Last night I began reading Polly Platt’s hilarious handbook entitled “French or Foe?” on differences between French and American cultures. She records how, after twelve years of living in France, she suddenly realized that it wasn’t acceptable to arrive ten minutes late to her salon appointments every week. But she didn’t realize it until someone told her.
In light of this fact I want to take this opportunity to state that it is not polite when you are at the Renaissance Festival to converse uproariously with your six closest friends directly in front of, behind, or surrounding a musician.
When I can’t hear the sound of my harp over the sound of nearby conversations, I feel unappreciated. Polly Platt helped me realize that people often need help learning what is acceptable in new environments. Allow me to venture some suggestions as to how you can become a more thoughtful and courteous Renaissance Festival guest.
1. Be mindful of the soundscape around you.
I once watched a very large man dressed as a Viking repeatedly try out his newest purchase – a ram’s horn – while standing about 10 feet from a fiddle player who was attempting to serenade the area. One time would certainly have been excusable. But for the next five minutes, the sharp blast of his horn periodically obliterated the sweet melody of the violin. And he wasn’t even playing in rhythm. The fiddler turned to him and played louder (as I would have done) but to no avail. The Viking was oblivious.
The Morris dancers are a wonderful example of non-obliviousness. (These are the men dressed in white and green with bells on their feet.) When I’m playing harp, they either tiptoe past me or walk in rhythm! It delights me.
2. Don’t sit down with your back to the musician.
It’s just not polite. (Meaning of course if you are in the direct vicinity.) At the MN Renaissance Festival there is a comedy juggling group called The Danger Committee. They have a stage with seating for about 200 people. When someone sits down in the back row facing away from the stage, they yell, “Hey ladies in the back row! The show is this way! It’s a stage, not a bus stop!” I don’t yell at the people sitting five feet away from me, but sometimes I’d like to.
3. Try to keep your kids from taking money out of the tip basket.
Or laying hold of the entire tip basket, or spilling the contents of the tip basket all over the street. (There is grace if you attempt and fail to keep your child from doing any of the above. But please do venture an attempt.)
4. Give us some space.
For some reason it especially bothers me when people cut through the space between my tip basket and my harp. Usually there is only a two-foot gap and people at the Festival tend to jangle with sharp pointy swords, axes, mugs, fairy wings, buckles, armor and other similarly innocuous objects. When in doubt, just go around.
5. Do ask questions about the music!
I love it when people ask if they can play my harp (even kids, provided they aren’t covered in sticky orange syrup.) And I love it when guests let me know that they enjoyed my music.
Finally, to all my fellow entertainers out at Festival: if you are going to do something especially interesting or funny in my vicinity, wait until I’m playing a really easy song so that I can WATCH!!
Twin-Cities harpist Stephanie Claussen invites audiences to explore new locales and eras through her music. Influenced by her love of fairy tales, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the world music section at her local library, she performs a unique mixture of Scottish tunes, J.S. Bach, and anything rich in medieval or French harmonies. Sign up for her e-mail newsletter to receive important announcements and notifications of upcoming performances.
Pictures by Stephanie Claussen, taken at a 2011 Medieval Festival in southern France.