barnabas_truman: (young whistler)
Sometime around 25 years ago, my parents took me to the Southern California Renaissance Faire for the first time. I watched plays and dancing and juggling, I listened to music, I bought a little pewter dragon, and I was hooked. I continued going once a year throughout elementary school and high school, dressing up as a young wizard and spending perhaps a little too much money on little pewter heroes and monsters.

About 15 years ago, I moved away for college, joined an English country dance group called the Merrie Pryanksters, and realized that instead of just *going* to the Faire once in a while, I could be *part* of it. At some point I discovered the Dickens Christmas Fair as well, and for the past five years I've been playing music there as well.

Two or three years ago, I was dressed up as a 19th century surveyor and playing Gold Rush music in Old Town Sacramento, and some friends invited me to play a Spanish conquistador in a light-hearted California history pageant. My role consisted of striding boldly onto the stage, wearing a sash and a helmet, pointing in various directions with a wooden sword, and saying in an outrageous accent "I am here from Spain, and *that* place is San Francisco, and it belongs to my king, and *that* over there is Monterey, and it belongs to my king also, and *this* here is Sacramento, and it's his too." I like to think I delivered my lines with precisely as much seriousness and respect as the scriptwriter had intended.

After I walked off stage, Kathleen Twombly took my props and said "Were ya nervous, performing in front of Phyllis Patterson herself?"
"Wait, Phyllis Patterson?" I spluttered; "The one who started all this historical reenactment festival stuff in the first place, way back when?? She's still alive??"
"Yeah, that was her in the wheelchair in the front row!"
That was the extent of my interaction with Phyllis Patterson, but I can at least say I performed for her once.

I'm told that Phyllis Patterson passed away this morning. I never really knew her, but I understand that she gave the spark that began the construction of this marvelous scattered playground where I have spent so many happy weekends of my life. So thank you, Phyllis; thank you for the plays, the parades, the pewter figures, the puppets, the jugglers, the tavernside chess matches, the late-night jam sessions at the Three Cripples Pub, and most of all for the community. We'll do our best to keep it going while you're away.

Mr Scrooge

Oct. 23rd, 2012 10:16 am
barnabas_truman: (oldstyle)
I have received word that Martin Harris, best known for playing the role of Mr Scrooge at the Great Dickens Christmas Fair for quite a long while, has passed away.

His post-redemption scenes towards the end of every day were always one of my favorite parts of Dickens. The sheer joy he exuded brought a smile to everyone and gave genuine meaning to "I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy."

He was quite a musical fellow as well. I always looked forward to his renditions of "Fishfingers" and "Cornish Lads" at the December chantey sing. At Old Town Sacramento a year and a half ago I was surprised to learn that he played the spoons--and equally surprised when he leapt into my lap during a tune to play along.

During the Old Town gig, he dressed as a miner and wandered the streets telling stories to anyone who would listen. Whatever the story, each seemed to end with the same moral, a sentiment he often expressed as Redeemed Scrooge as well: "Don't spend money on the people you love. Spend time with them." That, I think, is the most important part of him to remember. Go out and tell his story; let it echo far and wide.
barnabas_truman: (Default)
While on the way home from Tahoe this evening, I started thinking about why we all do this crazy thing called Faire. I've come to believe that we're really all there (most of us, at least) for the same reason:

there's something we crave, something we need, that the rest of the world has forgotten, but this community still knows that it's important.

What that something is varies from person to person, of course. Here are some of mine:

• the idea that music is something we do, not something we buy, and that "play" means picking up an instrument rather than pressing a button

• the sort of stories that arrive fresh from the lips of the teller or the actors on the stage, as old as time and as new as the day they were first spoken

• all the builders, crafters, artists, cooks, and organizers who know that profit is a necessity but isn't the real reason they keep coming back weekend after weekend

• the understanding that history is not a list of names and dates from dead and musty books, but something that lives and breathes and grows, full of songs and stories and people

Thanks and shout-outs to everyone who makes it happen; I love you all!
barnabas_truman: (army)
I spent all day today helping freshmen struggling with basic calculus, a grad student brushing up on forgotten differential equations, and every level in-between in three different buildings, I'm about to go try on a new pair of pants for my 16th century mathematician Ren Faire costume, and later this evening I might teach some young gamers how to fly ships from Star Trek into battle. I feel like some sort of nerd superhero.
barnabas_truman: (army)
Forgot to post this earlier, but it deserves a mention.


I was washing my hands Saturday morning before Faire opened and heard a small voice from one of the bathroom stalls saying

In brightest day, in darkest night,
No evil shall escape my sight...


