(Belated) A Day at the Faire 2015

userpic=faireThis has been a busy busy weekend leading into a busy busy week, complicated by migraines and business travel. But I did go to the Southern California Ren Faire on Saturday, and a report is demanded:

  • The best thing about this year’s RenFaire wasn’t the Faire itself, but the company: My cousin Cece joined us at the Faire. I haven’t spent a day with her in years, and it was just a lot of fun (especially seeing her joy while fencing).
  • Amazingly, there were no major winners of the “What were they thinking?” costume contest. Either I’ve gotten used to the bad costumes, or perhaps people are learning.
  • Due to the drought, Moonie could only use pretend fire. Understandable, but something is lost in the translation.
  • They seem to have changed the layout once again. I like how the clothing was moved towards the front, but it seemed to be forever until one ran into food and all the stages. They are also rotating artists in and out.

Ren Faire 2015

Other than that, it was a normal Southern faire.


Nottingham II – Faire Harder

userpic=faireThis weekend is the 2nd Annual Nottingham Festival (FB). For those not familiar with the Nottingham Festival, it is an attempt by Faire Folks in Ventura County (especially the folks behind Actors Rep of Simi Valley) to bring back the feel of the Renaissance Faires as they existed in the days when the Faire first began at Paramount Ranch in Ventura. They did a Kickstarter about 2 years ago with plans to bring back a multi-weekend faire. They haven’t gotten to that point yet, but they did bring back a one-weekend faire last year, and another one-weekend faire this year.

Last year’s Faire had its problems. There were loads of logistic problems: the Faire opening and entry was a clusterf*k, and the layout was less than ideal. I’m pleased to say that this year the problems were gone. There were no long lines at entry; the only problem was finding the Kickstarter table for those of us that got passes this year. The opening of the Faire entertainment was good, and modulo the iPad ticket code scanners occasionally acting up, entry was a breeze.

The layout of the Faire was also much much improved. Last year, the food vendors were in this narrow corridor that was a chokepoint. This year, the food vendors were moved to the middle of the main area, where there was space for lines to form without crowding. The narrow corridor was turned into an additional vendor space. The food choices were good, although some of the ran out of food early (especially the meat pies and the cookie vendor). Hopefully that has been corrected today; they should have more food next year.

Relocating the food also meant relocating the Masters Area. Unlike what RenFaire has become, Nottingham exists for a love of history. They have a Master’s Pavillion where famous historical masters speak about their expertise. We heard an interesting talk from Michaelanglo, for example. The new location was very good.

The vendors formed an interesting mix, but more are needed. There were quite a few clothing vendors (including Hearts Delight), some leather vendors, one glassware vendor, numerous jewelry vendors, and a few woodcraft items. There were no wand vendors or pottery vendors. Hopefully, as Nottingham grows and the word spreads about it, the vendor choice will grow.

Entertainment was good: there were a variety of shows, and it looks like that variety was growing. We saw the Country Garden Dancers and Wren of Iniquity; I believe Nicole’s former group, the Parrot Cove Morris, was also performing. In the shows, I also ran into a friend from college days (Mike Urban) that I hadn’t seen in years — an unexpected boon!

One of the great things about Nottingham is that it is small. It isn’t the gigantic thing that Southern has become — it is managable. Further, it hasn’t become wacky. We did our usual looking for WTF costumes. There were precious few — a couple of iridescent fairy wings, barbarians in metal bras. But the outlandish just wasn’t there — there were no Jack Sparrows; there were no Camelot style costumes. This made things much enjoyable.

Nottingham is growing right, and I look forward to attending next year. They’ve also been good to their Kickstarter supporters — we’ve actually gotten tickets included two years in a row, although this year we didn’t learn about it until after I had bought two tickets. That’s OK — we just brought two friends with us and introduced them to the faire!

P.S.: This year … no blisters. Thank you, Five Fingers.


Change Is In Ye Olde Air

userpic=faireAs 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.


A New Faire in Town

userpic=faireBack 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.

Nottingham MapSo 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.


Who’s Next? Sir Topham Hatt?

userpic=faireAs you know, we’re regular attendees at the Southern California Ren Faire. We’ve been going to the Faire for years, starting in Agoura, and then after a long hiatus, in Devore and now at the Santa Fe Dam. So we’re on the mailing list for the Faire, and we’ve seen how the Faire has changed over the years. We’ve seen them become less and less historic, and more and more fantasy. This is often captured through their “special events”:  we have moved from only pirate weekends to now having steampunk and time travellers, and weekends for general fantasy. They’ve even got, heavens forfend, a “wenches weekend” — their version, I guess, of a “Ladies Night”.

However, an email I received from the Faire earlier this week has to be the topper. According to this email, on April 20:

Mike the Knight™ will be making a special trip from his kingdom of Glendragon to visit his fans at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire. The young knight- in-training will be at the faire to meet and greet, have Mike the Knight storytelling and giveaways, and more!

For those who don’t know Mike the Knight, we met him a few years ago, when he was out with his buddies Thomas and Bob (the Builder) at the Orange Empire Railway Museum. Mike is an animated character from the stables of HIT entertainment (now part of Mattel). He is currently on Nick Jr. The series, according to Wikipedia, is “is about 10-year-old Mike whose father is gone to discover adventures. Looking up to his father, Mike wants to be a knight. However, he is still a knight-in-training. With his two dragon friends, Sparkie and Squirt; his rival, witch-in-training Evie; and his horse Galahad, Mike tries to be the bravest knight of all. Throughout his adventures, he learns the importance of sharing, caring, giving and understanding, with a lot of help from Evie.”

