Since the catastrophe in New York, every press release the PR people fax out has an almost apologetic tone. Who can blame them? We live in a different world since September 11, and their previous concerns about getting media attention for a bake sale now seem small and petty by comparison. The Texas Renaissance Festival has also found itself recasting its event in light of the tragedy. Bad times inevitably lead to a romanticizing of simpler and, by implication, better days gone by. Promoters think the festival is just the place to indulge in that nostalgia.
"It's an opportunity to draw upon a past -- admittedly an idealized past -- where chivalry was in order and enemies still met each other face to face," says Orvis Melvin, the festival's director of marketing. It's a celebration of the kind of camaraderie you read about in The Three Musketeers, where "even your curses are original and unique," he says.
The Renaissance was also a time, Melvin says, when we had more romance in our romance. You can engage in some "courtly flirting" at the festival. Or take advantage of the Magic Garden, the festival's newest area and an answer to the growing number of couples seeking a unique place to exchange wedding vows. (Over 50 ceremonies took place during last year's seven-week run.)
For those who dress up, the festival is a place to slip into not only another time but another role. It's a safe haven where you can don a pair of tights or lace up a bustier without feeling out of place. And if you have any doubt about the quality of the historic garb in this year's trip to the past, consider that festival employees, dressed as queens and fairies, won the Ruby Slippers for best walking group in the most recent Pride Parade, beating out the always outlandish and glitzy competition.
Some take the Renaissance regression a step further and literally live in the past for a few days. Ticket holders are invited to set up camp in the adjoining woods for a truly authentic experience without power or running water. Thankfully that authenticity isn't carried too far -- a few Port-a-Potties will be provided. Festival employees, called Participants, have their own camping area sectioned off, and the artisans and art dealers live in medieval Toon Town. Groups such as the Society for Creative Anachronism and the Boner Family clan also have been known to reserve their own section of forest. Employees are usually so tired from running the festival all day that their nightly boozing and carousing typically winds down around 11 p.m. But in the public grounds, the party often continues until other campers complain about the noise.
The people who lived in the old days had a lot of nastiness to deal with in their daily lives as well, but that's not really the point of the Renaissance Festival. The point is to bring out the best of days gone by, in the hopes that it can help us escape a little of the nastiness that we've learned is all too timeless.