Kage Baker hated attention. I know, that sounds illogical and unlikely: she was a performer and a writer, and serious about both of those arts. But she didn’t really want people to focus on her. Only on what she did.
She became a performer at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire in order to achieve invisibility (and get in free). Being a member of the audience makes one a constant target – several hundred fanatically determined actors want your attention and most will do anything, no matter how loud, how outrageous or embarrassing, to get a reaction out you. The only way to avoid them is to be one of them. Also, being one of the cast is the safest way to get backstage, where the truly amazing things happen … it’s the hunting blind technique, the gillie-suit trick; the Paleolithic hunters’ strategy of tying antlers to your head.
Kage made most of her observations of life this way, from discreet hiding. You have to build those blinds in the deep woods, though, if you want to see the really wild animals; you have to get out under the trees in your camo suit, crawl close enough so your horns show in order to hunt the deer. Sometimes the hunter gets caught.
In the early days of the Faire – when we arrived as bedazzled customers – standards were not so much low as merely appalling ignorant. They were learning the history as they portrayed it. Anyone in an entire costume, with no zippers or wristwatches ( those were mid-20th century clothing fetishes, kids, predating velcro and cell phones) in sight, could easily be mistaken for an actor. If they looked good enough, they could find themselves press-ganged into walking in processions to fill out the extras.
One afternoon, brave on dollar pints of Whitbread’s Pale Ale – this was a very long time ago – we ventured into the enormous tent behind the Main Stage. I think we were partly sneaking where we ought not to be, but also looking for chemical toilets without lines … We were both fully costumed. And to our delight, we were mistaken for actors! Which is to say, no one caught us and threw us out.
Seated on a hay bale, we just stared around in delight and awe. There were exceedingly strange and fascinating people rehearsing, relaxing, arguing, eating, drinking, smoking, changing costumes and collecting props all around us. The back of Main Stage rose above us, in all its dusty, splintery functionality – the glory was all on the front side, where the audience could see it. But a group of young men was busily hoisting a glorious palanquin onto their shoulders in anticipation of bearing the Queen out, and there were guys with arquebusses and polearms and Swords of State and God He only knew what else … a wiry blond guy with his eyes starting out of his head was running back and forth on an elevated catwalk and yelling something about Where the hell is the Queen’s chair? and roaring that he needed someone to fill on Main until Progress got there.
You call yourselves actors? he bellowed down at the performers, and a dozen people yelled NO! while simultaneously running up the stair on to the stage, juggling balls and fruit and blades and one another …
A little lady standing near us, holding a relic case on a pole, noticed our amazement and asked us if we were new. We said yes. She glanced around with a tired pride of belonging at the growing Bedlam, and said they were just about to go out with the Queen. She asked us what we did.
“We’re just street performers,” I said, aiming for a safe generality.The little lady nodded and then spoke the words that sealed our doom:
“Are you staying in Actors Camp?”
A blinding light went off in my head. I know it went off in Kage’s too, because I could see the flames leaping up in her eyes as her brain promptly caught fire. There was a universe of glory and adventure in those words, an implied life that would finally be everything we had been promised as little girls … Actors Camp? There was an actual Camp? Where you could stay? And live here, and do this, and (presumably) spend your days eating the silver apples of the moon, the golden apples of the sun?
Oh. My. God.
“Not this year,” said Kage. “But next year we will.”
“It’s great after hours,” said the little lady casually. “Maybe I’ll see you there.” And she went off then to march in shouting adulation in front of Elizabeth Gloriana, Queen of England (not to mention Air and Darkness), God Save The Queen, Live Forever Gracious Lady!
Kage and I followed the Queen’s Progress out of the tent, and into the rest of our lives.