I spoke up to finish

Let those who worship evil's might
Beware my power--Green Lantern's light!


An eight(ish?)-year-old kid stepped out of the stall and said "WOW! You are REALLY COOL!"


Kids: don't forget that grown-ups used to be kids and some kid stories have been around for a very long time.

Grown-ups: always have some unexpected bits of knowledge prepared to remind kids that you are really cool.
barnabas_truman: (Default)
A certain kid in our dance group (you probably know which one I mean) has recently been overcoming her fear of a certain other masked dance group, and made a big step forward this weekend when she accepted the gift of a mask from an awesome member of said masked dance group. While I was packing up the tent, she walked up and started telling me about it.

Me: Yeah, sometimes the best way to overcome what you fear is to become what you fear. I used to be really afraid of this thing in math called differential equations, because I didn't understand it at all, but last year I decided to TEACH differential equations to overcome my fear of it, and now I think it's great!

(pause)

(Kid looks confused)

Kid: So... now you wear masks too?

Me: ...yeah.
barnabas_truman: (oldstyle)
I had a wonderful time at Dickens this weekend! Playing music for Panto and the Pied Piper were fun as always, and the Three Cripples Pub had fantastic jam sessions running late into both evenings. The after-hours French Postcards show was very nice too.
barnabas_truman: (math)
It appears that a long row of cannons firing shots straight up at various different speeds, arranged from slowest to fastest, on a planet with constant mass but variable radius is an excellent visual aid for explaining black holes. Or at least for explaining black holes to Hazel, who now understands everything there is to know about them (except Hawking radiation, because this late in the evening more theoretical physics is just going to be frustrating).

Tragically, this stuff wasn't discovered 400 years ago, so I can't have Napier talking about it at Faire. Heck, I can't even talk about how orbits actually work, because that was figured out by Newton half a century too late. I need to do some research and find out what cool physics stuff I can do at Faire.
barnabas_truman: (Default)
We just got back from the first weekend of Valhalla Faire which was lots of fun. Before I forget I should mention that on the way home we discovered a great Southern-style barbecue restaurant in Placerville called Hog Wild BBQ. Delicious sauce and the best chili I've ever had. I recommend that we consider dropping in en masse on the way home next year. Heck, why wait? Check it out next weekend. The sign's easily visible from the freeway (warning: they close at nine).

Saturday: Lots of music and dancing with Pryanksters as usual. I stopped by another stage to listen to a Travellers' Union show and got pulled up on stage to play along which was even more fun. At closing I ran into the taller half of The Kondor Brothers and talked with him for a while. They're not performing at Valhalla this year but he decided to visit anyway. After hours I went out for pizza with assorted Pryanksters while Hazel went out for Thai food with assorted other Pryanksters. Upon returning to Faire site I wandered around for a bit and soon ended up at the Stark Ravens encampment where I played music for what turned out to be several hours. Good times. Hazel was wondering where the heck I was though, so we have agreed that in the future, if I'm going to be out playing music for a while and she doesn't know where I am, I will signal my location by loudly playing her favorite tune, the Staten Island Hornpipe.

Sunday: More music and dancing with Pryanksters. No time to jam with Travellers, but I did finally get around to trying out the Free Astronomy Lessons gig. I gathered up various Pryanksters and a couple of other bystanders out in the street, handed out cards labelled with the names and symbols of all the planets (Terra, Luna, Mercurio, Venus, Sol, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn) and set up a human orrery in the middle of the road. The orbits were a little wonky but overall it was fun. I might also try making cards for the houses of the Zodiac to represent the Fixed Stars if lots of people are available, or to attempt Random Draw Astrology (hey, your date of birth is essentially random, and drawing cards is essentially random, so drawing a sign from this deck should work just as well as telling me your date of birth, right?).

We also descended on the Ottoman Traders' guildyard with a bunch of cookies--which we owed them as the result of losing a bet at an earlier faire, but it was really close, so they also invited us to their guildyard to share the cookies. Tasty cookies, followed by teaching the Ottomans some English folk dance, after which they taught us some eastern belly-dance. Unusual but fun. English/Ottoman cultural exchange program! I'm all in favor of inter-guild activities.

Speaking of inter-guild activities, here is an idea for a gig with Danse Macabre:
Danse Macabre is playing eerie musick and dansing through the streets as usual, and they get to the point when the musick stops and the skeletal dansers sink to the ground as if dead. But before the musick can start up again, assorted Pryanksters jump out of hiding, drape funeral shrouds over the skellingtons and plant wooden crosses in the ground at their heads, one of them opens a book and shouts "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust!" and everyone runs off. Sound good? We should probably clear it with the Danse organizers first (this probably isn't a good thing to try as a complete surprise) but I'd like to try it.

