Hench Hubby and I have been attending local-ish renaissance faires for 15 years. It’s how my lifelong love of historical costuming was made into something real. The kids have been attending ren faires since infancy and have affectionately labeled the fests “The One With the Playground” (NJRF), “The One With the Pickles” (PARF), and “The One With the Trees” (MDRF). So when an actual plague broke out and put a halt to our annual event season, our family was crushed. My wonderful spouse offered to make turkey legs while we sat out at the fire pit with some good music, reminiscing about the before times. Never one to miss an opportunity to get dressed up, I also wanted to pull out our rennie gear. Under the guise of “thinking of the children”, the Merry Glen Backyard Renaissance Faire was born.
The idea came up at the end of September, and since we were only supposed to be hanging around the fire, potentially in garb, we’d planned for the second week in October. But then, the forecast changed to rain, and I was left to my own devices for a week. I’ll always look back fondly on that period in a creative haze, much like Con Crunch, not knowing how I got so much done in that time. In any case, when the day finally came, early gusts aside, it was a perfectly fair(e) day.
To figure out what to do other than just munch on oversized drumsticks, I pulled up the daily schedule for our favorite ren faire and went through each block, scribbling down notes for at-home equivalencies. Stage combat, games, and photo ops all seemed doable with items we already had around the house. It was decided that a balance beam and juggling would likely result in a hospital visit, so that was crossed off the list. I did consider putting up recorded performances of some of our faire-vorite acts, but adding screen time in the current ALL-OF-THE-VIRTUAL-THINGS climate is a slippery slope and might have taken us out of the moment.
At some point, I realized that the list was too long, so I took a look through my studio to find materials that I could use to build the experience. Once narrowed down to a reasonable size, I grouped the activities loosely by theme. I mapped out our backyard, keeping in mind which spaces would be the focal points and which spaces would be easiest for setup and breakdown. The design primarily hinged on the square dry patch left by our pool and also the porch, which has the fire pit.
As I was working on activity placement, I decided to make the day into a hero’s quest. The kids love scavenger hunts, so I knew they’d be on board with little effort on my part. I titled each activity and printed them Bingo style on tan cardstock. In the end, we had six areas with sixteen total quests, requiring twelve stamps (completions) to receive a reward. There were two “free” spaces because I’m not a monster.
The most important area for my purposes was a good photo backdrop, which also served to highlight my new x-frame chair. I put down an outdoor mat, set up my stand with a length of stretch velvet, and added a banner made from fabric remnants. We put up our collapsible gazebo to cover the table and seating area. I made a party banner out of fabric scraps and draped it across the front of the space, then I strung my hair flowers on cotton tape and tied them to the back. The coloring pages and dinner menu were displayed in a wooden basket on the table.
A ren faire staple is the human chess board, which materialized in the vacated pool area. I opted for a 4×4 block, easily measured by counting my footsteps up one side, then dividing evenly to mark the squares. There were no plans to play actual chess, only to do some of the “battle” activities. Each square was outlined and filled with orange, water-based paint–the kind used for construction and athletic fields. The games and “weapons” were laid around the outside of the space. Next, I covered one of my dress forms with my old Murloc costume and mounted him on our faire wagon in the garden. Like Fezzik in the wheelbarrow, he made a very sturdy target for marshmallows, foam darts, and rubber tipped arrows.
Since we only had one electrical outlet, I put the bubble machine between the garden and the porch. Bubbles mean fairies, so I filled a vase with colorful beads and a small pair of old wings to dress up the area. For safety reasons, we kept the porch section mostly clear since that’s where the fire pit lives. The bluetooth speaker sat next to the door, and the tripod was placed in front of the photo space, completing the setup.
Hench Hubby grabbed the kids’ favorites from the grocery store–turkey legs, pickles, kettle corn, and “grog”. The “grog” was ginger ale mixed with root beer because that’s what was available, and our little heroes don’t get soda enough to complain. For the adults, our state doesn’t allow for alcohol delivery, so HH hit up the liquor store for some Charm City Meadworks options. After the main activities were done, we roasted marshmallows over the fire. It was a perfect amount of faire food for four.
My habit of buying CDs from our favorite acts came in handy and provided hours of great, themed, the-neighbors-won’t-yell music. We had The Rakish Rogues & The Sultry Sirens of Sin from 2011-ish era PA Ren Faire, Rowan & the Rose, The Righteous Blackguards, and Wolgemut…so much lovely Wolgemut. I ripped the selections to my laptop and pressed play.
Trying to reduce disappointment, we didn’t tell the kids what we were planning, just in case life (or weather) got in the way. I hid all of the prepared items in my studio, the basement, and our bedroom, and our babies aren’t particularly nosey so it worked out. Predictably, the kids were playing video games the morning of, so HH and I got to work setting up with the back curtains closed. At some point, Player 3 was looking for me and saw the photo backdrop through the sliding glass door. I explained it away as “another one of Mommy’s backyard Instagram photoshoots” and she was satisfied with that answer. Upon completion, HH and I went upstairs to get dressed. I’d preplanned everyone’s outfits to match so that we could have one nice photo this year. Everything was laid out, so we headed downstairs and told the minis that in order to have lunch they had to put on faire clothes. My babies do not ask a lot of questions when faire and food are on the line, so they did as instructed. Luckily, both kiddos fit last year’s garb (and a couple of my old pieces for the 10yo) enough to look nice, so we all headed outside.
Their faces were magical, with only a mild hint of betrayal at being successfully duped by their parents. As the Revels Mistress, I explained how the quest cards would work and stamped their free spaces of “Fancy Garb” and “Family Portrait”, then we let them loose. In all, only the board game activity was skipped, mostly because there was a lot of ranged battle going on. Once both kids had reached at least twelve stamps, we started the awards ceremony.
Over the course of the preceding two weeks, as fate would have it, both kids managed to unknowingly pick out what would become their quest items–an acorn necklace and a dragon eye ring. They got the ideas while I was shopping online for fall jewelry with one of my favorite vendors. Now, I cannot justify beautiful, one-of-a-kind pieces for a 6yo or a 10yo, but I did have a selection of jewelcrafting materials readily available for costume bling. With some YouTube help, I whipped up the items, added some set dressing and flavor text, and presented our heroes with magical rewards for their lasting happiness.
In this home, we impress upon the kids to always be learning–useless trivia does come up often, but life skills are preferable. To that end, I made the little consumers pay the Provisions Master for their food items with pirate gold. We also used a book of Shakespeare’s poetry, which the eldest read beautifully on the porch stage for a stamp.
My own education included tying 25 lb weights to each end of the backdrop, which tried to sail away after I draped the velvet over it. I secured the tripod with 16 lbs after an unfortunate tumble at one point. Additionally, I will never again use aerosol cans to mark the chess board. It would have been only slightly better with the official wheeled striping tool, but I know there has got to be a better way to mark battle squares without destroying our tiny section of the planet and covering my boots in [washable] orange paint.
While well executed, this whole day was relatively short notice for what we pulled off, and I’m still reeling from the great time that we had. Most of the credit goes to my sweetheart and partner-in-crime who has seemingly limitless support for my nonsense. This was truly the greatest day.