The Old World guilds were the trade unions of their time. Each guild presided over the training, membership and regulation of its trade. To make a living in any trade, it was necessary to be apprenticed to a master in that trade for a number of years, become a journeyman and eventually a master. Each guild was small community of peers who (fiercely) looked out for the interests of the trade and for the well-being of the members.
The concept of the Renaissance Faire guild was formed at the original Renaissance Pleasure Faire in the late 1970s as a means of organizing and training 1000-plus costumed participants in categories based on their character classes and professions, led by directors who became known as "Guildmasters". The system was based loosely on the old world system and the guilds were usually named after a patron saint (real or comical) related to its theme or profession. The guilds were not meant to be an onstage conceit, but simply a way to conveniently organize performers.
In many cases, these guilds were alloted areas within the faire to arrange a themed environment as a matrix for their performances and a home base for their performers. They're often referred to as "environmental areas", "guild sites", "encampments" or "guild yards".
As time went on, some of these groups became independent entities which performed at the many other small faires which appeared in emulation of the original. Producers found that it was convenient to hire these independent guilds as a way to populate the streets of their events without going to the trouble of organizing and training a cast of their own. The producers could rely on these guilds to be well-educated and well-trained in their tasks, and they usually came with their own equipment and settings to furnish their own guild yards, which contributed to the overall look and feel of the faire.
The duty of the guilds is to guarantee that
• Members are well educated about the history and sociology of the time.
• Members portray characters appropriate to the time and place.
• Members' costumes adhere to the official guidelines.
• Members are trained in theatrical techniques applicable to an improvisational interactive environment.
Each guild should consider carefully the following questions:
What does the group represent? What aspect of life or segment of the population in Elizabethan England does it portray? How is that demonstrated to the audience?
If the group has an environmental area, what does it represent? Is it a place of business? Is it a camp site? If it's a camp site, why are the members of the group camped at a faire on the town common instead of sleeping at home or at a local inn? How is that demonstrated to an audience?
Does the group actually represent a trade guild ie: mercers, smiths, etc.? How is that expressed to the audience?
If the group represents non-English people, what brings them to this particular place, this faire in the heart of England?
How does the guild interact with the public? What will the guild attempt to teach the public through its interactions with them?