As with most Renaissance faires, there’s so much to see at Scarborough Renaissance Festival that you can’t see it all in one trip. Or even with a season pass. Believe me, if I could afford to go more often, I’d do it. I’m grateful to go once, which I did a few weeks ago. If I can make a second visit, it’s like winning the lottery. In spite of some rather stupid money crunches this year, I found a way to plan for it all the same because it is my favorite time of the year. When you want something badly enough… well, you get the idea.
This time around I did something a little different. The past few outings in recent years, I’ve sort of redirected to explore the music. That hasn’t stopped — and it won’t — but I decided to let go of the wheel this time. Yup, you read that correctly. You see, I want to see some of the other acts at Scarborough just as much as anyone else, especially since they’ve added some new ones and some of the classic faves have been missed. And besides, I recognize that I’ve steered the direction for a while, and fair’s fair at the faire.
As I say, it didn’t stop the music. Our first performance was from our favorite harpist Sarah Marie Mullen, who pretty much sets the tone for the whole day.
This weekend is likely Sarah’s final performance this season as she’s about to go on maternity leave. That said, she did say that depending on how things work out, she may return for the final weekend or two of the festival. Such a trooper. I realize that’s through necessity, but I still respect the dedication. Kudos to her and husband Cyrus for making it work.
Last time we were there, she teased us with some tunes that were not on her albums, so when she asked for requests this time, I made sure to ask about those. And she ran the gamut. She played the Serbian tune she played last time, an old Grecian tune, theme and variations by Bach (seriously!), some Irish classics from O’Carolan, an extremely old Jewish-Persian tune that may date back a few thousand years… What’s really cool is she knows the stories behind all of them. I love that sort of thing.
People in my life ask me all the time: if I deal with anxiety and depression and really dislike crowds as I do, how do I deal with Scarborough? Sarah’s my ace in the hole. There’s something soothing about a harp, and as I say, she sets the tone for the entire day. Also, I’ve learned over the years that when you’re in an audience in a niche somewhere, the rest of the crowds dissipate, even if that niche happens to be on a busy bridge like this spot. The same holds true to a lesser extent if you duck into a shop. Introverts learn these sorts of things by instinct.
Before I go on, I want to point out that this weekend was “royal ale weekend,” or something to that effect. Apparently there’s an unspoken law that says when people get boozed up, they need to smoke too. Between sensory processing issues and asthma, it’s just a bad combination for me. We had a mobile cigar vendor running around (who joyfully announced as obnoxiously as possible, seemingly everywhere we went, that all of the stogies were soaked in rum), so there were people lighting up and clouds of noxious fumes stinking up the place at every turn. It was impossible to escape. Somehow I’ve managed not to be out there when a similar theme was in play, and I now know never to do it again. You can’t escape the smokers completely, but avoiding this particular weekend means you escape this level of escalation. This is how much I credit the performers for keeping me sane as much as entertained, because without them, I’d be a basket case. As it was, I was disgusted by my fellow humans at virtually every turn. I don’t fault anyone for their vices; without them, we’d all be perfect. I do fault them for managing to always position themselves immediately upwind of me when sucking on their smoldering pacifiers. It was a miserable experience, I won’t lie. And yet… the performances were amazing and completely worth dealing with that nonsense! As a bonus, most of the lines were for the pubs, so that thinned out the crowds in other areas quite nicely. Always a balance to the universe…
I also want to call out real fast another situation that’s never happened to me before. I kept asking for “cold” water at every turn from the vendors that claimed to have it. It’s a warm day. Staying hydrated is the way to go if you want to avoid heat exhaustion. This was the first warm and sunny weekend, and people turned out in droves as would be expected, so I understand there’s just not enough ice in the world to keep up. But in a Scarborough first, I had a vendor take a $20 bill from me and give me $9 change (including one of those long-defunct Sacajawea dollar coins for a water that was easily as hot as the surrounding sunlit dirt path. Water is $3, so I got more than a little indignant about being cheated when demanding my money back. When I challenged her, she mumbled something about there not being enough change (she literally had a pile of singles next to the cash drawer in addition to everything that was in the drawer). Come on. These vending operations are privately owned businesses within the faire, and like the performers, everyone does their part to make a living and make the entire festival a joyful experience. In all the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve never had anyone at the festival try to cheat me before. So strange. I’m more than willing to accept it as a one-off situation.
So between these two experiences and the sheer amount of crowd, you see now why I prize the performers as highly as I do, and why I especially appreciate Sarah and her harp. Let’s talk about the rest of the good stuff.
One of the new acts at Scarborough is a duo that, well, to use their own words: he’s a juggler, she’s a contortionist; their superpowers combined, they are Acrobatrix. Presentation is everything, and these two were a blast. Since I’m not a photographer, and because it’s difficult to take clear action photos sometimes, I took a lot of shots. Here are some of them.
After Acrobatrix, we started wandering around, looking for some of the lane performers. And invariably, we kept missing them. I think many of them were playing pubs when we went across their normal spots. But then we got waylaid in the road by a woman with a pole. A top the pole was a kind of little chair setup with a couple of live rats. She explained that in addition to training the rats, who were rescued from laboratories, she also trained cats and did a tightrope act. I’ve never heard of anyone actually training a cat before, so I’m instantly curious. Cirque du Sewer would be performing in just a few minutes, and wouldn’t we like to see them? Yes. Yes we would.
