For 47 years, Milwaukee has thrown an annual party full of music, booze, and people dressed inappropriately for the weather. But enough about Summerfest: The Bristol Renaissance Faire is Summerfest’s junior by five years, but it recreates a visit by Queen Elizabeth I to the port city of Bristol in 1574. Much as the Big Gig is hotly anticipated by music lovers, teenagers, and anyone with a square inch of pavement they can charge twenty bucks for someone to park on, Bristol’s run every Saturday and Sunday from July 5 through September 1 is a beacon to families, theater kids, and anyone who can recite The Princess Bride, backwards and forwards, in Latin. Milwaukee Record offers this guide to the costumed individuals you’ll meet if you head down to the Ren Faire.
The grand costumes that the Faire is known for begin with the actors on staff. These actors play out specific historical characters and must stay in character even when confronted by magical miniature recording devices. Queen Elizabeth’s entourage tours around the Faire in a specific manner every day, and following the Queen’s company is an excellent way to sample the Faire, especially if all the slots for the Pub Crawl are booked.
It can be difficult to tell the difference between the actors who are cast as specific characters and the people who love the Faire so much that they spent thousands of dollars (and hundreds of hours) on their own costumes just to join in the fun. You might see a throwback jersey or two at a Brewers game, but rarely will you see a throwback doublet made out of real leather. Those looking to get into the old, old, old-school look can find many fine vendors on site, but the smarter play is to talk shop with someone wearing a costume…if you can get them out of character.
Many of the folks on this list start out as part-timers. These weekend warriors have a sword belt with no sword, or a pair of leather gloves that don’t quite match their cargo shorts. Putting together a costume takes time and effort, but resisting the urge to put on the one or two pieces during a trip is hard, even if it looks like those pieces wandered in from a dress rehearsal of Shakespeare In Love 2: Back In The Hamlet.
While “LARP” sounds like the noise you make after too much ale, it’s an acronym for “Live Action Role Playing.” Look for soft weapons made of foam, and lightweight aluminum armor. Barbarian Battles, in the center of the grounds, features several foam weapons for sale, and even allows for rentals for those visitors who want to wallop each other for a few minutes without having to keep score.
A long-standing Ren Faire joke was that a small subsector of Trekkies would occasionally show up in costume and pretend they had beamed down to a weird planet, or had gone through time to save the Duke of Salisbury from choking on a giant turkey leg. But now, thanks to the Cosplay Explosion (opening at Cactus Club soon, we bet), you’ll see X-Men, Master Chiefs, and Hogwarts students as much as anyone else. The Faire has even embraced the idea, with steampunk weekends that encourage a little cross-genre costuming.
Recently, some fairgoers decided to take matters into their own hands and make costumes out of cardboard 12-pack boxes. What started as breastplates and cardboard swords has evolved into full suits from different historical periods, like the Coors Spartan. Is the Natty Ice Knight clever viral marketing, or just someone with an uncle who works at a recycling plant?