I went to the Oregon Renaissance Festival this weekend! I saw some shows, had my hair braided, and ate delicious baklava. I didn’t eat any turkey legs, though, and we left before the joust. But the best part was thinking back to my time as a Safety and Security Officer at the Bristol Renaissance Faire.
Summer 2002, spent in Wisconsin, where my mother had recently moved. (I grew up in Georgia, but most of my family is in Wisconsin.) I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself for those few months before college started again. My sister was a security officer at the time and offered me a job. Considering my complete lack of skills (this was only my second paid position), I was most grateful. A CPR certification later, and I was good to go.
The first question I’m always asked: Did I wear a costume? No. I wore a uniform, but it was just a polo shirt and cargo shorts. We needed to be able to move quickly, and that can be tough to do in a hoop skirt and corset.
There were about 25 safety and security staff members, each ranked numerically. Number One was the head of the security. I was Number Twenty. That I outranked anyone never ceased to amaze me. My codename was Smiley because no one could stand my early morning cheerfulness.
One of Sis’s housemates also worked security; the two would pick me up and then we’d drive the hour or so to the faire site. In my hazy memory, it feels like we left at 6 a.m., but I imagine 8 is more reasonable. We had to be in before the Faire opened, but not much before. Sis would pack us lunches of fruit leather, Spam, and Smart Water.
Headquarters was a small shed behind the scenes. Some staff members camped out on site (as did some of the performers). After clocking in, donning our radios, zip ties, pencils, and “lost child” pads, we’d receive our assignments. Higher level officers patrolled the site, while lower ranking ones (like me) were stationed at specific points around the Faire grounds. Our posts were literally wooden poles with yellow flags; we’d be easy to spot if someone was in trouble. We rotated positions every few hours, so the day was rarely dull.
Some positions were more desirable than others. There are the obvious reasons, such as shade. But then the less obvious: If you were at Position Five at noon, you got to help with the Elephant Walk. The Elephant Walk? Yes, a literal elephant. A man owned it and would walk it through the Faire. I do not know how he came to own the elephant.
Or Position Two, if you were there at closing time, you got to participate in the Nightly Drumming. Shortly before the Faire closed, everyone would dance as some people (performers and patrons) drummed. It was primo people watching: not just the “old timey” clothing, but the angels, devils, anime characters, and cavemen, too.
Position Seven, on the other hand, had to clear our the Port-a-Potties at closing time. Whoever did the scheduling really liked me, as I only had to do that once.
Position One was the front gate, which was pretty boring most of the day. However, at opening, the people streamed in and we had to check for outside food and drink, shoes (for some reason, people hated wearing shoes to the Ren Faire), and weapons (the zip ties were for peace-tying–securing–swords, knives, and the like).
The highest ranking staff were awesome, and just as concerned for our safety as the patrons’. We got regular breaks and a half-hour lunch. We also had all the Gatorade we would drink, and Number Three would ask us if: A) we’d urinated recently, and B) if that urine was clear. Summer was hot that year, and even many staff members succumbed to heat stroke and heat exhaustion.
By the end of the day, we were all covered in multiple layers of dust, sweat, and grime. One evening, a man decided to hit on me after I’d treated his companion for heat exhaustion. He read my name tag and used my name repeatedly. I was dirty, I was a captive audience, and, oh right, I was trying to work and make sure people were safe. Such as his friend.
It was a tough job: on your feet all day in the sun, scanning the crowd of hundreds (thousands?), keeping track of the idioscrancies of each position. For two hours after work, I saw cleavage every time I closed my eyes. Still, it was never boring.