> Both of us would really like to get involved in faires,
> traveling, and making this our livelihood...
> any suggestions???

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SO YOU WANT TO WORK THE FAIRE? v.1.1

You've just been to the faire, and you love it. Maybe it's your first time, maybe you're a 10-year veteran, but you're starting to think how great it would be to join the players, spend all day, every day, at faire, and not have to pay to get in.

Maybe you just want to attend for free. Maybe you want to make this your life's work, travelling the "circuit" and working numerous faires. Maybe you want to be a performer, maybe you'd like to market your leather designs, maybe you want to be a 20th-century knight in armor (real men on real horses knocking each other off with real lances).

No matter what you're looking for, there's a good chance you'll find it working the faire, and enjoy it immensely, if you approach it with realistic expectations.

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LET'S BE REALISTIC...

First advice: don't quit your day job. It's VERY hard to make a living at faire; most jobs come complete with low or no pay, and few or no benefits. Also, there are some nontrivial expenses to become a faire performer. And, there are other drawbacks to the "faire life." Sometimes flush toilets can be very hard to find.

Second advice: now that you've got your feet wet, jump in up to your neck. Attending faire as a customer and as an employee are drastically different experiences. Working faire is WORK, with long hours, requiring a very high energy level, sometimes gruelling physical labor, sometimes dealing with obnoxious drunks, always under the microscope. And, you won't get to enjoy the faire in the same way you used to. You're likely to be very busy most or all day, with little time to shop, stroll, and enjoy the shows. I love it (even more!), but will you? Sure you love the faire as a playing customer, but will you still love it as a job?

Find a large-ish faire in your area, and work there for a season. Then you'll know. And, keep that day job.

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HOW DO I FIND A FAIRE IN MY AREA?

The SCRIBE network maintains a list of U.S. faires (and at least one Canadian):
http://www.faire.net/SCRIBE/
They have useful information about each, including location, schedule, and contact information.

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HOW DO I GET MY FOOT IN THE DOOR?

Relax, this is the easy part.

Talk to the people at faire. When I first decided I wanted to be a faire musician, I asked the minstrel how to go about it. Basically, I was asking (politely but clearly) how to get HIS job. He gave me lots of good advice, told me who to talk to, and gave me plenty of encouragement. Faire folk aren't trying to keep you out; we want you in.

But of course, don't interrupt an active gig. Wait until the person you want to ask will probably be able to drop out of character and actually talk to you. If a performer is in a booth talking to the vendor (but not in the middle of a purchase), the isolation will make it more comfortable to "talk shop."

If, by sheer bad luck, the first person you talk to isn't very helpful and encouraging (this is really quite rare), talk to somebody else! There are lots of us, and the vast majority are eager to help.

If you're interested in a particular job, talk to the folks who do that job. They're usually not the ones who do the hiring, but they know who does, and they know how to get hired on.

For some performance jobs, auditions will be advertised in a local entertainment-oriented paper. For example, KRF in Massachusetts advertises in the Boston Phoenix, auditions for its apprentices (volunteer actors). Check out the program when you go to faire; some will have information about joining the cast.

If you can't talk to the faire folk (maybe the season is over), get contact information from the SCRIBE network. Call! Talk!

Read the newsgroup alt.fairs.renaissance regularly. There are occasional posts from people looking for booth workers, but mainly look for someone who seems to be a person able to provide you information. Send an e-mail message expressing your interest; one response, and you're off and running.

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WHAT CAN I DO AT FAIRE?

Lots. Some of it, you can't do anywhere else.

Glory jobs (knight, fencing master, stage performer) are hard to get, and very hard to get paid for, especially as a rookie. They often require very specialized skills, so start studying -- now. They can be hard to break into, so don't expect a paycheck until you've proved yourself, and expect to start at the bottom and work your way up the ranks.

Merchants at faire must have wares to sell, relevant to the faire, and must pay a fee to the faire (it can be a lot). If you want to market your goods and services at faire, talk to other merchants to find out how much investment money you'll need.

Acting at faire (especially for street actors) is easier to break into. This is a GREAT way to get into the faire. You won't get paid, but it's lots of fun, and a great way to gain experience, both with faire and as an actor. You DON'T need to be a great actor (although Hoffman and DeNiro will not be turned away). Ask the street actors; find out who runs the program, when and where they hold auditions, and get a phone number.

