Monday, July 17, 2017

Putting on a Medieval/Renaissance Faire: Part two

Now from our last post, you remember I gave suggestions about how to put on a medieval/renaissance faire. Let us continue with that discussion. As I mentioned in my last blog, I am not an expert on putting on a medieval faire, except, I found it very similar to that of putting on a wrestling show.  Also, these are a compiling of attributes shared between successful medieval faires that I have attended.

Date- This should also be an early step, but might depend on availability of obtaining a venue and other resources (see previous post). Before you settle on a date for your faire, check other faires, events and festivals in your area or state.  You do not want to book yours on the same day as another faire. In wrestling this is one of the biggest taboos a promoter can do.

Also, if there are other faires, events or festivals, you will be competing with them for an audience.  Better to have a day or weekend when there is not much going on; your attendance will increase.
Shelli Buttons performing on silk at the Vermont Renaissance Festival

Performers/Artists come in many shapes and sizes, so keep your pool wide open.  I would suggest you go to existing medieval/renaissance faires websites located near you.  See the talent they have booked at their faire.  This will be a good start to seek out artists for yours.

Do not be so concerned about if the talent is directly linked to the medieval/renaissance timeframe. Your faire should have enough medieval themes (so no one can be confused what it is), but do not exclude all who do not fall into your faires historical timeframe.

There are many examples I can mention, but I will just mention one. Shelli Buttons, who is a wonderful acrobat and high wire expert.  Her talent does not fall into medieval skills, but I have seen her at numerous medieval/renaissance faires and she always is exciting, and brings in the audience.
Tintagels Gate-  a great vendor that sells wonderful items at a great price

Vendors- There will be many people and companies who will want to sell their products at your faire.  I would suggest you make sure you have a wide range of companies that make sure to have a variety.  As with entertainers, keep the concentration on medieval items, but do not exclude everyone. Do not forget food and drink vendors, your audience will be hungry and thirsty.

This is one situation, where you might want to make sure you have a food vendor that can make an appropriate medieval food.  Most faires I attend at least sells large turkey legs, these are a standard for a medieval/renaissance faire.

You will probably charge for tables, or tents, at your faire. Remember, although this is an income for you, it is also one for the vendor. This is a balancing act for you, you need to make a profit for your faire, but not charge too much so the vendors do not make money. If they do not make a profit at your faire, they will not come back to another one.
Drunk & Disorderly at Robin Hood's Fair

Music- I am separating a few people from the generic artists section above.  You will need musicians to entertain the crowd.  You also need to make sure you can find a group of troubadours who will walk around the fair and sing.  This will help create a good atmosphere for you fair.
Vixens en Garde on stage

Buildings/stages- If you can, try to get a venue which has an existing stage or pavilion. You will notice this will give your audience a place to center around the performers.

You must also make sure you have enough portable toilets and other hygiene facilities for a crowd. Your crowd would be very unhappy if you feed them, and they had nowhere to go to the bathroom.

Do not forget an emergency tent.  You migh be required in your area to have one available (or an ambulance on call).  There will be accidents, or injuries from a sprained ankle to possibly heat stroke, so make sure you are ready for these emergencies.

Security/Faire Administration/Staff- You will need people to act as security, ticket takers, and otherwise gophers for your faire.  Make sure you have enough people to handle your needs, hopefully, you can get enough volunteers for your event.

Do not forget to get people to do the administrative functions of the faire. You need someone to make sure the orders go through; receipts are gathered and filed.  Eventually, you may even need someone to do your taxes. A professional volunteer in these areas will be a vital asset.

In terms of these people, you will need to actively seek them out or recruit them.  This is another example of getting the word out about your faire early. This will be similar to the process of posting about a job opening, list it in local papers on the web etc.

Knights/Jousting The best faires I have attended will have knights (Vikings or pirates) who will engage in physical combat.  Others will have a joust (this will be a large ticket item for your faire).  I have been to others which did not include these, and it seems like there is something missing in this faire.

You would be hard pressed to find a better educational and entertaining demonstration than the one given by Brotherhood of the Arrow and Sword

Demonstrations- Having a demonstration about some aspect of medieval life is a valuable part of a medieval faire.  This will not only entertain, but also educate your audience.

See if some of the vendors and artists with a specific skill will put on a demonstration.  If you have a blacksmith, have them show how medieval blacksmithing was done; this can be also applied to your knights or musicians.

A final word on the artists, performers, vendors, personnel and volunteers.  As a professional wrestler (we are called talent in the business), I have been treated poorly on many occasions. Promoters sometimes think we are a dime a dozen, and they can replace us on a moment’s notice.

I understand that some of your artists/actors etc., are getting paid for their performances; but this does not give you a license to mistreat, or underestimate their contribution to your faire. If you mistreat them they will not come back for future faires, and worse, you will get a reputation in their community that you do not treat them fairly.

The Costumer helped provide proper attire at the New York Capital District Renaissance Festival

Costumes- Since you have volunteers, either put them in the same outfit, such as tee-shirts with your logo, or in period costumes.  Period costumes is another factor which will give your faire a good atmosphere.

If you have a nearby costuming shop, here is another place where you can make a deal with merchandise for exchange of adding them as a sponsor for your faire.

You might have them dressed up, but do not forget about how they speak. This is a medieval/renaissance faire, make sure you get some notes made up with medieval phrases for them to use during the faire.

The souvenir tent at the Vermont Renaissance Festival

Souvenirs- As a professional wrestler I used to drive hours away for a match where I was barely paid $20 or less. One way to make extra money at the show was to sell tee-shirts and other articles.

