So much rain, so few patrons . . .

8 August 2009

After a Friday of almost non-stop rain, the faire site was a muddy mess. And since it continued to rain until well after noon on Saturday, the patrons were in very short supply. Somehow we managed to pull a respectable day out of the hat, but it was indeed a magic act!

The biggest disappointments of the day were surely felt by the folks of the St. George’s Guilde of Bristol. Today was their 20th Anniversary Reunion Celebration, and the day started with such rain and mud, that many did or could not get dressed up, and others simply stayed at home. But, the festivities went on, and from what I could tell, the folks had a good time, despite the sogginess and somewhat smaller numbers than had been anticipated.

St. George’s is the oldest of the guildes at Bristol—having been founded here when the festival ceased being King Richard’s Faire, and became Bristol Renaissance Faire. The guilde concept was, like most things Ren-faire, born in California, and patterned after the truly period class structures and occupational guildes that actually existed. It was originally a way to put costumed participants in period-looking settings, for the patrons to watch. Um . . . kinda like a zoo! Even in 1995, when Kyle and I did the California shows, it was still very much a concept that although it did not provide much interaction between participant and patron, it did give the patron some really cool stuff to watch, if so inclined. Kyle and I once stood for half an hour or so, just watching the members of the middle class guilde as they cooked, cleaned, did needlework, polished blades, etc. They were within a fenced area, and would only interact with folks in the lane when they emerged from their enclosure. We were still fascinated at that time, by their clothing, and the very nature of the presentation, so we loved it. But, sadly, too few patrons are so inclined, and the guild system has been severely cut back at the major shows.

I don’t know about California, although I’d guess it’s fairly similar now, but here at Bristol, I think we have three surviving guildes:

The Guilde of St. George seeks to recreate the splendor of the English court during the reign of Queen Elizabeth Tudor while on her annual summer Progress.

The Guilde of St. Lawrence is the lower/middle class guild whose primary function is to run “The Dirty Duck”—a charming little cottage and surrounding area where meals are cooked every faire day, over actual fires in period pots and such. The food is then made available at an incredibly reasonable price, to any costumed participant with a pass. So, the whole process is a “show” and rather interesting, if you lean that way.

And, the Guilde of St. Michael presents the impression of a militia of England prior to the onset of the first Spanish Armada.

The current incarnation of the guildes better now, at engaging the passing patrons. At Bristol, in particular, our queen is excellent at teaching the watching crowd about what they are seeing. She will frequently stop mid-sentence and explain a tradition, an item, even an unfamiliar word. It really helps to make the patrons feel included and keep them interested.

I love the concept, still, and wish it would spread more effectively to other faires outside the “California” mindset. We need more of that sort of thing, and less of the “Friends of Faire” with its sense of entitlement! That concept has shifted over the years, too! Originally, in the early days in California, the Friends of Faire were the group of folks that merchants and crafters could call upon to help them build a booth, or pick up a load of lumber, or patch a roof. With the festivals then, being “soft” faires where every structure was built for the run of the show and then torn down again, that sort of help was invaluable, and for their involvement, those members received the perk of being able to “hang out” in a designated area, and be a part of the show, as long as they followed the costume and behavioral guidelines of the participants. Now, sadly, at least at Bristol, that sense of responsibility is gone. Costume guidelines are laughed at, and the typical member of FOF is quicker to want a discount from a merchant, than he is to offer assistance!

Um . . . oops . . . down off that soapbox, MB! You can tell it was a slow weekend with lots of time for me to think! 😉

Dinner was a super fun outing of some wonderful people. We have Stephen with us right now (here for the big reunion), and Ken Wilson joined us for dinner, too! So, we had a great time, and once again, the folks at Red Robin took good care of us even though we are an annoyingly large party.  We are a bit trepidatious about tomorrow—the weather report is for extreme heat and humidity.  Not good clothing-selling weather.