Kage Baker loved Dress Rehearsal weekends at Faires.
They were exciting, they were productive – because you were well and truly under the gun, and had to get your portion of the show DONE, come Hell or (sometimes literally) high water. They were also always a great deal of fun: partly because nearly everyone was in a state of high energy, high hysteria, and high chemical alteration from drugs or alcohol or too much sugar.
Also – and I think this is what she loved best – they were still private. The audience was not yet there to get in the way. It was just us – our weird small town, our extended peculiar family, all our friends and best beloveds running around in the woods or the wilds of London, with no one to impress or entertain but one another.
Some of our best work was done then. The audience never does see the best of a show. Every cast in the world has always known that – only they get to see the true brilliance, the best bloopers, the funniest jokes, the greatest acts of charity and heroism.
At Renaissance Faires, I have wonderful memories of Queens wearing Micky Mouse ears and Burger Kings crowns; of halberdiers with herrings instead of pikes, of Shakespeare done in accents of purest W.C. Fields. Charlie Chaplin was wont to show up, or the Keystone Kops careen through a Morris set. And costuming was … eccentric. When you also have to build your own set, construction is little more personal than it is to the average cast. It’s normal to see people half-costumed while they wield power tools or paint brushes. I have a wonderful memory of seeing the sun come up over the Agoura Hills on Opening Morning: while I was stapling canvas sunshade to the edge of the Inn’s roof – wearing a carpenter’s tool belt over the kilted-up shift and long woolen stockings I’d slept in.
I’ve sat on the floor of the Cow Palace, singing “Jerusalem” with Kage as we painted or oiled the bar, with the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come leaning on the wall eating jellybeans through his cowl. I’ve watched my maids, in corsets and bloomers, running festive greenery all over the Parlour; watched gentlemen in their shirtsleeves and weskits wrestling with the plumbing at the Bar. And all of us pausing to shout the loyal toast as Queen Victoria and all her court paced by regally – dressed in camo and sweats and leiderhosen and gimme caps. Zombies dressed as Victorian thugs and harlots dancing to Thriller …*
Kage watched it all, with those calculating black eyes, and committed it all to the weirdest vision of the underpinnings of History imaginable. These scenes are the source of a lot of the Company’s methods and procedures – even more so of the habits and hobbies of the Operatives. She loved being behind the scenes of History. And if it didn’t happen exactly as she said – well, it should have. And in Kage’s world, it does.
This weekend past was Dress Rehearsal for the 2016 Dickens Christmas Fair. We’re almost done: even now, the Cow Palace is ringing to the increasingly demented sounds of Hell Week, as all the last-minutes furbelows and fiddly bits are put in place. The Bar and Parlour of the Green Man, thanks to my astonishing crew, are just about perfect: Extreme Christmas to the max, all garlands and bows and tartan and Turkey carpets and damask drapes and linen and glass and wreaths and garlands and ANTLERS. There are antlers everywhere. As Jen, the Chief Housemaid, remarked, “We do use antlers in all of our decorating.” It’s one of our hallmarks.
And the ride up and down I-5 was fast and amazingly peaceful both ways. Mike and I encountered no monsters (though many herds of sheep, with copious gamboling lambs). In the dark, the whole Central Valley smells of the hay harvest – which is like fresh-mowed lawn, but even sweeter, and going on for 300 miles. The November full moon rose on Sunday like a ginger pearl, delirious in size and so bright the night sky was actually dark blue. The deer grazing in the tilted fields beside the Grapevine were clear and cast in silver in the moonlight; there were no stars because the sky was too clear and full of light.
We listened to Scheherazade, and ate Sweet Tarts.
Live every day like Dress Rehearsal, Dear Readers. Wear your costume (or as much of it as you remembered to pack), hit your mark, get all the beer plumbed in and the bows stapled in place and the carpets down. Laugh and sing with the people you love, and be prepared at any moment of the day or night for the Big Performance to start.
Because it’s all performance, the audience is always just about to enter, and we are all here to make art.
*Go to You Tube and watch it! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PPHvg34n7Kk&list=RDPPHvg34n7Kk#t=30
Oh my goodness, I had completely forgotten Mrs. Finching saving us all from the Zombies!
Thanks for posting the video. That was so much fun.
Everyone in that video is brilliant. Remember all the zombies who got dressed in the Parlour that morning? It was marvelous!
We do good work out there and Dress Rehearsal is the best party I go to each year. You do good work too; you’ve brought me to tears. Again.
I don’t want to make you cry! I want to make you smile and be proud! After all, you’re part of the magic.
It was happy and nostalgic tears. It reminded me of getting to Blackpoint early and smelling the still-damp hay and the sounds of people rolling out of sleeping bags and the Village waking up in a very real sense. Having that vertigo of which-century-do-I-really-live-in moment. Watching kids walk with mommy to get coffee still in their Sesame Street jammies, women braiding up their hair and tucking it into a cap and watching Tom Willey polishing the Sword of State in his rhythmic way. You know, being in two centuries at once and not having to share it with the general public. And yes, I am proud and so very very lucky to have fallen down this rabbit hole so many years ago.
That’s it exactly – the vertigo of being in two centuries at once!