A lot of people say that the Renaissance Faire is for misfits. To be sure: Those of us who spend four months of every year living and working on the faire grounds have our quirks. But we can’t all be misfits if we’re all here together.
When I joined the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire in 2014, I wasn’t very close to my immediate family. I loved them — but back then, we weren’t communicating well at all. I’d just graduated from college and my parents were putting a lot of pressure on me to find a job. So I agreed to go to an audition for a role at the Faire.
I really didn’t want to go. I even wore sweatpants and sneakers with a hole in them because I cared so little. But somehow, I got cast in the role of jester and a few months later, I moved to Central Pennsylvania.
I knew nothing about Renaissance Faires when I first joined. When I arrived on Shire — what we call the fairgrounds — I was greeted by folks throwing knives at a makeshift target on a tree. One of the actors came up to my mom, dad, and I shirtless and wrapped only in a towel. He eventually became one of my closest friends, but it was a wild introduction.
I had to quickly learn that I was jumping into a new culture. It wasn’t going to be a regular acting contract, it was something much more.
As a kid, my family moved around a lot, so I was used to quickly figuring out how to fit in. When I was younger, that always meant changing parts of myself. But once I got settled at the Faire, I realized that I didn’t have to change anything — you can be anyone you want at the Faire. It’s a great place to figure yourself out.
Over the years, I slowly became part of the Renaissance Faire family. I don’t think it really hit me that these were my people until 2018, though. My grandma had died and I was so upset that I sat in my car all morning crying. Later, a costumer who I knew, but wasn’t particularly close with, gave me a big hug and asked me if I was all right. She brought me food and checked on me throughout the day and night. It was such unexpected energy from her because I didn’t know we were close like that.
But everyone in the Renaissance Faire family has a story like that to tell.
In the last few years, we’ve had more people of color join the Faire, and I’ve seen more patrons of color. Faire feels like a home for so many different kinds of people. I want a better way to let people know the door is open to everyone.
Now that I’m older and in a leadership position, I feel a responsibility to the Faire family. I take care of people and people take care of me. The warmth of this place is different. If I left, I don’t know that my void could be filled. And I think ultimately that’s what family is all about.
Joe Penn is a writer, performer, and director from South Jersey. The Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire has been his second home for seven years.