This should also be a step you must consider.  However, there are several factors you must deliberate and ponder before making a decision. First, you must choose the type of items you want to sell (shirts, key chains, mugs etc.).  Once this decision has been made, you will need to have them professionally created (this is your show and your reputation on the line, you do not want items to look like you make them in your kitchen).  This is where you can see if you can make a deal with a sponsorship exchange. Just remember when people wear a tee-shirt with your logo on it, it is a visual representation of your faire, so make sure they are good-looking.

Now how many of these items are you going to have made? You could have a ton of them left over (which is expensive especially if you have the date on them), or not have enough (which means you have lost income). Think in moderation, if you can afford it, make tons; if you are strapped for cash, make few. 
A game of Nine Men's Morris

Games- having a game or two, will entertain the crowd, especially the children. You need to be creative, I have seen traditional medieval games such Nine Men’s Morris or a Maypole Dance, but, I have seen other modern ones presented with a medieval theme.

One example of this was a bean bag toss. You had to throw a bean bad through a hole to win. This faire called it, Mud Toss, and the bean bag was “supposed” to a bag of mud.

Celebrity Endorsements- Getting a local celebrity, or politician to attend will be valuable.  They can do an opening ceremony for the faire.  Trust me, you might have trouble getting a celebrity to do this, but you will certainly find a politician that will. (we will go further into this into the Advertising/Promoting a Medieval/Renaissance Faire in out next post).

Schedules- Make sure your acts and demonstrations have a scheduled time to perform.  Also, make sure you keep them to this schedule; you do not want chaos because performers trying to take a stage from each other. An argument about what time someone is to perform, can lead to an unfortunate fight in a very quick time.

This advice goes with everything about your faire. The smoother things go (because of planning), the more enjoyable it will be for everyone.

Brochures or programs- Make sure you provide something that will include everyone involved (artists, performers, demonstrators) with your faire, and include the schedule performances.  You can have this on your website, but make sure you also get it done in a physical paper format also (people will want to see what is going on when they are at your faire).
Parade at the New York Capital District Renaissance Festival

Parade- I have been to several popular and successful medieval/renaissance faires which did not include a parade; but, as an audience member I must say it is very pleasurable to see. A parade will enhance the enjoyment of your faire.

You will need to make several plans to see if a parade is appropriate for your faire.  One is to decide if it is physically possible for one.  A small venue might not be appropriate, or terrain in the area for a parade.

You will need to contact all the vendors, artists, and demonstrators at your fair to see if they will take part in this parade. See if each one of them can contribute one person to join the parade, this will ensure one large enough for people to enjoy; would not be much fun having a parade with 3 people in it.  Ask the musicians if they can play a merry tune for the parade for ambiance.

Make sure beforehand, you draw up a list of the order that these people will march, you do not want arguments moments before the parade. Also, if your jousting crew is joining, make sure to put the horses at the end.

Other resources- Now is the time to think creative.  I know I have mentioned in the earlier blog to seek out other faires and get information from them; now, it is time for you to come up with some creative ideas of your own.

An example would be to seek out your local educational institutions.  Almost every college or high school puts on a play, or has a performing arts department.  Contact the head of these groups, see if they are willing to come to your faire and put on a scene from Shakespeare or even walk around in costume. You may also find a local playhouse, or actors, which will do the same.

Website- Have a decent website. I have seen several excellent faires which have some terrible websites.  When you create a website, make sure you include the performers at your faire, and a link to their website of Facebook page, they will reciprocate. This will be another topic which will be expanded on next time.

One final word about setting up your faire.  If you remember in my last post, I mentioned in terms of being the head of a faire; it is hard to put on a faire, but harder to keep it together for a 2nd one.

I have been involved in some great wrestling matches, the attendance was great, the wrestling fantastic, only to find out the promoter spent everything on this one show. This is true with some medieval faires I have attended. They put on a great faire, and I emphasize the word faire and not faires; they were unable repeat their first performance.

You must decide how much of your resources you want to put into this first faire. You may want to keep some reserves for faires in the future. This is where your administration people come in handy, they will have the accounting skills to accomplish this.

You can start small and build up. This is what many faires do, but remember, if you are too small no one will come to your faire. If it is too large you may not recoup the money you paid into it. Judge things in moderation, and think of future faires when you plan your first one. 

You have done all the steps, you have gotten a great location, and booked many artists, performers and vendors, what’s next?  Our next blog will deal with how to advertise and get people into your faire.

W.A. Rusho is an author, historian and professional wrestler. You can contact him via his email or website.

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  1. A lot of your advice is relevant for anybody or organization planning to stage an event that depends on the public to attend and spend. All they have to do is replace jousters with their event theme---like aliens for a space theme. ;-) As a recorder player, I'm partial to the Renaissance Faire, but my husband would be at the SciFi Fair.

  2. This is a really good reminder of all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into any event being a success!

  3. I have a friend who has mentioned from time to time putting on some manner of festival at his family's ranch, but it has yet to get off the ground. Your posts make it more than clear how much planning is needed for success.

  4. Good advice on planning events. If I ever decide to do a medieval faire I will contact you for advice.

  5. What a terrific resource you have provided here, William! It will help anyone who is planning an outdoor event such as a Medieval faire.

  6. So many details to think about! I agree, you've provided a wonderful resource with these posts William.

  7. A very detailed list of what one needs to do when running a fair or similar event. Often guests turn up having had no idea how much work has gone into the set up of an event.