Holding A Renaissance Fair
Make your next fund-raiser a Renaisannce fair, and the crowds will come. Everyone loves the Middle Ages. Knights, castles and fair maidens bring out the history-lover in us all.
People are fascinated by the Middle Ages. Perhaps that explains the popularity of Renaissances Fairs. Ren fairs, as they're called, can be profitable fund-raisers. Two areas to make money are admission fees and food/merchant booths. Here are some guidelines.
To have the best possible Ren fair, contact the nearest chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism, (SCA). Putting the full name in most search engines on the web should do the trick. Similar to Civil War re-enactors, this group specializes in the Middle Ages. It's a non-profit educational organization, started in the 1960s and has chapters all around the U.S. Members research and recreate many aspects of the Middle Ages as a hobby. They are frequently asked to do demonstrations for schools and other youth groups. If they are able to participate, it's appropriate to offer them a small stipend for their efforts.
First and foremost, request their "fighters." These are the men and women who will demonstrate hand-to-hand combat wearing armor. Don't worry, they won't use dangerous weapons. Kids especially love to see the knights in action. But, since they will probably work for free and show up in wonderful Medieval costume, accept any offer of services from SCA members.
Also, use the SCA as your source for merchants. The SCA holds their own internal events which always have merchant booths, so be sure to ask the SCA for names of merchants in your area. Though it will take more work, you can locate other crafts people willing to participate in your fair. Three options would be woodworkers, potters or leather crafters.
If you can't get SCA involvement, the next best approach would be contacting other local organizations and/or businesses. An archery store for example, might be able to supply archers or a dance studio may have belly-dancers willing to practice their skills.
Food booths are good money-makers at Ren fairs. Two easy period items which sell very well are turkey drumsticks and small pies made of meat or fruit. The pies can be baked ahead and kept on ice or served room temperature. Turkey drumsticks, always a favorite, can be cooked ahead or at the fair. Both the pies and the turkey are intended to be eaten "Medieval style" without any utensils. Shortbread (there are many simple recipes for this) is another period snack, which can be made ahead and sold.
For drinks, apple cider offered hot or cold is easy and inexpensive. Water wasn't a popular drink in the Middle Ages, but if you choose a warm summer day, bottled water should be available for sale.
Scheduling various activities at the fair can be a bit challenging. It usually works best to have set times and a full schedule, if possible. That way people just arriving will always have something to see. Plan 20-30 minutes for each activity. You'll need to post or hand out programs. Here's a workable example. If you are fortunate enough to have two stages/venue areas, you can schedule simultaneous performances.
1:00 Puppet show in the kids area
1:30 Archery demonstration
2:00 Period dancing, with music accompaniment
2:30 Fencing demonstration
3:00 Near Eastern dance (belly-dancing) demonstration
3:30 Treasure hunt (all ages or kids)
4:00 Juggling in the kids area
4:30 Story-telling (all ages)
Others could be: armor making, a birds of prey (falconry) demonstration, a Medieval fashion show, candle-making, bagpipe players, magicians, mimes, stilt walkers, singing or music, or knights demonstrating fighting. Mud-wrestling has become a common attraction at Ren fairs, but beware, this is very messy! The most important thing is to structure your activities based on who is locally available and who can work either cheaply or will donate their time.
All during the scheduled activities, other booths should be holding contests, and the food/merchant booths should remain open. Wandering court jesters and minstrels add an air of authenticity to any Ren fair.
To keep expenses down, use bales of hay scattered around, rather than chairs. If the fair is a charity fund-raiser, you'll want to get as many services/items donated as possible. Some inexpensive decorations can be made in advance, such as colorful banners. Two items which are practically guaranteed profit-makers at Ren fairs are flower head wreaths for little girls and plastic sword and shields for the boys.
This is a major event which lends itself to several committees, rather than just one or two people. Finally, allow plenty of time for planning and publicity, six months minimum.