There are a lot of things going on all at once at a renaissance faire or festival. Here is a brief guide of what you might expect if you attend one as a spectator.
In a modern Renaissance festival there are stages or performance areas set up for scheduled shows, such as plays in Shakespearean or commedia dell’arte tradition, as well as anachronistic audience participation comedy routines. Other performances include dancers, magicians, musicians, jugglers, and singers.
Between the stages, the streets (called “lanes”) are lined with stores (“shoppes”) and stalls where independent vendors sell medieval and Renaissance themed handcrafts, clothing, books, and artworks.
There are food and beverage vendors, as well as game and ride areas. Games include basic skills events such as archery or axe-throwing as well as Drench-a-Wench and Soak-a-Bloke, which allow a player with a good aim to hit a target and get a fair employee wet.
Rides are typically not machine powered; various animal rides and human-powered swings are common. Live animal displays and falconry exhibitions are also commonplace. Larger Renaissance fairs will often include a joust as the main attraction.
In addition to the staged performances, a major attraction of Renaissance fairs is the crowds of actors — both professional and amateur — who play historical figures and roam the fair, interacting with visitors.
Many of the fair vendors sell or rent costumes for all ages and types. Visitors are encouraged to wear costumes, contributing to the illusion of an actual Renaissance environment. Somefestivals allow weapons that are suitably peace-bonded, others only allow fair employees to wear them.
The Renaissance fair subculture’s word for these costumed guests is “playtrons”, a portmanteau of the words “patron” and “player”, and they add a second level of enjoyment to their experience by “getting into the act” as Renaissance Lords and Ladies, peasants, pirates, belly dancers, or fantasy characters.
However, many Renaissance fairs discourage interaction between the official cast and so-called “playtrons.”
Most fairs have an end-of-the-day ritual, a parade, dance or concert where all employees gather and bid farewell to the patrons.
Renaissance fairs are staged around the world at different times of the year. Fair vendors, professional participants, and crew often work the “fair circuit, ,going from event to event as one fair ends and another begins.