Monday, September 30, 2013

Renaissance Festival Bingo

As I've mentioned in previous posts, last weekend and I Brian attended the Maryland Renaissance Festival with some friends who live in the area. At $22 a ticket, this is not exactly the most frugal form of entertainment, but the real hazard to your wallet comes once you pass through the fairground gates: there's a whole host of vendors inside on the lookout for the chance to part you from your hard-earned ducats. Food booths line the grounds, selling both legitimate Renaissance fare like sausages and beer and decidedly non-period goodies such as ice cream cones. (Turkey legs are also a perennial favorite, even though the turkey cock wasn't introduced into England until the 1540s—well after the joint reign of Henry VIII and Catharine of Aragon, who presided over the court at this festival.) Food sellers also wander through the crowd plying their wares, from pretzels to sweetened nuts (in authentic Renaissance plastic bags, of course). Merchants in their stalls hawk goods of every kind: period costumes, armor and weapons, games, musical instruments, pottery, wood carving, metalwork. Games masters invite you to try your skill at archery, skittles, and contests of strength, all for a modest fee. If you spent an entire day at this event, you could easily end up spending two or three times what you paid to get in.

Fortunately, there's also plenty to see and do without spending any extra cash. The festival has a huge array of entertainers—some on stage at specific times, others wandering through the crowd—but one of the best diversions the festival has to offer is the people-watching. So for this Festival, to help keep myself occupied and reduce the temptations of the merchants, I decided to make a game of it: Renaissance Festival Bingo. I first came up with the idea when I was researching ideas for cheap Renaissance garb for women and I came upon the instructions for making your very own duct-tape corset. I made a mental note to keep an eye out for anyone wearing one of those at the fair, and then I started thinking of other things it might be amusing to look for, and after a while I decided to try and fill a whole Bingo card with them.

Some of my Bingo items proved much harder to get than I had expected, while others were much easier. For example, Brian proposed "glitter on cleavage," which was apparently a hugely popular accessory at the Renaissance Faire he'd attended in California—but while cleavage was as much in evidence as ever at this festival, we didn't see a single wench adorning hers with glitter. "Steampunk," by contrast, was one that we threw in more or less on a whim, thinking that there might be one or two people who opted to wear their steampunk garb to the Renaissance Festival in spite of the fact that it belongs to a fantasy world of a completely different historical period. Yet to our surprise, we saw huge numbers of people in steampunk costume, some of it very elaborate indeed. Steampunk costumes were much more popular than such period-appropriate fantasy costumes as fairies and elves, and perennial Renn Faire types such as gypsies and pirates were hardly in evidence at all. One idea that we actually considered for the Bingo card and then rejected was "Starfleet uniforms," thinking that surely no one would wear a costume from the 23rd or 24th century to an event set in the 16th—yet we saw three of them. The Doctor (as in Doctor Who) was also on the scene, although only in his current incarnation—but then, since he's a time traveler, he's period-appropriate in any setting.

Sounds, as well as sights, were harder to find than I'd expected. I heard only one "Huzzah!" in the whole afternoon we spent at the Festival, and I didn't hear a single incidence of such mangled Renaissance grammar as "How dost I look?" I also didn't encounter a single sourpuss complaining about clothing, music, foodstuffs, or anything else being "not period"—even though we did come across such obvious anomalies as funnel cakes, folks in full period get-up using cell phones, a bagpipe band playing "We Will Rock You," and of course, the aforementioned steampunk outfits.

Overall, we spent about four hours at the fair, and I managed to score a bingo only a few minutes before we left—and even that was perhaps a stretch, as the person we identified as dressed in a Robin Hood costume might actually have been just some sort of woodsman. But I did still fill in more than half the squares:
Duct tape corset Ironic use of modern songs Glitter on cleavage “Huzzah!” Elves
Fairies Homemade armor “That’s not period!” Jester Turkey legs
“How dost I look?” Steampunk Period garb with cell phone Robin Hood Gypsies
Funnel cakes Pirates Kilt (bonus if worn regimental) Juggling Spike heels
Japanese tourists with cameras Harry Potter Noteworthy piercings Dragons Bikini

I think this game would certainly be worth playing again, but next time I'd probably use a free bingo card generator such as this one to randomize the list for me. Perhaps that way I could make several cards, drawing from an even longer list, and include some of the additional characters that we saw last weekend—as well as a few other items that didn't make the final cut, like "period clothing with running shoes."

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