Cambrian: Opinion

Central Coast Renaissance Festival a place to leave ‘ordinary’ behind and embrace imagination

Cambrian columnist Dianne Brooke in her Lady Tie Di’s Eclectic Emporium at SLO Renaissance Faire booth.
Cambrian columnist Dianne Brooke in her Lady Tie Di’s Eclectic Emporium at SLO Renaissance Faire booth. Courtesy photo

Once in a while, you realize how much “pretend” mimics “real life.”

As a child, like for so many other children, imagination and play served as a growing and coping mechanism for me. Play is “the manual” on life that we always joke about not receiving at birth. Seriously, we are born with an innate sense of wonder, curiosity and creativity that only gets thwarted when someone else figures out how to control others by quashing said creativity and openness.

In the 1960s, my mother took us to the first Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Agoura in Southern California. We were all very clever in our own ways, but attending such an extraordinary event, the first grand-scale Faire ever, well, the wheels in my head spun wildly.

I was hooked ever since.

I just finished up working at the Central Coast Renaissance Festival at Laguna Lake Park in San Luis Obispo. I got home after dark by the time my wares were packaged up and my booth was dismantled and painstakingly puzzle-pieced into my small vehicle. I was hot, filthy, tired… and happy. Not only is it lovely having friends come by (kind of like your “little house”) to see what you’ve done, but there are so many metaphors for life in these events!

A thought: If homeless/road warrior types were well-versed in archaic British dialects, they may only be looked upon as starving Elizabethan actors! Still scorned but at least not feared! Verily I say unto you! The actors at Faire may be at times bawdy and bold, but they bring out something special in people. I overheard a “nobleman” address a guest, “M’lady, thou has such a beautiful smile! It would do you well to wear it often!” Not harassment, just a fancy compliment (although there certainly is plenty of lascivious behavior — only with willing players and by either gender!). I believe every time I saw that woman afterwards, she was smiling.

Brian Stephenson, left, and Charlie St. Andrews have the tips of their lances explode on contact as they joust during the 34th Annual Central Coast Renaissance Festival at Laguna Lake Park. Joe Johnston

As I said, we mostly all have quite an imagination when young and then start at some point to be mocked and tormented for not being like everyone else. I love this Faire as everyone can dress as they wish whether period or not. Many folks that may be shy in “ordinary” life can don a sword and suddenly look at people and talk to them. There is something to be said for that.

Besides, it is just plain fun and is most encouraged!

There are opportunities to enlighten and enliven young people. Sunday is now Pirate Day at this festival. Little ones are given a “booty” bag and look for vendors with pirate flags, signaling they’ve treasures for them. This year, I gave out individual letter beads on string. Why? “You already possess a treasure within you… let me hear you laugh out loud! (which most of them did!). I’m giving you a random letter. Every time you see this letter on a sign or in the way leaves on the ground have fallen or wherever, you are to LAUGH! When you laugh, others will see you happy and in turn they will feel happy and spread the treasure. Got it?”

Goofy, I know…

And how often in life do we work hard and nobody has a clue? My little sister absolutely rocked her job at Faire (she’s been deeply involved for years). She was the vendor coordinator, among other jobs she took on, and as such, was instrumental in laying out the grounds. Do you know what it’s like to see a large open space and picture how a bunch of little huts are supposed to form roads and alleys? And get people selling things in the right space? And there is always somebody unhappy about something or is breaking some safety rule or another or...

But people don’t see that. They see a ticket price or a booth fee without realizing all the amazing amount of work from publicity, to permitting, to security, to equipment rentals and on.

Or we vendors — as an artist who makes all her own jewelry from scratch, in this day and age of want-it-cheap, one can’t expect to make an actual living wage (although there are vendors who do this full time!). Nobody sees the purchasing of materials and tools, fees, time off from “real” work to build booths, set up, tear down, let alone designing and creating whatever your work of art is. People don’t consider the whole picture — as in real life.

So, as happy as I am that the weekend is past, I linger in the fantasy-as-real-life (in fact, one visitor commented he wished he could live here all the time!) glow of another Renaissance Faire under my bodice.

Huzzah to all who make it what it is!

Dianne Brooke’s column is special to The Cambrian. Visit her website at Email her at