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Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Show Review: The Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Irwindale, CA. & the Production of Leisure Time



Show Review:
The Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Irwindale, CA.
& the Production of Leisure Time
April, 2014

  April is festival season in Southern California, with Coachella running two weeks and Stagecoach running the week after that.  It's a good idea for anyone partaking in a specific festival season to "warm-up" for the main events by going to some prior festival.  Thus I found myself for the first time at THE Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Irwindale, CA.  The Renaissance Pleasure Faire is the SPECIFIC name for the ORIGINAL dual location annual event held in Southern and Northern California.  The Renaissance Pleasure Faire was founded by a couple, Ron and Phyllis Patterson.  In his 2011 obituary, The New York Times noted that the larger concept had spread to 200 annual locations, some "well established" and others "dubious."

  I went to the Northern California version, held in Novato, CA. as a child growing up in the East Bay in the 1980s and 90s.  I've also been to the Southern Ohio Renaissance Festvial.  The Renaissance Faire/Festival is a very interesting phenomenon/institution in the area of the organization and production of leisure time.   The first Renaissance Faire was held in 1963, and the increase in interest and participation has led from the field of "dressing up in costumes and role playing in the real world" being a rarefied atmosphere limited to Civil War Rein-actors and costumed characters at theme parks to the varied modern landscape ranging from: Anime themed Cos-Play conventions, Live Action Role Playing, Sexually themed "Furrie" parties, the varied Cos Play set up around Comicon, the Medieval Times restaurant chain,  and it's ilk.  These subcultures have themselves risen to rival or more likely surpass the leisure production complex surrounding the Renaissance Pleasure Faire itself, but the mingling of historically minded costumery and organized production of leisure time is best observed at the original point, and that origin point, more or less, is the Southern California Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Irwindale, CA.

   The Renaissance Pleasure Faire is organized in the shape of a figure 8, with the entrance at the meeting point of the two conjoining circles.  The main draw is the Jousting Aren which lays at the farthest point along one of the two circles.  Prior to reaching the Jousting Arena, there is a large open space housing a Food Court, and again prior to the Jousting Arena but further along the path there is a second large open space.

 The timing of the Faire is organized around the twice daily Jousting tournament at 2 and 5- both last approximately a half hour.  The trick is to not show up too early (long lines at the front gate) or too late (miss one jousting exhibition, get tired before the second one.  While the Renaissance Pleasure Faire delivers a high energy leisure experience, the surroundings (reservoir views, many trees, shade canopies) can only do so much to disguise the fact that this shit is happening in Riverside County, that is 85 degrees plus the first weekend in August, and there are 20 mile an hour winds.

  There are clearly multiple levels of participation ranging from the actual performers and employees of the Faire, who work and play in a weird nexus of leisure and "work" time, then there are the regular folks who happen to like to come dressed in costumes, ranging from the expensive looking bourgeois in period accurate Elizabethan garb, to "Jack Sparrow" influenced pirates, to people dressed like the Middle-Agey hero of Assassin's creed, to World of Warcraft characters, to one chick dressed like the Travelocity Gnome.

  It is, at times, overwhelming, a sensory overload situation in the manner of organized Leisure events like theme parks, which is what the Renaissance Faire most clearly resembles: A cross between a theme park and a carnival with a strong element of "crafts fair" added in.  In many ways, the Renaissance Faire of 1963 accurately forecasted a half century of fairs, faires and festivals, whether they be of the musical (converts) or economic variety (Comicon.)

  As for me, the take away was "wear sun screen and drink water" and avoiding sunburn and dehydration was sufficient for me to call this trip a win.

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