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Well Met

Well Met: Renaissance Faires and the American Counterculture

Rachel Lee Rubin
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 359
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  • Book Info
    Well Met
    Book Description:

    The Renaissance Faire - a 50 year-long party, communal ritual, political challenge and cultural wellspring - receives its first sustained historical attention with Well Met. Beginning with the chaotic communal moment of its founding and early development in the 1960s through its incorporation as a major family friendlyleisure site in the 2000s, Well Met tells the story of the thinkers, artists, clowns, mimes, and others performers who make the Faire.Well Met approaches the Faire from the perspective of labor, education, aesthetics, business, the opposition it faced, and the key figures involved. Drawing upon vibrant interview material and deep archival research, Rachel Lee Rubin reveals the way the faires established themselves as a pioneering and highly visible counter cultural referendum on how we live now - our family and sexual arrangements, our relationship to consumer goods, and our corporate entertainments.In order to understand the meaning of the faire to its devoted participants,both workers and visitors, Rubin has compiled a dazzling array of testimony, from extensive conversations with Faire founder Phyllis Patterson to interviews regarding the contemporary scene with performers, crafters, booth workers and playtrons. Well Met pays equal attention what came out of the faire - the transforming gifts bestowed by the faire's innovations and experiments upon the broader American culture: the underground press of the 1960sand 1970s, experimentation with ethnic musical instruments and styles in popular music, the craft revival, and various forms of immersive theater are all connected back to their roots in the faire. Original, intrepid, and richly illustrated, Well Met puts the Renaissance Faire back at the historical center of the American counterculture.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-3810-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction: Faire Grounds
    (pp. 1-8)

    “This is our ethnic background!” William Shakespeare tells me, gesturing at a Southern California fairground filled with visitors and workers. Together we study the crowd for a moment. Some sightseers are wearing street clothes in the variety of trends and statements that make up Los Angeles style. Many others, however, are wearing some form of costumery; this “garb,” as it is popularly called, encompasses a range of degree of elaboration and historical reference (velvet cloaks, high leather boots, drawstring money pouches), as well as some fantasy-inspired elements (satyr horns, wings, leather masks). A performing “guild” of Scotsmen in kilts is...

  6. 1 “Welcome to the Sixties!”
    (pp. 9-79)

    John Waters’s 1987 movieHairspraytakes place in 1963, the same year in which the first Renaissance faire was held. In a key scene, the movie’s protagonist, Baltimore teenager Tracy Turnblad, convinces her mother to update her old-fashioned hairstyle. Leaving the salon with her now-groovier mother, and gesturing expansively, Tracy exclaims, “Mama, welcome to the Sixties!”

    A history of the Renaissance faire must naturally pivot, as does Waters’s movie, on changes brought by the year 1963. But any genuine understanding of the meaning of the faire must also grapple with what came before. In other words, what cultural conversation did...

  7. 2 Artisans of the Realm: Crafters at the Faire
    (pp. 80-110)

    In 1991, countercultural publisher (and religious founder and leader) Kerry Thornley wrote an essay looking back on the phenomenon in California’s history that “has since been characterized as the Love Generation, the Hippie Movement, the Counter-culture and Flower Power.” Rejecting all of these terms as both inadequate and externally imposed, he attempts to convey more accurately what he says really mattered to the people walking that new cultural and philosophical path before it came to by known by those now-familiar names. In order to do so, he describes the Southern California Renaissance Pleasure Faire:

    Every year near Thousand Oaks, California,...

  8. 3 “Shakespeare, He’s in the Alley”: Performing at the Faire
    (pp. 111-190)

    Onstage at the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin, juggler Rob Williams, a.k.a. One Flaming Idiot, gathers an audience to his stage by calling, “Come to see One Flaming Idiot, on this stage in five minutes! It’s the best show you’ll see at the faire . . . except for the Tortuga Twins . . . and the Swordsmen . . . and the Sturdy Beggars Mud Show . . . and Christophe the Insulter. . . . Odds are I’ll only get ten or fifteen people, and then I’ll only give it one-half of my attention. . . ....

  9. 4 “A Place to Be Out”: Playing at the Faire
    (pp. 191-235)

    As the earlier chapters have hinted, attending the Renaissance faire was, during the 1960s and 1970s, a sort of statement of purpose: of belonging in some way to the counterculture, of resistance to consumerism, of side-stepping—albeit briefly—the external constraints of social convention. Through the faire, people could demonstrate public participation in, and affirmation of, a new type of community that was resolutely transnational, transhistorical, transcultural, and one of choice rather than birth—of which the Human Be-In (1967), the Monterey Pop Festival (1967), and the Woodstock Festival (1969) were to become the most remembered examples. In portrayals of...

  10. 5 “Every Day Is Gay Day Here”: Hating the Faire
    (pp. 236-255)

    Audience studies of American popular culture have, since at least the 1980s (with Janice Radway’s important work on romance novels and Michael Denning’s work on dime novels), paid careful attention to the centrality of cultural consumption and fandom in identity formation. Considerably less attention has been paid, however, to what Jonathan Gray calls antifandom—in other words, demonstratively hating a cultural artifact or experiences instead of loving it—which can be equally important to identity formation. The paradigm-creating work of Dick Hebdige and others has madesubculturea familiar and useful analytical category for cultural historians. But scant energy has...

  11. 6 Hard Day’s Knight: Faire Fictions
    (pp. 256-306)

    InChild of the Hunt—a fantasy spin-off novel based on the cult television seriesBuffy the Vampire Slayer—the title character and her friends (and allies in the fight against vampires and other supernatural threats to their small California town) try to sort out what it would mean if they were to attend the Renaissance faire that has come to Sunnydale. Although none of the young people has previously attended a faire, their discussions indicate that they each possess a strong sense of what one is like, acquired from the popular culture ether around them. The harassed heroine, Buffy,...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 307-312)
    (pp. 313-332)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 333-345)
    (pp. 346-346)