May 11, 2013
Fifty years ago today, the first Renaissance Pleasure Faire took place in North Hollywood, CA. Born of the same creative energy that spawned many other artifacts of the Sixties, the event was initially a project begun by teacher/artists Phyllis and Ron Patterson, designed to enhance arts and performance education in their community. The art form known as “living history” met the free-wheeling playfulness of Southern California culture, and countless turkey legs and huzzahs later, RenFairs have become a thriving industry in historically-themed improvisational entertainment.
I’ve experienced Renaissance Fairs and festivals as an attendee rather than a performer, but a slew of friends, not to mention my husband, consider the “original” Renaissance Fair in Southern California their artistic second family, and experienced the Faire though a variety of historical alter egos. It’s always fun to sit in on a conversation with veterans of the “real” Faire as they discuss the crimes against historical accuracy perpetrated by the vast network of “Renaissance” fairs that crosses the US today.
Turning history into entertainment is a time-honored business in the US and Europe (read Julian Barnes’ England, England for a particularly dystopian treatment of the selling of culture).The academy has recently turned its attention to this phenomenon as well.
Many more books can be and have been written about what American pop culture does with (and to) history – a topic I might pursue in more detail later. But if you want the phenomenon in a nutshell, a visit to a RenFaire will give you a good idea. Sadly, it won’t show you what the Pattersons and the makers of the California Faires achieved for a few brief decades, but this book, written by my dear friend Maggie Secara, gives you a sense of what the creators and performers of the Faire were striving for: