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Arno
Once upon a time there was a webcomic called Starslip. It took place in the FUTURE!!, aboard a museum space ship carrying the art treasures of mankind from planet to planet. It was quite funny, hilarious at times, but one of its finest moments was its portrayal of a television series that the characters from the comic liked to watch. It was called Concrete Jungle and took place in the distant past: 2005! Or rather: in the kind of place the fictional writers of this series would have thought 2005 was, namely a mish-mash of every cultural sterotype and piece of technology from the 20th and 21st century:


Image reproduced without permission - but click on the comic to go and read the excelent Starslip!

And this brings me to the topic of today's blog post: Rennaisance Festivals! These seem to be popular in America. The idea ostensibly seems to be to visit a place where people dress up like they did in "The Rennaisance", and sell stuff roughly related to it. Then you mix in knights, because the middle ages are old-timey too, and dragons because dragons go with knights, and then of course unicorns can't be far off, and before you know it you're looking at a digiridoo salesman standing next to a mud pit.

Now, in a different life - and Michigan - I once visited such a Rennaisance Festival, or "Renn Fair" as the locals of the United States call it. It was a field (of which they have a lot in Michigan) with a whole bunch of tents pitched on it, all of them selling something. There was entertainment at the center in the form of performing bands, and it all seemed what you'd expect if people set up something like this on a field. So when Beedoo! wanted to be in Flagstaff in February for the Arizona Rennaisance Festival, I naturally acquiesced, though I did not understand why this was so important. Well, it turned out there were two good reasons to go: firstly, it took place in Phoenix, City of Face-Melting Heat in the summer, but city of pleasant summer temperatures in February. My, how lovely it was to catch some sun in the worst part of winter...

Behold, Flagstaff and Phoenix in February:


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But wait, who is that young man standing there with Beedoo! applying sunscreen? That, ye of poor memory, is Andrew, or Andaroo as we like to call him in the confines of this comic. As tends to happen, when we visit Flagstaff, we tend to seek him out, or he us, and this time he joined us on our trip to the Renn Fest!

(Andrew, as a point of interest, is now a certified graphic designer! In honour of this momentous achievement I used Comic Sans to write his name on the comic, a font which makes all graphic designers fly into an irrational and uncontrolable rage. I'm sure he'll appreciate the gesture.)

So what was the second reason to go visit this particular Renn Fair? Why did we drive all the way down the mountain to go see men and women in anachronistic dress? Well, for this:


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These aren't tents, these are buildings. I still dont quite understand how they managed. Beedoo! suggested that they grounds were especially built for this festival, which only runs in February. While that makes little sense to me, I suppose space is something they have plenty of around Phoenix, so who knows? All I know is, I was stunned.

Now, the big focus of this particular Renn Fest appears to be entertainment. There was a vast, and I mean vast selection of performances going on at any one moment. I did not count, but I suspect there were some eight stages, all active throughout the day. And Beedoo! and Andrew knew exactly where to go:

1. Fire Whip

A guy with whips. Sometimes they cut through a can of coke, sometimes they fly past a willing maiden, and sometimes they are on FIRE!


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2. Three Guys & a Bunch of Drums

Three guys, with a bunch of drums. We actually came to see the Wyld Men, but these guys were up first, using the Wyld Men mud pit stage. Lots of banging on drums, making of jokes, jingling of triangles and generally being amusing.


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3. The Wyld Men

And then came the Wyld Men, my favourite performance of the day for sheer entertainment value. The show involved two men of supposed intellectual leanings, and a mud pit. The two actors (accompanied by what looked like a pirate on a complicated drum set) extoled the virtues of dramatic play, as it would transport us back in time to meet our distant ancestors. But, while Shakespeare went back in time mere centuries, they would take us to the dawn of time, where we would witness a meeting between the intellectual man of today, and the Wyld Man of the old epoch.


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The show consisted of two parts; in the first part they held try-outs amongst the audience for the part of the Wyld Man, and it was up to the ladies of the audience to nominate their husbands enthusiastically if they thought their guy had what it took. Fortunately (or unfortunately?), Beedoo! kept silent, leaving us with two other men who competed with one of the actors for the role of the Wyld Man!


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After this they entered the Wyld Men play proper. The Educated Man met the Wyld Man, there was a misunderstanding, a fight ensued, and there we learned what the mud pit was for.


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The relevance to the Renaissance age should be obvious, no doubt. I should spoil some of the fun by noting that whenever a bell rang, they would act in slow-motion, making for some impressive 'action' shots that do not, in fact, depict a lot of action. ;)

5. The Knights Tournament

For some reason there was even a Knights Tournament. This pretty much followed the standard pattern: every part of the audience gets a color coded knight assigned, who will then do battle with the other knights. These battles consisted of jousting, picking up rings with a sword, that sort of thing, and naturally we were supposed to cheer for our knight. Our knight, unfortunately, seemed to be the rather pathetic purple knight. All he was good for was losing to the bad guy and, once, falling off his horse. ;)


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The games were to continue at the end of the Festival, but we elected not to go. But who knows, maybe our knight got to do something other than getting his rear kicked. It'd be nice to think so, no? But I think it's more likely that he fell on his own sword while trying to brush his teeth.