Many faires have guilds (especially on the west coast); talk to the guild members to find out about the guild, then talk to the guild master. In areas of the country where guilds are more active, the size of the guild can allow you a number of options regarding your level of interaction with the public. Guilds generally allow a new person to break into being a participant at his/her own pace. They also often supplement the workshops generally held in advance of opening. For example, where you might have a workshop on persona development, there is usually someone in the guild who has the task of helping new people in this area. From the SCRIBE network you can download the St. Cuthbert's guild handbook, sure to give you a good feel for the workings of at least one guild.

Arts/craft demonstrations also make marvelous ren-faire entertainment, and sometimes even help to educate while entertaining. Glass-blowing is very popular, there are often several blacksmiths (and they often draw a crowd), so if you can weave cloth, spin thread, or demonstrate some other art or craft, consider doing it at faire. Research how it was done in renaissance times; people are sure to ask!

If you really need to be paid, look for work with the merchants. Lots of merchants need RELIABLE booth workers (boothies). Talk to the merchants at faire... lots of them. All of them. If time permits, go to the faire site BEFORE opening to seek work with the merchants. One or two weekends before opening is your best bet, but it won't hurt to try a little earlier (but not TOO early, or they won't even be there!).

In addition to the usual merchants (selling goods), there are also some services. Games need "gamers" to push the carousel and hand out the arrows. Contact the faire to find out who hires the gamers. Ask the gamers.

Food service usually needs people, as do ticket sales. It pays, and gets you through the gate, but at some of the faires it's not so much fun (you won't even get to wear a costume), while at others you'll be expected to wear garb and speak in BFA (Basic Faire Accent). Find out how it is at your faire.

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WHAT SHOULD I PREPARE?

No matter what job you go after at faire, there are some common skills that will help you get hired, and help you be better at your job.

>>> GET GARBED...

You'll NEED a costume. Some street actors are costumed by the faire, but they'll love you if you've got your own. Boothies must provide their own costumes. You can buy most of what you need, ready-to-wear, at faire and other places. It's not cheap, but if you shop wisely and stay simple it needn't cost TOO much money. If the money thing is too intense, garb can be obtained at MUCH less expense. Ren-garb is NOT too difficult to make yourself, even if you're new to the game and can't thread a needle. The SCRIBE network has a costume FAQ, with lots of help for getting your garb together. Download it. GARB IS IMPORTANT.

Definitely check with the faire you intend to work before finalizing your garb. Some faires place great emphasis of historical accuracy, and even the garb you bought at the faire may not pass muster with the costume master. Learn your faire's requirements.

In addition to clothes, you'll want some accessories. Weapons are among the best (but no "modern" ones, please), unless your faire prohibits it. Some kind of pouch is indispensible; garb rarely has pockets.

>>> SPEAK THE SPEECH, I PRAY YOU, AS I SET IT DOWN...

How's your BFA (Basic Faire Accent)? A really good accent goes a LONG way toward getting you behind the curtain at faire. The most important thing is to avoid "modernisms." Such utterances as "OK," "yeah," and "uh-huh" really ruin the mood. A little vocabulary goes a long way. Forsooth, m'lord, thy manner of speech doth seem most strange to mine ears. The SCRIBE network has a FAQ on faire vocabulary; pick your favorites and USE them. Learn by listening: I like good Shakespeare movies. I suggest any Shakespeare film directed by Zefferelli, especially "Romeo and Juliet" (NOT the recent version) and "The Taming of the Shrew."

Many of the larger faires conduct workshops in BFA, and some events actually sell manuals in "speaking the speech." The manual may even be available for purchase during the run of the faire.

>>> LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION...

A lot of (the most fun) jobs at faire are acting jobs. This includes (a few) paid actors with large roles, sometimes in scripted shows. It also includes (a lot of) unpaid actors, most of whom go "out in the street" and INTERACT with the customers. This means there's no script, and you never know exactly what's going to happen. Improv.

You don't have to be a rapier-wit to be good at this (but it doesn't hurt). Work on your improv skills. Try to hold a conversation, from the point of view of someone in the renaissance. Do it in BFA. Be funny (even silly). A lot of faires will give their street actors considerable training, mostly acting/improv exercises, but every bit of preparation you make ahead of time will increase your chances of getting hired on, not to mention increase your confidence and FUN. Practice with friends. Go to the faire and "practice" with us (but please don't step on our gigs too hard). Practice alone. How do you get to Carnegie hall? Practice!

As you practice more, you'll accumulate a lot of gigs, and they will evolve over time. When you find something that works, add it to your bag of tricks.

