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Time Travel – Green Dragon
Aug 212014

Sebastopol’s unique and wonderful Elizabethan fair returns to Ives Park on Sept. 13 and 14. This event, which pays particular attention to historical accuracy and education as well as being cracking good fun, is is run by the Sebastopol Educational Foundation and its primary purpose is to raise much needed funds for enrichment programs at Park Side, Brook Haven and Analy High schools.

I will once again be an actor in the cast of this “Renfaire”, which features veteran performers with cumulative centuries of experience acting in Renaissance Faires all over California and the nation. You will enjoy spectacular 16th century clothing (including those of the court of Queen Elizabeth I), meet characters both common and noble, peruse period-accurate craft demonstrations and wares for sale, enjoy rollicking theatrical, dance and musical performances, and partake of food and drink ranking among Sonoma County’s finest.

Since the first Faire in 2010, MAAS has raised over $125,000, benefiting students in programs including band/music, Spanish language instruction, drama, cheer/dance, sober graduation, educational field trips and more! It is easily the most pleasurable way to support our local schools. 

For more details and to purchase advance tickets to Much Ado About Sebastopol, visit the event website here. I hope to see you at Ives Park, transformed into the village commons of the town of Fenford, Warwickshire, in the jolly old 1570s.

Aug 192014

… you could check out Anachronomicon, my Tumblr.

Sep 182012

Yes, there will still be beer (and wine). Cleavage, too, I’m sure.

But that’s not what Much Ado About Sebastopol is about.

It’s about something far more cool. It’s time travel. For $12 a day, it’s a two-day vacation to 450 years ago. Pretty good bang for the buck, you ask me.

The third annual MAAS Renaissance Faire—now expanded to two days—is a charitable benefit for the Sebastopol Education Foundation, benefiting local schools. It takes place this weekend, September 22 and 23, at Ives Park in Sebastopol.

Once upon a time in the misty past of the 1960s, the concept of a Renaissance Faire was born as an educational adventure: an immersion experience in Elizabethan England to bring the world and history of the time of Shakespeare (mostly a bit prior, actually) to life. The clothing, language, pastimes, culture, crafts, and intrigues of the day would be revealed in the re-creation of an English country fair, circa 1570-80. Rather than sitting at a comfortable remove from performers, patrons were surrounded by costumed actors being people of that time. It was colorful, loads of fun, and patrons came away knowing something of a time in history that laid the groundwork for much of our modern-day world.

And boy, was it successful.

So much so, in fact, that it became a very profitable idea, and—as will so often happen—those elements that appeared to be driving ticket sales began to take precedence over the initial purpose, which was to enable patrons to have fun while learning something. Those elements being, okay, let’s say it, tits and beer.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I like all three of those things.

However, when “Renfaires” became big-money, corporate-owned enterprises, those elements, um…came to the fore, and the amazing coolness of actually re-creating a voyage to another time got supplanted by crass, lowbrow entertainment. Pretty quickly, all sorts of stuff inappropriate to the period was allowed, patrons got the idea that the Faire was a costume party where you could wear anything, and goods for sale began featuring quite a lot of mass-produced crap. A long slide in all standards of quality had begun.

But then, into this howling wasteland of avarice, there strode a Man. And a Woman. With a Vision. (Probably several of both, I’m unclear on the specifics.)

Enter Rydell Downward, Claudia Laughter and an associated crowd of longtime Renaissance Faire performers who still carried the values of historicity, excellence in immersion theater, and overall Goodness and Virtue.

(Okay, Goodness, anyway. They’ll probably read this.)

Founders of the Guild of St. George, these folks take their costuming, history, and craft as performers seriously. And get this: for the first time, at Much Ado About Sebastopol, they can actually do a Renaissance Faire the way it should be done, because the whole thing is a charitable benefit for local schools.

They—okay, we; I’m one of ’em—don’t have a corporate profit motive breathing down our necks. And as a result, we’re doing a Renaissance Faire unlike any other, a lovely jewel of enjoyment and wonder, right here in Ives Park in Sebastopol.

Meet the villagers of the little town of Fenford, come to celebrate their harvest fair at Michaelmas! Encounter Will Shakespere, and ask him why he can’t settle on a spelling for his name. See how the folk of Fenford, high-born and low-, live their lives. Hear music of the period, interact with characters from history. See hilarious stage shows. Treat yourself and your kids to fun and educational demonstrations of craft and art. Shop fer stuff. Marvel at period clothing of every class. Ruffs! Partlets!

Ogle the Queen, and sing the timeless song:

Ogle our gracious Quene,
Ogle our towhead Quene,
Yep, that’s the Quene.
Let her reign glorious O’er Court uproarious,
Now sing in tones stentorious: Ogle the Quene!