6. Uncle Zilch the Torysteller (AKA Terry Foy)

Zilch the Storyteller was a must-see for Beedoo!, who has a CD of him under the name of Terry Foy (a stage name, I'm sure. I'd pick one if my name was Zilch). His big thing is that he tells fairy tales while swapping the first letters of the words around, leading mostly to a lot of "falks in the worest" (say it out loud).

Mister Foy is an old hand at this craft, and it showed. He immediately asked the audience if they wanted to do the scheduled thing or, if they were familiar with that already, some golden oldies along with some annecdotes. The audience picked the latter, and he made sure to make us feel like we were not your ordinary audience, but a group of people he was hanging out with. He spoke of Science Fiction conventions, of Renaissance Fests and the overlap between the audience. He spoke of a Renaissance Fair where Klingons and Stormtroopers were having a friendly conversation in the back, and tons of other stuff. Occasionally he even told his fairy tales (or, as he called them, Tairy Fails).

Highlight was the moment where a few furries in full costume came by and he stopped to talk, pointed and played, on his mandolin, a little tune that we learned as shorthand for "strangely inappropriately dressed." Good times. (Beeedoo: I will interject here... the tune he played was ten notes of the original Star Trek opening. I have no idea if Arno knows this or not.)


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7. Don Juan and Miguel

Afterwards we quickly moved on to the next must-see on the list of Beedoo! and Andrew. Unfortunately, when we got there, tragedy struck: I tried to wipe some grit off of a wooden bench and got a nasty splinter in my finger. I decided to suffer in silence while they watched the show, and spent the entire show picking it out of my finger. As a result, I didn't know much of what was going on. But it looked fun enough, and it had a guest appearence by Zilch the Storyteller (and some other old guy)!

As it turned out, Beedoo! and Andrew spent most of their time looking concerned at my shennenigans as it was. Ah well...

8. The falconers

This is something that Beedoo! really wanted to see. I even gave her my camera so that she could take the best picturess possible, but she gave it right back, trusting me to do a better job. Joke's on her, I didn't!


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9. Tartanic

And lastly there was Tartanic. This was the end of the day, and by this time I'd become pretty weary. So the show kind of washed over me. I remember bagpipes. Lots of bagpipes. Beedoo! and Andrew seemed to be having a great time, though. Despite the bagpipes, even!


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And that marked the end of the Renn Fest. Because we went running from show to show we barely had any chance to browse around in the shops - pardon me, I meant, of course, shoppes. After all, nothing runs if not on commerce. :)



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All in all, I had a good time, and I'm glad we went. I saw lots of new stuff, it was nice and warm (not like right frigging now!), and I got to hang out with people. I am reliably informed that the shows are the same now for about 25 years - in part by all the performers proudly proclaiming their 25 year tenure - so I'm not sure if coming again will add something to the experience, but who knows? Beedoo! still wants me to see the Ded Bob Show, and maybe actually so some shopping, who knows? Some other time perhaps?

Now, this was a huge dump of text and pictures. Way too much of it, I'd say. I apologise for the mass of confusing media. If it makes anyone feel better, it took me two weeks to get all this done. However, if anyone actually, actually read all the way to this bit, let us know in the comments. It doesn't matter who you are. You might have posted before, you may never post because you feel you have nothing to say, you may even be one of Beedoo!'s pony friend type people... Is there anyone out there who got this far? Anyone? ;)


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Beedoo!
This dragon is still gnawing on some princess bones With how much time Arno is taking in putting this post together, I figure I'd better say something here. He's described most of our whole day there, so I guess I can comment on the experience as a whole... this wasn't my best year at the RenFest, but then, I think we spent a lot of our time looking for the proper stage to be at. If we had planned things out, it might've gone better, and we would've had more time to do things in between. We missed a few things I'd wanted Arno to see, like the Ded Bob show, (which imo is better than the Wyld Man show), and didn't spend nearly enough time poking around in the shops. The shows are pretty much the same year after year, as no one writes any new material, though Don Juan and Miguel's show was a little different, due to the guest performance, so I think some of the jokes got cut for time. I also missed seeing some of the usual buskers, like the Crow Man. The thing with yearly events is you never know if the same troupe is going to be there or not.

February and March are a beautiful time to be in Phoenix, when everything is starting to green up and bloom... I think we came just before everything started flowering, but it was still wonderfully warm, and sometimes outright hot... and we always seemed to sit in the direct sun. (Luckily we found a tree to sit under while eating lunch.) Also for some reason, I'd taken the the ever-present hat that lived in my car OUT... Andy loaned me a bandana, which I wore over my hair and occasionally stuck my program into to serve as a hat-bill to keep the sun out of my eyes.

Anyway... we'll have to do this again and see all the things we didn't get to see this time!

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