timothy wells


  • Magical Days

    Some days you just have one of those days when you go with the flow and it all works out great.

    Yesterday was one of those days. I had tentative mental plans to wake up early(ish) and head to the Ohio Renaissance Festival in southwestern Ohio. Ever since I can recall in my adult life I have always wanted to go to a Renaissance Festival but had never actually gone. I'd collected coupons for discounts, checked out dates and locations, but had never actually gone.

    I think there was a fair amount of apprehension. I know there was. I remember reading stories on usenet (the information superhighway 1.0) of how if you don't act the part, behave, understand the unwritten rules, etc, you are publicly picked up and such. Being an introvert, particularly in new settings, being the center of attention and publicly shamed is not really something I was really interested in paying money to do. Am I wearing the wrong clothes? Say the wrong thing? etc. It really was too much pressure to enter into the experience eagerly, so I waited 20+ years looking and wanting but never doing.

    Yesterday, I did.

    Having read stories online about the parking and crowd horrors at the Michigan festival the weekend before, I decided "I have to get there early to avoid the long lines of traffic, etc. Plus if I get there early, it will be easier to scope out the terrain." Ok, it also had the risk of "less crowds, easier to be spotted as a virgin."

    Doubts be damned! 

    I decided on Saturday night, I'll wake up when I wake up and see how things align. Things aligned nicely and I was on the road by 9:30 for an almost hour long drive to get there, according to the GPS.

    On the way out of town, I picked up some donuts at a place I'd been thinking about checking out but hadn't yet. So, the day was off to several good omens. The donuts were ok. I got a chocolate covered peanut butter cream filled donut and a maple covered whipped cream filled donut. Both were tasty but could have used a significant amount more of filling.

    I drive. End up driving along back country roads, but stuck behind people who obviously do not know how to drive on "hilly" roads. Guh!

    Calm. Breath. Relax. 

    I pull into the parking lot for the festival, second row parking after driving across a giant field. As I'm getting out of the car, I hear a cannon going off. I assume it's the opening ceremonies of the gates opening.

    Walk up to the ticket booth, greeted with "How many today my lord?" 

    I smile. 

    This is going to be fun.

    I walk in the gate, greeted with a "Good morning my lord.", handed a map, and opt to just explore on my own. But on alert for what the lay and behaviour of the land is so as to not draw attention to be picked out from the crowd for attentiony abuse.

    At one point, walking along behind dawdlers, the groups of 3-19 people who walk single file across and mosey at a snail's pace. It really isn't difficult to walk along at a normal pace and still see everything people! And veer off the path to pass them and realize I'm walking in some sunken area that appears to be an old creek bed. And immediately mentally gulp. "Gack! What if walking in the creek bed is verboten and I'm opening myself up to the attack from the "locals" for breaking some unspoken rule.

    Gladly, either there is no rule or I wasn't spotted.

    Yes, these are the actual thoughts I had.

    I walk around checking out the lay of the land. This place is huge! 

    As an experience addict who enjoys immersive experiences, this is thrumming all the right chords in me, experience and creatively. The games, rides, booths, people, etc all "in character", it was just a lot of fun. It makes sense why turkey legs are popular here. It fits. It works.

    However, for any folks concerned. At this festival at least, the privies are modern(ish) as port-a-johns and trailers of stalls. But the foot pump activated faucets to wash your hands were a nice period touch. (:

    I make a few laps of the place, checking out shows, shops, etc.

    I went into the kilt shop and was fitted for a kilt. Something I've always been tempted to consider. After deciding I probably didn't have any known tartan patterns in my family lineage, I'm shown the rack of "open tartans" which are patterns anyone can wear. I didn't actually try one on though and here's why. They were really nice kilts. But having seen the Utilikilts at DragonCon conventions, I think I'd rather go with one of those than an authentic one. And I wasn't quite sure I was ready for that next step. In thinking, I should have at least tried one on. The tartan patterns available to me just weren't exciting to me. At least that's what I tell myself.

    I lose track of time in exploring and randomly finding and watching shows.

    The Kamikaze Fireflies (from America's Got Talent) were funny and did a great job of being funny, engaging, stage patter, entertaining, but still doing some amazing feats. And reminding people, "this is how we make our living, so we'll be on stage and at the exit with a hat collecting money." But it was done honestly but also with comedy. Not begging, just letting the people know how we are supposed to act and what we're supposed to do.

    A theme I notice throughout the day and make a mental note to add to my installation and art. People often don't know what they're supposed to do or where they're supposed to go. It behooves you as the artist or entertainer to tell them.

