I’ve been to exactly one Renaissance Festival in my life, and it was at least 20 years ago in Southern Ohio. I remember the elaborate costumes, the great performances, and spectacles in every direction. When we signed up to work at the Arizona Festival for February and March, I didn’t really know what to expect from an experience working in the back. And even after being here for a week, I still feel just the same!
This festival is HUGE–attendance can often top 15,000 on a nice day. In addition to the festival grounds being gigantic, there’s acres and acres of land surrounding the “village” for camping, parking, and elephant storage. (More on that last bit later.) The parts that the public sees are just the tip of the iceberg, and every area is a completely different, with different festival folks living in different areas.
We are in the main campground, which is just a large field with no defined sites, and no water or electrical hookups. Most of our neighbors work for the craftspeople who sell things here, and they travel a circuit with their employer, staying about 2-3 months at each festival before moving to the next. A lot of the full-timers are in travel trailers or RVs, but a decent amount are tent camping. We’ve also seen just about every possible funky mobile home possibility, from a homemade truck camper that looks like a pirate ship, to a mutant hybrid of a trailer with a truck topper welded onto the top for a second story loft. There are port-o-potties and dumpsters throughout the campground, a drinking water spigot close by, and a small showerhouse on the far side of the festival.
The festival is arranged in a circle, so the crafters can have their RV and living area behind their shop. These sites have electric hookups, but apparently not sewer, because I see that most of them have arranged for a port-o-potty to be set up on their site. The craftspeople must have ongoing contracts with the festival, because they have gorgeous storefronts customized to what they are selling, rather than cookie cutter boxes like at an art festival.
Finally, there is the coveted full-hookup area, and that’s where the festival puts up the acts who are paid to perform on the many stages at the festival: acrobats, comedians, magicians, and one guy who apparently does musical whip cracking.
We had orientation last Saturday for our department, Food and Beverage. We are working for the festival itself, but we are in the minority when it comes to the demographics for our department. See, the festival needs to hire about a million weekend-only employees to handle food service, and it seems that about 99% of the manpower is supplied by some unique temporary agencies: The Junior ROTC, and residents of an enormous drug and alcohol rehab residence in Phoenix. I’m trying to keep a positive perspective, but I’m a little concerned about working with people like the woman who snapped at me to leave her alone and stop asking personal questions when I inquired if she had even worked at the festival before. Or the guy who really needed a bath.
We met our kitchen managers, and toured the facilities. We are working in the oldest, smallest, tightest kitchen complex which is also the first food place you come to as you enter the festival, and therefore the busiest. Day one training was a bit haphazard, but as far as I can tell, I will be working the soup and bread bowl area, and JJ will be making pizzas. We’re in different kitchens, but just a few doors down from one another. My manger seems like tyrant and a stickler for detail, but in a good, kindly way. He promised to try to get us breaks before we pass out from the heat, as has happened in past years. Any other opinions about the job would just be conjecture until we work it for a weekend. Opening day is tomorrow, and I have to admit that I’m feeling a bit of dread, but hoping for the best.
Our respective locations:
We’ve gotten out and explored around us, and there’s lots to do in the this area to keep us busy on our 5-day “weekends”. We hiked up in the Superstition Mountains, and visited the mining town of Superior, AZ .
Hieroglyphic Canyon featured a spring fed waterfall and pictographs:
Little Soupy is most pleased, as we can let her run around outside. She loves the green grass that’s everywhere, and has a fine time chasing lizards and sniffing in ground squirrel holes. The only downside is the cholla cactus that leaves little segments all over the ground underneath it. Soup came home with a couple feet stuck good with the spines, but as soon as we pulled them out, she was begging to go out again.
The one part that I do really like is walks around the festival loop. It’s good people watching, there’s often folks rehearsing their acts, and lots of activities going on. The “village” is still getting readied, and many shops have scaffolding up for painting. I also feel like I see something interesting every time I’m out. A couple days ago, I stopped dead in my tracks, not comprehending what I was seeing out in the field. I thought for sure that it was a life-sized elephant statue, and then it moved! There is a petting zoo and animal rides here, so I can see elephants, camels, llamas, horses, goats, sheep and yaks on my route.
The Royal Stables:
Pray for us, and we’ll let you know how it goes!