Wednesday, October 16, 2013

5th Grade Field Trip to the Renaissance Festival! A Snarky Recap From a History Snob

What Women Wore in the Renaissance, As Interpreted By Texan RenFest Enthusiasts
Bernie and I volunteered as parent chaperones for our fifth grader's class field trip to the North Carolina Renaissance Festival earlier this week.  I had never been to a Renaissance Festival before, so I googled it the night before and my eyes were assaulted with scores of images like the one above, taken at a recent Texas Renaissance Festival.  I thought, "THIS is where we're taking the kids?!"  Fortunately, our field trip was scheduled on a weekday designated as "elementary and middle school day," so we didn't see any butt cheeks on display; the place was overrun by nine thousand school children and their teachers and chaperones.  Whatever bawdy shows may be put on during the festival's regular hours on the weekend were replaced by lame puppet shows and such geared to the kiddos, and the multitude of alcoholic beverage stands and weaponry vendors were shuttered up for the day.  Still, the festival fell short of my expectations for what had been billed as an "educational outing to tie in with the fifth graders' social studies unit on the European Renaissance," either. 

For instance, instead of festival staff and vendors dressed in authentic Renaissance period costumes as depicted in actual Renaissance portraits, such as these:

Portrait of a Woman, by Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, circa 1466-1516

Mona Lisa Models REAL Renaissance Costume, as painted by Da Vinci circa 1503
Sir Thomas Moore Models REAL Renaissance Costume, as painted by Holbein circa 1527

...We saw Pirates of the Caribbean getups like this (off by a couple of centuries, folks!):

and plenty of elf ears, furry tails, and partially equine outfits:

How On Earth Did This Man Fit Into the Port-O-Potty???

Renaissance Biker Chicks?

How Is This Even Remotely Renaissance?

If this was a Halloween party, then fine -- wear what you want.  But don't advertise that you're doing an educational event for school field trips and then teach the kids that fairies, centaurs, Jack Sparrow and the Hooters girls all pounded pina coladas together during the Renaissance!

In the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you that these photos (although remarkably similar to what I saw at our festival) were all taken by others at Renaissance Festivals across the country and are not of the actual festival I attended.  This is because my camera battery was dead, and because I was too busy trying to stop the fifth grade boys in my group from concussing one another with their overpriced wooden sword souvenirs and disappearing into the crowd to stop and take pictures with my phone.

Have you ever been to a Renaissance Festival that was more historically accurate, more educational, and more arts oriented?  Am I being overcritical and captious about this, or do you agree that the kids would have learned just as much about the Renaissance if we had taken them to Carowinds to ride the roller coasters instead?


Barbara said...

The Renaissance festivals that I'm familiar with are put on by the Society for Creative Anachronism. Their mission statement: "The SCA is an international organization dedicated to researching and re-creating the arts and skills of pre-17th-century Europe. Our "Known World" consists of 19 kingdoms, with over 30,000 members residing in countries around the world. Members, dressed in clothing of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, attend events which feature tournaments, royal courts, feasts, dancing, various classes & workshops, and more.”

I don't recall seeing the outrageous things in your pictures but I haven't been to one in several years. You can't control what the general public decides to get up to. Looks to me like any event like this is treated like a cosplay event and the non-members of the society don't feel compelled to dress in the context of the event.

Barbara in MD

Sara said...

I'm applauding your post! As an elementary teacher, I've been on far too many field trips that represented themselves as "educational" when, in fact, they were not! As a parent, YOU have the power to stop this madness! (I, unfortunately, can voice my opinion but have little actual power.)

Rebecca Grace said...

Hi, Barbara! I think that's the problem -- our Renaissance Festival is run by a commercial outfit called Royal Faires: There doesn't seem to be any connection between the North Carolina Renaissance Festival and any historical society, college, or arts institution. It seems to be run purely for profit. There were no classes offered, the few "shows" they offered especially for the student day were puppet shows and a skeleton ventriloquist act that reminded me of a low-budget birthday party entertainment gig. Supposedly there was a falconry show somewhere, but we were never able to find it. The venue was dominated by vendor booths selling crap that had nothing to do with the Renaissance, trying to squeeze every penny out of every single child. It really was disgusting! And it wasn't the general public wearing the inappropriate clothing (and by inappropriate I mean that they had elf ears, wings, too much skin on display for the time period, or thought the Renaissance was the 18th century), but the vendors who had paid to be there hawking their wares, and who were under control of the show management.

SewCalGal said...

I've heard these festivals are pretty wild parties. Can't imagine what the kids thought of this event.

I do know a friend with a gkid that they made an Urk (sp? ...hexi shaped tent) that was made in the original style. It was a pretty neat tent, but knowing the kid I"m sure it was used as a wild party house during the festival.