    We exit out from their area and I find the Mud Theater and they're just seating for the performance of Dante's Inferno. Having done a little research the day before, I guess this is an "audience gets involved and dirty" and opt for a seat in the back on the bleachers, in the shade. Next to me sits a couple who have seen the performers before and comment to each other as people move up to the front rows, "Oh, they don't know what we know!"  This couple proceeds to just annoy me the whole performance.

    The play is quite funny and the performers are amazing. Again, engaging the audience, telling us what they expect us to do, etc. For "traveling music" they split the crown down the middle. One side makes waving motions and sounds and the other side ends the song with a "blech" noise. The couple next to me, since they are veterans opt to perform both parts of the song. Which is fine, but the whole performance they were half a second ahead of the performers: the song, jokes, etc. Guh. Luckily enough they also knew the play was almost over and ditched out before it was actually over. I guess to avoid getting stuck in 'traffic'. 

    Letting it go, as they truly were the worst part of my whole festival day.

    I watch the joust. And am standing on the side of the winner. Go me! Oh and Sir Joseph. He did all the work. And the horse he rode in on!

    A live-person chess match with board-clearing brawls, stunts, and outlandishly overacting. It was wonderful!

    I had spotted a tent of baskets and puppets earlier in the day that was going to have a rope basket weaving instructional after the chess game. So I stopped by Madelon Rose's tent to find out I'm the only person interested in learning to make a rope basket. So Madelon and I sit down and she teaches and chastises me on my inability to follow her directions. Since she is also working her tent, she's taking time to talk to people who walk by, picking on some folks, complementing others on their attire, talking to customers while I'm battling the ropes, etc. And we end up having a really nice chat about art, festivals, etc. She drops out of character as we chat, immediately putting the accent and attitude on in an instant as soon she needs to.

    One of her tent visitors complains about there aren't enough wandering characters engaging with the guests and helping to provide the festival atmosphere. The guest is told to tell the people at the front gate as it will mean more coming from a paying customer than a vendor.

    This leads us into a conversation about how the festivals are becoming less and less immersive, where street cloths, cell phones, etc are all widely accepted and not pointed out as "what is this?" I tell her that it had always been my "fear" that I would be picked on for being an outsider who doesn't know the rules, but I agree that it did feel a bit too "art fair/shopping mall". Most of the vendors and all the performers did a great job of providing an amazing atmosphere and experience, but if the audience doesn't get into it, then it starts to feel a bit rickety.

    She told me that at her first festival, upon entering the gates not in costume, they were asked if they were peasant, royalty, or some other "classes". And depending on your answer, a piece of colored fabric was pinned to your shirt and the rest of the day, the performers and vendors interacted with you as if you were of that class and in costume. I think that is a wonderful idea.

    Going back to the performers telling us what to do, how to behave, and what is expected of us, it took that worry off us, it helped us engage and connect with their performance, and eliminated any concerns on our part of what is expected of us.  It seems like adding that level of "this is how to behave" and bringing us more into being a part of the town could go a long way.

    I mention to Madelon about how Koch, when elected NYC Mayor, made it an initiative to board up broken windows and clean up trash, the thought being, "If a place has trash and broken windows, it encourages more broken windows and trash. If the place is clean and tidy, it encourages a mindset of keeping it that way." Same general idea with the Disney theme parks. You rarely see trash on the streets and sidewalks and if you do it's not there for long. Why, 1) it breaks the "story" of being in a location they are trying to create and 2) trash on the ground encourages others to just toss their trash on the ground too. If the ground is tidy, you're more likely to hold onto your trash and put it in the trash can no more than a few steps away.

    And once you start to let things like that slide a bit and let peoples' everyday behaviour outside the festival, then it's easier for things to become more and more accepting of what's fine out there is fine in here.

    In the end, I created a mostly acceptable rope basket with much help, patience, and a fair amount of chastizing me by Madelon for not following her directions.  We conclude our conversation just as the festival was ending for the day and I had to rush over to a vendor to pick up some items I purchased earlier in the day and hit the incense shop for some new incense.  I walk by the front gates just in time to watch them sing a farewell song to all the folks leaving. It was a nice ending to the day. 

    And then walking out the front gates down a path lined on both sides with smiling performers all wishing me, "Fare evening my lord."

    Yep. I had a turkee leg. I think it's kind of mandatory.

    I got lost in there. Enjoying the experience, learning from it, and will go back again and this time I may rent a costume (available at the front gate, maybe even a kilt) and be more a part of the experience to help tip the scales back into making it a more immersive experience for everyone, even me.