Yay Faire!

Sep. 29th, 2008 05:17 pm
barnabas_truman: (Default)
Got back last night from 4th weekend of Casa Faire, which was lots of fun. Plenty of music; in addition to our three stage shows per day we also did one alestand gig on Saturday and two on Sunday, and played once for the Queen and once for the Royal Guard. I've been gradually making my wide-brimmed felt hat pointier and pointier, and on Sunday it was cool enough that I could wear my robe all day, which I think made me look much more scholarly/wizardly and much less puritanical. I ran into ribbin at the siege outfitters booth; they've got a new miniature bent-wire catapult that I think would work well attached to my hat.

I've also been doing a new street gig (recycled from an old CCCC idea) which begins with me studying the sky (in full daylight) while consulting my abacus and a mystic sigil on a quarter-sheet of paper, and ends with me giving the mystic sigil to the first patron who asks what I'm doing with the stage-whispered command "You seem a scholarly sort--study this, watch the skies, tell no-one!" and dashing off into the crowd. Several people asked about the abacus and Napier's Rods, too, so I got to give amusing mini-lessons on their use.

Saturday night Kate invited us over to their trailer for dinner. Really good chili plus sausage plus bread plus absinthe plus impromptu folk music jam session under the stars equals a great evening.

I realized the other day that I've been playing more games of chess at Faire (there are a couple of boards at the Coughing Sheep *cough!* Inne) than I otherwise have in the last several years. I had forgotten how fun it is, and it seems that by studying mathematics I've become significantly better at chess without even practicing. Only one of the games was a significant challenge (it began with my opponent telling his friend "Hold on a minute, I'm going to teach this guy a thing or two about chess" and ended nearly an hour later with me just barely winning three minutes before my next show began!), but I've been making use of the, er, less challenging matches as opportunities to teach the other players some basic strategy and the more obscure rules. (Yesterday a Crier that I played with last week came back and asked me to explain "that weird pawn rule" to her again. :-) Also had some fun demonstrating the cross-board castling phenomenon to some friends at Cuthbert's, although I have since discovered that the concept originated in a humorous chess puzzle rather than in genuine tournament play as I had thought.

Anyway, you should all come to the Casa de Fruta Ren Faire, because it's awesome!
barnabas_truman: (Default)
Okay, I gotta ask this, because otherwise it's just going to keep bothering me.

What the hell was going on with the dragons?

Seriously. Sure, come to Faire, have your fun, even dress up like a stupid barbarian or a "pirate" if you must, but dragon fursuits? TWO of them? Faire is not FurryCon. Faire is not Disneyland. Some of us are trying to do some historical reenactment and two people dressed like theme park characters and acting like cartoon anthro-dogs does not help. Were they patrons or participants? I can't imagine management would be crazy enough to deliberately bring them in, but they were being followed around by a photographer with a participant wristband, and they were there all day, so I'm really not sure.

ARG.

Also this was Pirate Infection Infestation Invasion weekend. Which also doesn't make any sense. It's like a historical reenactment group in the 25th century having a 2000s Faire, and including a Terrorist Invasion Weekend wherein kids can run around in robes, turbans, and eyepatches, waving their plastic uzis and shouting ARRR! Not only that, but in the opening festivities some noble or mayor or whoever announced that it was Pirate Invasion Weekend and, as far as I could tell, introduced the pirate leaders. (Imagine the actor playing Bush at the 2000s Faire cheerfully announcing Terrorist Invasion Weekend and introducing the actor playing bin Laden!) Introduce? Why not just arrest now?

Yes, Secret of Monkey Island was a brilliantly awesome game, and Captain Jack Sparrow was pretty cool, but hasn't this whole pirate fad kinda run its course?

Anyway, other than that Faire was a lot of fun. I played plenty of music with Minstrels and Pryanksters both, saw a neat new juggling/music/acrobatics family act (the pennywhistler also has a Copeland!), bought a new belt pouch and a couple of shirts, ordered a pair of boots, and got a list of tunes from Siamsa (thanks Richard!) to practice so I can jam with them next time. I also told a story on stage to amuse the audience while waiting for the other Minstrels to show up.
A ducke did once walk into an inne, and did aske the innekeeper "Innekeeper, hast thou any grapes?"
Fun times indeed.

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