All the world’s a stage said Shakespeare. Couldn’t be truer than at a Renaissance Faire!

Renaissance Faires are held all over the US these days, but the idea originated in Southern California. The Original Renaissance Pleasure Faire was created by an LA schoolteacher, Phyllis Patterson, and her husband Ron in 1963. It was first held in her Laurel Canyon backyard as a weekend fundraiser.

Because it attracted so many people, the Patterson’s soon found a larger venue and it eventually became a thriving yearly enterprise. The current operation is located in Irwindale in LA County and apparently attracts as many as 5 million people a season.

I spent many entertaining Spring Saturdays at the Faire when it was set up in the Santa Monica Mountains on the Paramount Ranch,  a popular movie and TV location (lots of Westerns and “Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman” TV series). Rolling hills, streams and old oak trees provided the perfect country setting; thousands of participants (both hired entertainment and paying customers) in 16th century costume escaped the 20th century for a day or two. Years afterward I would remember the Faire and be inspired to write my historical novel of the 16th century, Melaynie’s Masquerade.

Eat, drink and be merry was never more evident than at the Faire. We would wander the dirt pathways among the hills; it wasn’t difficult to imagine an English village of long ago. Visitors got in a party mood quickly: tents sold hundreds of paper cups filled with wine and beer, and food stands that resembled English shops offered turkey legs, toad-in-the-hole, corn on the cob, sausage and cheese, and some California treats like artichokes, and strawberry crepes. There were a variety of beautifully made crafts to buy, like pottery, jewelry, leather goods and Renaissance costumes. I held onto my purple cotton Renaissance blouse and long full skirt for years (it had been dyed and hung to dry right at the Faire), and I still have a few pieces of artisan-made pottery.

Entertainers, all appropriately dressed in colorful costumes (lots of cleavage displayed in women’s garb), wandered through the crowd performing skits here and there, and a variety of stages were set up for Shakespearean drama and outrageous comedy. Bales of dry hay provided the seating.  I heard many a man say, “There’s plenty of boobs and beer here!” The humor and entertainment was not designed for prudery; it was as bawdy as the Renaissance had been. With easy access to beer and wine, how could anyone stay sober, or polite?

Sir Francis Drake, Ray & Hans

I took this photo at the wine/beer stand of the actor portraying Sir Francis Drake long before I wrote a screenplay and novel about his historic exploits. My friend Ray isn’t interested in history, it seems, he just wants to know how much longer he has to endure the Faire! Or perhaps he’s wondering where his wife was since he’d holding two cups of wine. At least Hans looks like he might be fascinated with English history.

Actors portraying lords and ladies of the era in all their finery would assemble in a special area of the Faire and visitors could listen in on their jokes and clever conversation, all in 16th century jargon. At 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, Queen Elizabeth’s Royal Progress, with musical accompaniment, and the Queen’s lords and ladies, would wind its way through the Faire with the Queen carried in a litter. The actress would wave to her subjects until the entire party would end up in the Royal Court or at the Royal Stage for some kind of appropriate presentation.

I was lucky: for several years I had free admission. I took my camera and covered the Faire for the Acorn, the newspaper for which I was the editor.




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  3. Paula Chambers says:

    Hi, longtime Faire participant here. Nice piece. Like the photo; never seen Will Wood “Sir Francis Drake” so young before! I am writing to suggest that you consider digitizing more of your photos and sending them to Kevin Patterson, son of Phyllis and Ron, who has dedicated his life to stewarding the cultural legacy of the original Renaissance Pleasure Faire. He is gathering archival materials now and who knows, maybe your photos show someone previously undocumented, or would add something meaningful to the collection.

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