Although historical reenactments are by no means exclusive to the United States (for example, the Earl of Eglinton in Scotland sponsored a large tournament as early as 1839), the Renaissance Fair is, arguably, a uniquely American variation on the theme, having as much the flavor of an amusement park combined with a shopping mall as of a historical reenactment. European historical fairs, on the other hand, seem more on the living history museum model, where an actual historic site is peopled by re-enactors whose job it is to explain historical life to modern visitors. American Renaissance fair patrons may be as interested in drinking, eating, shopping, and watching farce as they are in an educational experience. Since the mid-1990s, American-style Renaissance fairs have been spreading into Canada.
The first American fair, The Renaissance Pleasure Faire (Agoura, CA) was originally designed by the Living History Center to resemble an actual spring market fair of the period. Many of the original booths were no-charge reenactments of historical activities such as printing presses, and blacksmiths. The first commercial vendors were mostly artisans and food merchants and were required to demonstrate historical accuracy or plausibility for their wares. Whole groups of volunteers were organized into “guilds” to focus on specific reenactment duties (musicians, military, celtic clans, peasants, etc). Both actors and vendors were required to successfully complete workshops in period language/accents, costuming and culture and to stay “in character” while working. Fairs that copied the original frequently did not attempt such historical accuracy and in 1995 new management and economic pressures negatively altered the original fair’s historical quality as well.
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