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Renaissance Faire: A Haven for Hardcore Nerds

Renaisscance Faires take nerdom to a new level. Renaisscance Faires take nerdom to a new level.


The line to board the bus at Penn Station was disappointing. Not a single bodice or sword to be seen. Just jeans, Nikes, flip flops, whatever. This was an unceremonious start to the Faire.

Then, a woman came along wearing a long peasant skirt, a white floaty top and flower wreathe in her hair that looked like it had been matted there since the faires of olde. She looked over at me and my traveling companion, Jaime, and asked, “And what, pray tell, are thee?”

With that, the magic had sparked, if not just a little. Sterling Forest and the New York Renaissance Faire were still a 45-minute bus ride away, but at least there had been this.

As for Renaissance Faires, they've yet to broach the mainstream. They don't attract celebrity panels, major motion picture premiers or even academic essays meant to deconstruct the appeal.

The Renaissance Faire is a 34-year-old tradition in New York. Other faires held all over the United States are as old as 55. Part Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night's Dream, part oddly themed outdoor shopping mall, the experience is unique to Americans. Ren Faire's are unheard of in France or England, where the Renaissance actually took place.

My English friend balked when I told him I'd be going. “Why do Americans bother?” he asked.

Good question - what's with the Ren Faire?

Jaime is no stranger to the festivities; this is her sixth time at one. She's into faires, comics, Game of Thrones, and other general awesomeness. She pilgrimages because she loves the handmade crafts and jewelry, the people, and the friendly and fun atmosphere. “No one's judgmental, you can be whatever you want.”

I admit I've always had a light predilection for nerdcore that sometimes fringes on the mainstream. I've read lots of Chaucer (The Wife of Bath is a personal hero), love Neil Gaiman, won't miss an episode of Game of Thrones, and have no issue making or wearing costumes. So for me, this wasn't much of a stretch.

However, for others, there has been a noticeable shift from solitary geeks in the a.v. room playing Dungeons and Dragons to something much more accessible and profitable. Comic-Cons boast millions of visitors and have become the only place to debut any type of sci-fi or fantasy related film or television show; Batman franchises rake in tons during opening weekends; and Star Trek got a reboot with Zachary Quinto. As for Renaissance Faires, they've yet to broach the mainstream. They don't attract celebrity panels, major motion picture premiers or even academic essays meant to deconstruct the appeal.

Since fanboys and cosplay girls have crossed over to the other side, Ren Faires are the last refuge for exclusivity-seeking nerds, dorks, geeks and dweebs.

Or, perhaps the Faire is too far gone, too magical to ever be considered mainstream cool. Sterling Forest is a sprawling maze of a theater conjured up to create the illusion of Elizabethan England. Dragons and ladies abound, the jesters dance around making bawdy jokes, faeries float in from behind the trees, knights duel and play dead, and Queen Elizabeth herself makes occasional appearances atop a majestic white mare.

It was a scorching 96 degrees Fahrenheit. I don't say that as a typical travel-story mood-setter, but because some people were dressed in furs, long dresses made of velvet, full chain mail, and leather.

Maybe in this realm abundant in fantasy, there is no way to break the fourth wall, no space for a film producer to speak about the budget or what episode will be featured next. There is no room for our boring, monarch-less reality. All the world's a stage.
And if by some rare occurence one of these events went Hollywood, then red tape and paperwork would probably eliminate the weapons portion of these events (Jaime threw knives, missed the target all but entirely and almost sliced a cashier's finger off).

Or ID would be required to hear the churlish insults vomited up by the method acting-loving vendors and food inspectors would swarm the premises.  

Then, where would the medieval and Renaissance times be? Ah, yes, they would be hurled into the litigious and overly cautious times of today. Luckily, the Faire is safe, for now.

The Renaissance Faire draws thousands of visitors a day. After we disembarked the bus, my desire to see everyone in costume was realized (did I mention that both Jaime and I made the trek from NYC in full garb?). It was a scorching 96 degrees Fahrenheit. I don't say that as a typical travel-story mood-setter, but because some people were dressed in furs, long dresses made of velvet, full chain mail, and leather. Looking at folks that dedicated made my eyeballs sweat. They, on the other hand, didn't so much as wince. Instead, they kept their game faces, florid speech, and posing for an endless stream of shutterbugs.

Soon, it became difficult to tell who was paid to be there and who paid to be there. By midday, after the mead was flowing and the sun at its zenith, everyone had been caught betwixt fantasy and reality.

Jaime couldn't help notice the hot men in tights. That's right, the girls at Ren Faire's are into beards, ax wielding and masculinity.

“There are a lot of guys who think it's sissy if they go, but the men here are men. Horses, armor and chivalry, those are manly things,” Jaime said.

At a joust between two lance-bearing, bearded and long-haired knights, there wasn't a maiden in the audience who didn't at one point or another giggle into a cupped hand and blush ever so slightly. I know I did.

Later, at the Human Chess show (sword and stick-fighting aside), participants shout punny ribald repertoire loud enough for every man, woman and child within ear's reach to hear. Not a single mother was aghast enough to cover a child's ears or storm off.

The festival also allows for a healthy dose of play and unbridled sexuality. Not much of that during a 9-5 at the office. No wonder it's got longevity.

“Here are more beer and bosoms than you'll find in all of Disney World,” writes travel writer Neil Steinberg in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Disney World or not, there were quite a few pirates of the Caribbean, buccaneers, and wenches present. I asked Jaime about this because I realized I had become confused by the Renaissance, medieval, and pirate themes overlapping without regard for historical time-lines.

“Ren Faires mush all those things together. The knight stuff, the pirate stuff. There are no rules - it is a fantasy land. Also, most people just don't get the history straight.”

Towards the end of the day, two men dressed as Mario and Luigi of the Mario Brothers showed up.

Check out the knights, ladies, queens, waifs, pirates, and the amazingly flavored drink called a bee-sting (a mix of 2/3 cider to 1/3 mead). Skip the turkey legs unless you're feeling kind of boorish. Bring spending money. It's unclear if doubloons or bartering will get you anywhere because the steel swords and chow don't come cheap. Oh, and don't miss Wolgemut, a bad-ass bagpipe, flute and drum ensemble. No kidding.

The Renaissance Faire is at Tuxedo Park, NY through September 23. Or, look one up near your town. They happen to be everywhere-- except in Europe.


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Another look at another renaisscance faire.
Last modified on Wednesday, 26 September 2012 15:11

Laura Vladimirova is a freelance journalist currently based out of New York City. Years of long-term travel abroad have made her a passionate lifestyles writer. Her favorite subjects include art, people, archaeology, travel, cultural events, health, and green living. When she's not typing away at her keyboard or getting her passport stamped, she's probably enjoying the great outdoors.

Website: www.rosebudmag.com/LauraV

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