Again, it’s a bit difficult to catch this sort of thing, especially if you want to see the show while it’s in progress. Credit where it’s due, working with live animals is difficult enough. Working with live animals while doing a not-so-tight rope act while a parade is going by at the exact same time… this one has my total respect. And again, presentation is everything, so even when things don’t go as planned, it’s highly entertaining when you have someone who can roll with the unexpected. As was pointed out, having rats on stage makes this the most historically-accurate show in the entire Renaissance faire.
I’m ashamed to say, Cirque du Sewer has performed Scarborough for a number of years, and I had no idea this was even here. But this is why the performers stand in the street and get people’s attention. Totally worth it too. So much fun!
More wandering after the show, more shopping, and then we decided to see the German group Wolgemut. Last time around, we saw their “quiet” show, and I picked up all their CDs. I was curious about their “loud” show.
Yes, indeed, they were as loud as expected, and so much awesome. They do some modern classics in this part of their repertoire, so in addition to some Early Music dance numbers, we also had The Champs’ “Tequila” and Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” I could say I didn’t expect this, but one of the CDs I picked up was a live CD where they performed those right in the middle of everything else. It works in context, and it’s fun to see how many people in the audience actually know the songs vs. the number of those who don’t. We sat right up front, which meant it was really difficult to get a shot with all four of them in it. As you can see, I pulled it off. I’m also pretty sure I took a layer of skin off my hands from all the clapping. Audience participation is half the show, after all.
More wandering, and we actually ran across Lesa Mesiah, the Moor of Dundee, this time. I was still bummed from not finding her last time, so this made up for it.
As with Sarah, she’s one of those performers who never ceases to impress, for much the same reasons. She knows the stories behind all the songs, she knows all the songs (including many verses people don’t know), she encourages the singalongs, and if it’s possible, she may actually be the happiest person at the festival. For that matter, she may be the happiest person I know. Period. The hardest part about visiting with her, especially for the extended periods we do, is that she sets up in front of the faire’s bookstore. It’s SO hard to resist that siren’s call…
We made our way around the faire to the next show, a comedy act called Mass Appeal with Father Martin. As I mentioned last time, the Festival turned back the clock a bit on Henry VIII’s reign, so we have Katherine of Aragon instead of Anne Boleyn. “Father Martin” is the guy that used to play Thomas Cromwell. He was a damn good Cromwell, so we were curious what this was all about. Sadly, for whatever reason, he didn’t make the show, so there were some of the other Rennies doing some impromptu stories. They clearly have a target audience who enjoyed it all the same, but it wasn’t our thing, so we cut out pretty early and did some more wandering. Win some, lose lose some, but how do you know if you don’t try, right? We found ourselves back at Sarah’s spot on the bridge and listened to her play some of the songs from her newest album. She’s centrally located. It’s sort of difficult not to pass by, and it’s nigh impossible to turn down another chance to hear her play.
Our final stage performance of the day was Cale the Juggler, a longtime favorite of ours. He started with a warm-up trick: balancing a blade on his forehead, bouncing it to his nose, then to his chin, and back up to his forehead. I have to ask: what possesses a person to try this sort of thing? I’ll never know. But it’s astounding to watch.
He usually gets little kids in on the act (not for anything dangerous, but the innuendo is there as part of the joke), and I think this may very well be the smartest bunch of kids to get involved. For example, he gets a plate spinning and tells them to grab this pole that he puts the plate on. Then he tells them to stand on one foot, and then no feet. The kid actually got on his knees and kept that plate airborne. Most of them aren’t fast enough to figure that out. It turned into one of his best performances yet. There were a couple of false starts, as there sometimes is, but as with many of the pro Rennies, he keeps the comedy flying, so even the misses are hits. Then when things go right, it just looks that much more impressive even if you know what to expect. It’s all part of the show, and the skill involved cannot be denied.
Case in point, here he is on a ladder, balancing a spinning ball on a small pole between his teeth, juggling fire. There’s just not much else you can ask of someone like this. He gives until it hurts, sometimes literally. Let’s be honest here: you’re not going to get this sort of entertainment from TV. This is better.
All in all, in spite of the cigar stink, I still had an incredible time. Even tipping as much as I tend to do, and after buying a large bag of King’s Nuts (cinnamon sugar coated roasted almonds), I still somehow walked out having somehow spent less than I normally do. That worked out for the best because I still needed to go grocery shopping for the week. lol. I’m still a little bummed we didn’t get to see more lane performers this time. Sometimes the timing just doesn’t work out. Next time. There’s always a next time, even if it’s next year.
The festival continues through Memorial Day, but alas, this is my final huzzah for the season. I’m too poor to go more often, and I am still wrangling my personal finances. Maybe if I do this right, I can somehow manage to go more often next year as a reward. I’m going to make that a goal because there’s still so much to see that I haven’t seen yet.
As always, a big thank you to all the performers who make this my favorite time of the year for all the right reasons. You are incredible.