To me, the presence of Mike at Ren Faire is just another example of how the operators of Ren Faire are primarily interested in bringing in the people (and increasing the gate take), and the history side of the equation has been pushed to the side. It is there, but only for entertainment value. This is also likely why there is now an effort in Southern California to create a faire that returns more to the roots of the original Agoura faire. The organizers intend for this new faire to be non-profit; it will be interesting to see how that changes the emphasis.

Of course, I still intend to visit both faires. I just found the email about Mike the Knight just a bit over the edge, even for what SoCal Faire has become.



A Day at the Dam Faire 2013

userpic=faireToday was our annual visit to the Southern California Renaissance Faire at the Santa Fe Dam site (hence, “the dam faire”) [although I’ll note there is a small possibility of a second visit due to the Marketplace Weekend]. As such, it is time for the annual game of Pick The Worst Costume. After all these years, the Faire must be getting to me, as I’ve grown numb to the fairy wings, the pirates, the barbarians, and even many of the belly dancers that seem to show up. However, every year there are at least a few costumes that have me shaking my head.

Ren-Faire 2013In the men’s competition, we have two contestants. Contestant #1 was dressed as a barbarian, with coupious butt cheeks visible that he kept adjusting. He appeared to be creating the illusion he was commando, although one could detect a small leather thong from the side as he kept playing. Male contestant #2 was this older fellow, in a 1960s peace symbol T-shirt, with an incredibly gaudy and tacky hat.

On the female side, there were a number of folks who I didn’t get pictures of. There was the young miss in a faire-style corset with her frontsets on display… in a thin-white see-through T-shirt. There were the numerous belly-dancers that made you do double takes. There were the girls dressed as pirates, complete with beards and mustaches. But I did get pictures of a few. There was this lovely young pirate thing, exposing quite a bit of skin. But perhaps even worse was this angelic vision in high heels, wandering around the Shire.

But as I said, most of the costumes were somewhat tolerable (although, as always, I invite you to share your stories of bad costumes). The rest of the Faire was great. Moonie was hilarious as usual, especially when his Eagle Scout volunteer did unexpected things. Shopping was good and we got stuff at most of the usual places (Schulps (new mug for Karen), Oberon (in Tower of London) (new pouch for me, new belt for Karen), Hearts Delight (new bodice for Karen), Bullseye Leather and Clothing (new pants for me)), plus some new places for jewelry for Karen and Erin.

In August, we’ll hopefully be visiting a new faire: Nottingham Festival (Facebook). According to the Actors Rep of Simi, who are organizing the event:

Since the Renaissance Pleasure Faire left Agoura, there has been a desire to bring a more accessible, regional faire back to the Ventura county area. During the last two weekends of August, and the first weekend of September of 2013 (including Monday – Labor Day), the Nottingham Festival will recreate the magic and revelry of an Elizabethan field and marketplace, replete with more than 100 vendors of various goods and merchandise, over 1000 costumed entertainers, including strolling musicians and jugglers, street actors and dancers, plus horse tournaments and special events for children and adults of all ages. There will also be several performance stages featuring children’s theatre, exotic dancers, musicians, and a community theatre stage. During the week, the reenactors will offer field trips for school children who will be able to experience first hand (and hands-on) the lifestyle and handicrafts of the 16th Century. With a daily estimate of three to four thousand attendees, faire organizers; Jan Glasband; Creative Artistic Director, Josie Hirsch; Corporate Operations Officer and Andrew Elkins; General Manager, are expecting a total of about 25,000 over the course of seven days. Proceeds from the Nottingham Festival will be donated to local non profit organizations, community projects and the development of arts educational programs for youth. The festival will take place in an area adjacent to the cities of Moorpark, Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks on a 150-acre parcel of land owned by the Cassar family of Moorpark, just west of the 23 Freeway at the corner of Tierra Rejada and Moorpark Road. Those wishing to participate as a volunteer, vendor or entertainer, please contact Andrew Elkins at andrew@nottinghamfestival.com. For more information, visit our website: www.nottinghamfestival.com.

Lastly, for those in the Bay Area, Erin has indicated an interest in attending both Northern Faire and Dickens during the fall semester 2013 at UC Berkely. If you would like to get in touch with her for that, drop me a note and I’ll pass it on.



Catching Up: Friday Link Stew

I know, I know. I’ve been quiet all week. That’s because I’ve been busy taking care of my wife (who had shoulder surgery on Tuesday) and dealing with various work stuff… plus there haven’t been a lot of articles that caught my eye. So, while I’m back and work and eating lunch, here are a few that did:

Music:The Music of Smash (Megan Hilty): Let’s Be Bad



Ren Faire 2012: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Today was our annual Ren Faire visit. Let me share with you some quick observations:

The Good. This was the Faire’s 50th Anniversary. There was lots of cool Faire historical stuff, from each vendor indicating when they started at the Faire, to an entire Faire museum. I have no idea whether it will travel to Northern, although it may. In case it doesn’t , you should really come to Southern to see it.

The Bad. We went on Easter Sunday, expecting the Faire to be a little less crowded. It was. However, the San Gabriel Dam Recreation area was not. It took us 45 minutes to get from the corner of Irwindale and Arrow Highway to a parking spot, and most of that was just the delay going the 4 blocks to the park entrance. This is something that needs to be fixed.

They also had to rearrange the routing due to ADA requirements, which got rid of passthroughs. This made the clothing row much more sparsely travelled. This wasn’t good for the vendors.

The Ugly. Surprisingly, not as ugly this year. Perhaps the ones who wear g-d-awful costumes are in church on Easter or with their families. We did have a few. There was the fellow dressed as Tarzan, including the jungle print loincloth. There was the girl in purple tights, a rainbow tutu, and bad purple fairy wings. There were the few belly dancers that were more belly than dancer. But nothing really outrageous, other than more bunny ears than usual. But I give that a pass… it was Easter, after all.