SCRIBE has a "meet and greet" FAQ with more info on interacting with patrons at faire. Check it out.

>>> WHO ART THOU?...

All actors have to portray a character (and many of the boothies and gamers will find it to advantage). Who will your character be? If you're a street actor, you'll probably have a lot of freedom to choose. Are you nobility or commoner? Rich or poor? Parents dead or alive? Siblings? What's your trade? Most important: what's your NAME?

Note: if you choose to portray nobility, you'll need fancy garb. If you're a commoner, it's much simpler. If you portray a leper, well...

>>> 'TIS A *RENAISSANCE* FAIRE...

The theme is renaissance, so it's very useful to learn about (ta-da!): the renaissance. Since most faires are set in England, this means the English renaissance, most often the 16th or early 17th century. It's not necessary (or even possible!) to learn the entire history of the English renaissance, but learn a little. Try to find out about the way common people lived in those times, and how they entertained themselves. If you have decided on an "occupation," find out about its renaissance incarnation.

At some faires (the so-called "fantasy" faires), you won't need much historical knowledge, but at others, the emphasis on authenticity is considerable. Find out about the faire you intend to work. Do they require authentic costume? Have they chosen a specific year (1592), or is it just "renaissance", or might it be "medieval?" Is their King/Queen a real historical figure (usually either Henry VIII or Elizabeth I) or a mythical one? Does it "take place" in England (almost all faires do) or some other country?

Renaissance England was a highly structured class society. Know thy nobles, and the proper forms of address:
King or Queen majesty
Prince or Princess highness
Pope holiness
Cardinal eminence
Archbishop, Duke grace
Learn how to bow/courtsey, and when superiors approach, suck mud.

>>> IF MUSIC BE THE FOOD OF LOVE, PLAY ON...

Can you sing? A lot of it goes on at faire. If you can carry a tune, learn the words and melodies to faire songs. If you're a REALLY good singer, you've got a big edge in the competition to be a street actor.

If you can play a musical instrument, start learning appropriate music. The music which is "appropriate" isn't necessarily genuine renaissance music; in fact, there's far more 19th- and 20th-century music at a ren-faire than 16th-century music. You do have to avoid sounding "modern." If you want to be hired as a musician, you'll need a good "act" and the more polished, the better. Avoid "modern" sounding or looking instruments.

A few words about renaissance music: almost all of it was written to be performed for SMALL audiences in intimate, QUIET settings. Also, the instruments of that time (lute, viol, etc.) are much quieter than their modern counterparts (guitar, violin, etc.). At faire it's open-air acoustics with lots of background noise, and the audience is more likely to want bawdy drinking songs than Dowland lute songs. This doesn't mean you can't make it work, but be prepared.

>>> OUT, SWORD!, AND TO WORK WITHAL...

If you really love that swordplay, start studying. There are actually two approaches to this. One is the art of fencing, which is a competitive sport. It's a lot of fun, and will always serve you well in ren-faire swordplay. However, it is in many ways different from "stage" combat, the art of making people THINK you're swordfighting. Although skill in one helps with the other, you should put most of your effort into what you hope to do. If you want to demonstrate fencing (a specialized skill at faire), study fencing. If you want to join in the mock combat, study stage combat. Most colleges have drama classes which focus on stage combat, and you may get useful information from the Society of American Fight Directors (look them up on the internet).

>>> WEIRDEST BUT NOT LEAST...

Do you have an "unusual" talent? It just might work at faire. If you juggle, do magic, walk a tight-rope, swallow swords, or something even more bizarre, it might make a good "act" at faire, or a good "bit" to do as a street actor.

>>> BE A "RENAISSANCE" MAN/WOMAN...

There's no reason you can't learn several faire-related skills. Work on your improv AND study fencing. Perfect your garb AND your music. Speak the speech while you throw the knives that you were just juggling while riding horseback. Pick what you like, and study it well. What you don't like, you generally won't have to do.

Make the most of every skill you have.

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DRAMATIS PERSONAE

Although faires have their "faire" share of jerks, they also have a much higher than average share of really cool people. Bonus!

Still, there are jerks, so don't leave anything too valuable lying around unattended. Use common sense.

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BOTTOM LINE

Bottom line: TRY IT! That's the only way you'll find out whether or not the faire life is for you. Jump in up to your neck, but not over your head. If you find yourself swimming, head for the deep water.

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Written by Grant Foster (a.k.a. Robert Dowland), with generous and important additions and assistance from Carl Heinz and Ed Westfield.
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