support that effort.
With the time traveling theme, it was impossible to pick a worst outfit. Perhaps I’ve gotten jaded, but I now ignore all the fairy wings and lusty pirates running around. If there was a winner this year, it was the group of college age men, in jean shorts and T-shirts, with torn sheets over their shoulders in the manner of a toga party. RenFaire is not a Toga Party.
We really only sat through one show — Broon’s show on the Fool stage. It was very good, but he kept having to explain that Moonie was off doing a play in Chicago.
Parking was better organized this year — at least we didn’t run into the same traffic as in previous years. The porta-potties, however, seemed fewer in number and more poorly maintained. There were also more obvious smoking areas, and the food seemed further back (but there were many more tables).
I’m sure we’ll be back next year (and of course, we’ll be at Notthingham). A P.S. for those reading this far: Erin has indicated that, after two years in Berkeley, she’s hoping to go to Northern next year, as she’ll have a car. Northern Faire Folk reading this should drop me a note if they want to get in touch with her regarding Northern.