Renaissence Fairs provide great photographic opportunities, as well as an opportunity to dress up and have some fun pretending to visit Olde England. The Fairs that I routinely visit and photograph are the Washington Renaissance and Fantasy Faire, the Shrewsbury Renaissance Faire, the Portland Pirate Festival and lately the Arizona Renaissance Festival which I attended and photographed for the first time this year (2007). It's a good thing I went to that fair because my mother's illness and subsequent death and funeral kept me from attending the Washington Ren Faire, and a wedding prevented attendance at the Shrewsbury Event.
If you've never been to a Renaissance Faire or Festival, you really owe it to yourself to visit one, especially if you're a photographer or just enjoy watching people. You don't have to dress up to go, although that's a huge part of the fun. The costumes vary from the very simple, hand-made peasant outfits to very elaborate (and expensive) Court costums (gowns, tunics, etc.). Many faires have booths where ou can rent costumes for the day, and lots of places willing to sell you various costumes and accoutrements such as jewelry, bags, belts, buttons and pins, daggers, shoes and boots, and even swords and other blades.
While wandering the faire grounds you'll run into bards, jugglers, magicians and other entertainers who often put on scheduled and even impromptu shows throughout the day. You'll also likely encounter peasants and beggers, lords and ladies, foreign fighters and monks, as well as wenches with scandlously cut bodices. And without a doubt, there will be a few fairies wandering through the crowds stirring up some mischief. When the King and Queen's Court is on the move, all bow and give way as the nobles make their way from field to court and back.
Most faires also try to educate by providing historical information and displays. You may see a blacksmith at work, a wood carver, an arrow fletcher, a farrier, wandering minstrels singing authentic ballads, and even displays of jousing and armed combat. There are candlemakers, weavers, seamstresses and other crafts people.
Food abounds, as do the Ale Houses, for fairs make for hungry and thirsty people. While good beer and ales are always available, mead and fine wines are also found in abundance. Most food can, and should, be eaten with the fingers and relies heavily on the roasting and frying. Sausage on a stick, turkey drumsticks, and those bread and meat concotions favored by the Earl of Sandwiche are faire favorites.
The Washington Renaissance and Fantasy Faire takes place every weekend in August and is held in Gig Harbor, Washington on the beautiful Puget Sound. The fair is of a good size with two separate areas separated by a stream topped by a troll bridge. There are few permanent structures, but the fair has been held for several years and the grounds are well established and maintained. In the upper meadow, jousting and feats of arms are provided for the enjoyment of all. There are also great displays of horsemanship and armed combat. There are usually three ale houses available for the thirsty, and there are many bards and minstrals available for entertainment. While there is ample parking, the traffic can get pretty bad. We like to stay in a nearby Bed and Breakfast which is only a short drive from the event.
The Arizona Ren Faire is a very large faire with many permanent structures and many stages and events. This faire is held from early February though the end of March. The parking is free and ample, but the fair is definitely off the beaten path in Apache Junction, Arizona. This event is as much an amusement park as it is a festival, so there are lots of games to play and ride and plenty to eat and drink. There are lots more shops and vendors here as well. The faire comes off as quite a bit more commercial in the overall atmosphere than the other smaller faires, but there is much more to do and see at this event.
The Shrewsbury Ren Faire is held annually in Kings Valley, Oregon. It's also off the beaten track and is one of the smaller faire events. Although small, it still has a good range of events and shows, and is well attended during the weekend in September when it's normally held. Many people prefer this fair because of its smaller, more historically accurate flavor and the increased interaction with the cast of characters playing the various roles throughout the faire. This is one of the first Ren Faires I ever attended and photographed and it's still one of my favorites.
The Portland Pirate Festival isn't rightly a Ren Faire, as it is a celebration of all things piratical, but it does have much the same flavor as a Ren Faire. A recently developed event (it's only in its 2nd year), it's still growing and attracting attendees. It debuted in 2006 and was only a one day event, but it was such a success that it expanded in both scope and duration this year. The festival is held in Catherdral Park in St. Johns, Oregon. In fact, it's directly under the St. Johns Bridge which looms over the entire festival. Since it's a pirate festival, it obviously needed to be along the waterfront and indeed the Willamette River provides the docks and beach necessary for true pirates.
The tall ship, Lynx, a reconstruction of a privateer from the Revolutionary War period provides an authentic flavor to the festival and even charters passengers for a battle with the pirates on shore. The cannons are loud and smokey, and the crowd always gets a thrill from the battle.
So, if you're a photographer or just a people watcher, do yourself a favor and attend a Ren Faire sometime. I've described a bit about the ones I've attended, but there are many more around the country and if you look, I'm sure you can find one near you.
©2007 Mark Cohran, All Rights Reserved
Latest Revision: Friday, November 30, 2007