Since high school, I’ve tried to go to the Renaissance Festival every year.
I was drawn by the incredible dresses, elaborate costumes, stunt shows, talented musicians, comedians, massive turkey legs, and of course live jousting!
However, my latest brush with Ren Fest left much to be desired. While people are free to dress as they please in whatever costumed character they want to be, the ye olde time feel of the event has festered into a chaotic combo of glitter, goth, and blatant sexism. It feels more like Halloween rather than stepping back into “the magic and mystique of the renaissance,” as the ads claim.
I didn’t go to Ren Fest in 2020 because…well you know. But I remember the olde days of stunts and acrobatic shows that dazzled the audience because a normal person couldn’t bend that way or balance on that or jump through fire. The current shows still have those things, but all of it is overshadowed. “Hey fellas, watch me bend,” a female acrobatic might comment now. I highly doubt she, a dedicated athlete and performer, wanted to spend hours practicing and strengthening so she could be harassed on stage as though the only reason her stunts were impressive was because of an underlying sexual reference.
The washing well wenches show is entertaining, sure, but it still uses sexism as its main element. I might be wrong, but when I first saw the show it seemed like there was more story between the wenches. The show I saw this year was almost entirely generated by the audience—the poor blokes who volunteered to try to win a rose for the person they “belonged to” and had to do embarrassing things. It was funny. I laughed. But I still left feeling like the magic that originally made the show “live theater” was missing.
I’m not saying we didn’t have a good time. We did our best at archery, got to handle elaborate and expensive swords, tried all sorts of new instruments, and ate to our heart’s content.
This year, the best shows were the artisans, musicians, and the animals.
I saw hawks and owls and other birds whose names I can’t even attempt to spell. We saw elephants and marveled at their size. The camels judged you like usual. And there was a miniature pony dressed up as a unicorn!! You could hug the unicorn, take pictures, and the helper put glitter in your hands so you could blow it and make a wish. I tossed my handful of glitter on Jake, who greatly appreciated it.
As usual, if you run into the beggar, expect to get hackled. However, the beggar’s jokes are—believe it or not—more like dignified mocking rather than unpleasant. They’re usually not hurtful, hateful, or filled with prejudice. As far as I know, the beggar doesn’t say things like “If I were him I’d watch you eat that banana,” or “The girls look better wet.”
Yeup. I was told both of those things this year. The first was because I was eating a frozen banana and my friend ignored the “costumed merrymaker” and kept walking. The second statement was from a shopkeeper talking to his female assistant. It was raining like a hard shower, so naturally, everyone was soaked. I was the only person in his shop at that time, and he said it loud enough so even my friends outside could hear.
The Renaissance Festival is no longer a celebration of ye olde time living. It’s become a celebration of overpriced cheesecake-on-a-stick and prejudice.
Or maybe it’s always been that way and I’m the one who changed?
Either way. I’m afraid I’ve outgrown the Renaissance Festival.
Karianne is the founder of Windmill Ways. She plays the cello professionally and currently works as an Art Director for a charity. Because she loves animated shows and movies, she studies 3D animation and graduated with a BFA with the unfortunate class of 2020. Her dream vacation would be just staying home, but "home" being a glamorous cabin somewhere in the mountains surrounded by forest.
Favorite band: Lord Huron
Favorite book: This Present Darkness
Favorite quote: "Get all the advice and instruction you can, so you will be wise the rest of your life. You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail." Proverbs 19:20-21 (NLT)
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WOW! The last year I went to the Festival (when I took my four sons) was 2013. Earlier years I had gone with other friends and enjoyed it and bought a beautiful mug. You have changed as I have and it is a good thing. Happy memories prior to 2013 but I won’t be attending again.
Okay, I’m really glad I’m not the only one. Around 2013-2015 was probably the last time I remember Ren Fest being really fun. It’s been on a downhill slide for me since then, but this year was the final drop. I don’t plan to go next year. Or again, really. I wish Ren Fest was as serious as Disneyland about staying in character and creating a vibe. Sure, there were places in society in the 1600s that were brash and raunchy, but there was more than just that. It seems like the current Ren Fest forgot about everything else.
Sorry, Ren Fest has ALWAYS been sexually demeaning and just as you described. You grew up. I’m proud of you. And you are correct, the time period had more than just raunchy but because of festivals like this and people acting like it is socially acceptable to be raunchy, people don’t believe it. My coworker and I argued about this today.
I was afraid of that. I just accepted it as “its the old time spirit.” But after this year, I was like, ya know, I think there was more to society than this sexism. And even if it actually was as bad as is portrayed today, we could still be better! I mentioned Disneyland in another comment. Now they know how to run a festival—they do it every day! And they have characters from 1600s and possibly older, yet they stay true to the character’s story and are still family-friendly.
Agree with all you say! BTW I bought my wedding dress and my husband’s groom outfit at the RenFest for my fairytale wedding…in a castle in Scotland! We had a priest in a kilt and a bagpiper too! And a bouquet of purple heather. So I love the romance. But yeah, I hate the wench show.