Renaissance Revival


Heather Sandefur, Op/Ed Editor

The travelling Renaissance Festival has arrived once more to its fairground sin Franklin, Tenn. As it does every year each weekend in May, including Memorial Day.  The festivals I popular enough that Tenn. Has made traffic signs specifically for the event; the Tennessean estimates 70,000 people attend annually.  There are Renaissance Festivals across the entirety of the U.S.: some are permanent, some states have multiples, some are themed mythically or in a certain kingdom the original Renaissance influenced, and some travel in fair circuits.  What is it with the popularity of these festivals?

The renewed interest in the Renaissance era began post-WWII in America.  It was a time when people needed to look to the brighter things to renew the life within themselves (much like the Europeans after the Dark Ages).  The first traces of this interest can be found in the Mediterranean Revival of architecture in coastal Calif. and Fla.  These structures are inspired by Italian Renaissance palaces, and although their appearances began in the 1920s, the continued interest in this era did not catch fire until the late 1950s.

On December 29, 1957, John Meredith Langstaff presented the first production of a Christmas revels in N.Y.  The show presented traditional elements of medieval music, drama, and dance.  In ’66, Langstaff presented A Christmas Masque for the Hallmark Hall of Fame which incorporated all of the elements of Christmas Revels.  His shows grew so much in popularity that he and his daughter, Carol, established a permanent Christmas Revels in Cambridge, Mass.

A year prior to the first production of Christmas Revels, a married couple would move to L.A. and would ensure the lasting influence of the Renaissance in the U.S.  Phyllis Patterson and her husband, both school teachers, established a drama troupe of nine and 10 year-olds in 1960.  After a few successful years, the Pattersons rented a local park and, on May 11 and 12, 1963, held the first Renaissance Faire in the U.S. with the sponsorship of KPFK, a Pacifica radio station.  In the following years, many conservative officials threw regulations against her to bring an end to the phenomenon (due to the lingering effects of the McCarthy era).  However, the Pattersons prevailed; the festival experienced such growth that it kept outgrowing the rented fairgrounds.  Thus began the exponential growth in the interest of the Renaissance Pleasure Faire.

The question still begs to be asked: why is this phenomenon still so wildly popular a half-century after its initiation?  Phyllis Patterson answered this herself in multiple interviews by saying, “The Faire reminds us of simpler times, more in touch with nature and the earth.”  In an article written on Langstaff’s official website on the history of Revels, it’s written that he (Langstaff) “saw the pervasive hunger for connection in modern life and offered as sustenance the arts and rituals that have evolved from traditional cultures to nurture community.”  The concise answer is that humans seek a vibrancy in life through connection with others.  What better way to find this renewal of life than in the Renaissance?