By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
It's been pouring rain for three days—a real toad strangler, as members of my East Texas family would say—but that isn't stopping thousands of people from spending their Memorial Day holiday prancing around outside in lace corsets, spandex tights and capes. What's a little rain when there are jousts to fight and mead to drink? Yea, verily, 'tis spring in Waxahachie!
The April showers (May flowers being conspicuously absent) brought with them the Scarborough Faire Renaissance Festival, and with it came the thousands of nerds, dorks, history enthusiasts and goth kids who wouldn't dare let a little rain keep them from meeting other people with a healthy enthusiasm for words such as "thou" and "hark."
Cars, vans and vehicles of both the sport utility and recreational variety stream into the vast muddy field surrounding the soaked fairgrounds, my own dirt-splattered Jeep among them. I park in a spot that looks slightly less soggy than the others and swing the door open only to step down into a puddle. I should be watching where my feet are going, but I'm too wrapped up in the scenes unfolding around me. Fair-goers in various states of undress hover around vehicles applying their Renaissance accoutrements. Across a squishy patch of wet grass, a girl is standing over the open trunk of a Honda.
"Oh shit, I forgot my crown!" the damsel laments, throwing her arms up in desperation before hiking her many long skirts up to her knees and trudging around to the passenger seat to search for the lost headwear. On my way to the front gate, I pass two women in full serving wench costumes passing a silver flask back and forth behind the spare tire of a Jeep Wrangler. These are merely a few of the nearly 12,000 visitors Scarborough Faire often gets in a day.
I have no costume. I also have no one with whom to pass a flask. I am a lone contemporary soul, and I am ashamed of my cowboy boots and my Target sundress. My friends, content to live in the year of our Lord 2007, are too hip to be seen at a Renaissance fair. They're busy doing cool things, like sleeping off Memorial Day weekend hangovers. My boyfriend shirked this opportunity to hear rockin' live lute music and watch jousts, claiming the need to spend the day buying manly modern things such as camping equipment and ground beef.
And so I stand at the front gate, waiting for a man named Orvis Melvin, feeling like the biggest nerd for miles. Melvin, the director of sales and marketing for Scarborough Faire and the Halloween theme park Screams, which takes place on the same grounds in the fall, greets me with a hearty handshake. He's already muddy, having trudged across the 35-acre park to meet me at the gate. He leads me past a teenage girl in a peasant top and broomstick skirt manning one of the entrance archways, and I am transported back in time.
Sort of. While many folk use Scarborough Faire as an opportunity to wear intricately crafted replicas of medieval-period dress, others appear to have just decided to throw on a pair of fairy wings and black lipstick. For others, it's a chance to don full pirate gear or a vampire costume, complete with pale white makeup.
Melvin is in a pair of work boots and cargo shorts and seems kind of nutty—occasionally, he'll begin talking to no one, seemingly out of nowhere.
"I just passed the king on my way to the front," he says, never breaking his stride. Then I notice the clear wire stretching over his ear and down his back into a bulky black radio. He's not talking to the ghost of King Henry, he's talking to ticket-takers, security guards and other staff. Everywhere we went, Melvin is greeted with a "G'day, my lord!" from shopkeepers and actors dressed as jesters, swordsmen and royalty.
We hit the highlights—the mud stage, where actors eat mouthfuls of the goop each day, shops selling everything from salsa to candles and a haunted house through which Melvin has me lead the way, unnerving mainly because it is pitch black and difficult to navigate.
But nothing could have prepared me for the Mythical Monster Museum, an exhaustive fantasy exhibit created by Sir Daniel Raptus and Magnus Krane—also known as Orlando-based theme park enthusiasts and actors Daniel Carro and Allen Hopps. I get chills walking over the threshold into the museum, where lifelike models of fairies, vampires and hundreds of other mythical creatures are displayed. Each is accompanied by a sketch and informative paragraph on parchment. Every nerd hair on my body stands at attention. Here is an entire world of myth, made real. Here, in museum form, is what I loved about reading Harry Potter and playing Dungeons and Dragons—the total suspension of disbelief that allows otherwise cynical, cranky people like myself to become immersed in an alternate universe. Dorky, yes. Geeky, yes. And wonderful.
Sir Daniel, a big, handsome man in a heavy black cape, guides us through the museum, relaying stories of dragons slain and ghosts exorcised. Sir Daniel is a monster hunter, specializing in ethereal creatures.