Renaissance Faire Character Creation
By Jeremy David Clos
Historical Director, The North Carolina Renaissance Faire
So, you've recently visited your first Renaissance Festival and you're hooked. Now, you want to volunteer or audition for your local faire. Being a part of a performance as large and complex as a Renaissance Faire needs some earnest preparation.
Before you take another step, realize that being an actor at a Renaissance Faire is more than just dressing up in costume and playing for yourself all day. It is hard, difficult work, and and requires preparation to create an accurate, believable period character.
First, you should give yourself a brief schooling on the time period. I recommend
as a quick primer to all aspects of Tudor/Elizabethan life.
You'll want to visit as many faires and festivals as possible. Learn from the actors there. Most Renaissance Faire performers are wonderful, kind people who'd love to share stories and experiences with you -- but not during their performing time. Introduce yourself and ask them if they have a break or some free time to talk with you. Politeness and kindness will get you everywhere.
In preparation for your characterization, I recommend reading:
Gary Izzo is the director of the Sterling Forest Renaissanec Festival cast and the creator of "Streetmosphere" at Disney's MGM Studios at Walt Disney World in Florida. He literally wrote the book on how performing interactive improvization is to be done. These books will take you from start to finish in creating your character, his or her backstory and motivation.
Now that you've developed your character, you'll want to give him or her convincing 16th century linguistics. For this, you'll want to check out:
These books will give you the grounding for the proper Basic Faire Accent, but nothing is a substitute for practice, practice, practice. You might also want to read Shakespeare and other dramatists from the period to get a feel for syntax, but don't forget that these are written in verse and the average man or woman on the street didn't talk in iambic pentameter.
Finally, now that you've completed your research, character, and accent, chances are you'll want to dress your character in as authentic costume as possible. Later, in a separate post, I'll discuss Elizabethan Costuming in detail. Basic costuming for the period is easily achieved. Refer to:
More complex, upper class costuming requires a little more work and skill. You'll want to refer to:
Simplicity, Butterick, and McCall's all offer reasonable, but not exceedingly authentic patterns for recreating Tudor fashions. However, I recommend the patterns published by Alteryears, Period Patterns, and Reconstructing History. Each of these pattern lines vary in skill level, but all of them are accurately researched and provide a solid basis for the design of authentic renaissance costumes. I also endorse the patterns contained in the book Patterns for Theatrical Costumes: Garments, Trims, and Accessories from Ancient Egypt to 1915, but suggest you have some prior sewing and fitting experience before using the patterns contained in this work.
Enjoy your new found hobby! Remember, Renaissance Faires are professional performances. So, if you aren't officially employed or volunteering in an official capacity as part of the cast at a particular faire or festival you should contact the management of the event before you unleash the new character in their village. You may find unannounced performances are unwelcome, though with advance notice, some festivals will be happy to welcome professional, visiting performers.