Monday, February 6, 2012

Please allow me to introduce myself - Part the second

I came into the faire at a time when the Living History Centre, the Non-Profit which produced it, was really beginning to push its educational mission, with a troupe that took that mission very seriously. As more research on the period was available to more participants, the faire started to move from its previous more freeform and whimsical interpretation of history to a more unified and better informed one. Costuming standards were tightened, and what was expected of the participants who peopled the environment was heightened.

Certainly there were concessions made to what our public had come to expect out of the event; Ample cleavage, bawdy humour, belly dancing, etc. were part of the fun, and nobody wanted to mess with that. Obvious advertisements for corporate sponsors were visible, but generally keeping within the bounds of the visual theme. But wherever possible, the presentation of "living history" was stressed, and improved over the next decade or so.

But, like so many creative ventures, the company suffered continual serious financial issues, and ultimately needed to sell to another company that presented similar events in the East. By this time many curiously similar events had sprung up all across the country, but most did not share the educational focus, or creative vision that RPF espoused. They tended to be for-profit, and what mattered most was the bottom line. History took a back seat to whatever would bring more people through the gates.

The new company began to take control, and changes started being made to the show with an eye to improving the bottom line. I'm pretty sure most of us were able to recognize the necessity of the event being able to sustain itself, but the feeling of the educational mission began to fall away and become irrelevant. The company was not accustomed to having groups of interactive street players who helped shape the immersive reality that was the key to the event's success. I think they failed to understand what motivated us, and quickly began alienating large numbers of us. An article featuring one of their executives talking about what suckers the participants were, and how WE'D gladly pay THEM for the privilege of participation struck a very sour chord, and defined the new paradigm very nicely.

It's not that we weren't already being exploited to a point, being uncompensated volunteers, but we felt that both we and the Living History Center were all on the same page with a common goal, and that we were sharing a labour of love. We were regarded as an essential element to the success of the show. That was compensation enough. But now we were expendable. Many of the devoted old-timers began to fall away, along with their knowledge and devotion, while others seemed to buy in to the new "corporate" culture and abandon our ideals. Some of the creative decisions being made didn't make any sense to us.

In the late 90s, I decided that participation just wasn't worth my while any more; that the love, time, money, energy, and personal sacrifice I was putting into it wasn't truly valued or appreciated. I thought perhaps I might just be burnt out on performing with the court, and that I required a change of scene, so I spent a season acting in a stage show, a half-hour cut of "Twelfth Night". While it was a fantastic experience, it couldn't rescue the faire for me, so I walked away, believing that I was never to return, another casualty of the new company's attitudes and methods.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like I was wise not to continue. Ouch.

    Improv is just a different animal, isn't it?