Admission on Saturday 9/22 will also allow you to stay for a special performance and live auction from 6pm to 10pm at the main stage and Pip ‘n Vine Tavern, featuring Aries Fire Arts Collective.

Anyway, you get the idea. It’s too cool for school…though in actuality, it’s for the schools.

Ah, irony. What fools these mortals be.

UPDATE: Mr. Downward informs me that this event sprang from a Renaissance Faire-type event for 7th graders which has been organized for several years now by Sebastopol teacher Andrea Hagan, who began this activity to reinforce California curriculum standards for 7th grade history/social studies. She approached the aforementioned sticklers for quality, resulting in Much Ado About Sebastopol.

So let me extend some credit to Ms. Hagan, and thanks for the opportunity to do one of these things with the proper set of priorities. If you have kids, BTW, there is a program of fun and educational activities in which you and they can participate to get the most out of your day in the Village of Fenford.

I hope to see you there! I play Elizabethan madrigal composer Thomas Morley, a social climber from humble roots who wears an elegant–but hopelessly out of fashion–set of used clothing. I’ll be the guy in black and silver, with the counting staff.

At publication, the Dragon was LOOKING FORWARD TO IT

Jul 242012

Welcome to the thrilling conclusion of  How to Throw a World-Class Theme Party! Today, I’ll wrap up the elements of a great party, and touch on how to prepare for some party pitfalls.

Parts 1 and 2 are here and here. I produce events and fundraisers professionally as well as for fun; you can check out my business site at

When last we saw our Heroic Hosts, we were in the middle of Killer Theme Party Principles. So, to continue…

KTPP 3: A Good Party is made of FADDLMAC (continued). That rhymes with “Saddleback”, and it stands for Food And Drink, Decorations, Lighting, Music, Activities and Costuming: the ingredients of a successful theme party. We covered Food And Drink, Decorations and Lighting last time—here are the rest!

  • Music. Nothing sets a mood as quickly as music. Speaking as the husband of a truly mind-bogglingly eclectic DJ, I can tell you that there are hours of perfect music for any theme you can imagine. Start out with relatively mellow, welcoming music that establishes the theme’s atmosphere or time period. Make sure conversation is possible—guests will be driven away by a loud wall of sound. Over the course of the party, transition into music with a beat, so there is a feeling of energy. If—as I recommend in most cases—you intend to have dancing, lead the way by hitting the floor first. It’s contagious.
  • Activities. Conversation, eating and drinking usually aren’t enough to make a party, particularly when you’re asking people to go to the effort to costume themselves. Our parties almost always have dancing, and often also have costume and character contests which present awards (either judged or by audience acclaim) for best male and female costumes, best theme-appropriate character, etc. Having characters tell their stories as they vie for the prize can be hilarious. If you’re doing a historical period theme, you can teach people how to do a period appropriate dance, as well.

For some parties, we include a performance showcase or floor show. These are great! They can be largely open-mike in format, but if there is a particular flavor you want in the performances, don’t just let anyone get up and perform, or you will inevitably end up suffering through quavering renditions of Grateful Dead songs at your medieval party. Arrange for some acts in advance, and have your MC hold the line on maintaining the spirit of your theme.

  • Costuming. Lead by example. What you wear makes a big difference, especially if you plan to do more theme parties going forward. It doesn’t have to be expensive; often, you can assemble fantastic outfits with thrift store and online auction scores. Don’t forget accessories; props can really tie together an ensemble. If you decide to keep doing these kinds of parties, over time you’ll find you accumulate a good collection of pieces for all kinds of eras and genres, which means that costuming gets easier over time.

When you plan your outfit, think of a character (don’t just think of yourself as “dressing Fifties”, for example). What is this person like? If you care to go so far, choose a name for the person you are being at your theme party, and play the role. Be sure to break character to engage your guests as friends now and again—it’s a party, not a theater exercise.

KTTP 4. Celebrate success! Costume parties make for great pictures. Be sure to document your incredible setting, guests’ costumes and stage performances, etc., and post those pictures where your guests can see them. You’ve gone to all the trouble to create a unique environment. Make sure you capture the memories…and let those who missed it on your guest list know how much they should try to make the next one.


And, finally, saving the bummer for last, the final Killer Theme Party Principle is:

KTPP 5.      Plan for the Worst. The smoothest events are ready for something to go wrong, so be prepared. Here are the top culprits:

  • Weather. Expect unexpected weather. We held an outdoor event on the same weekend for two consecutive years and had a thirty-degree temperature differential. What happens if it rains, and the patio you thought would be overflow from the house is no longer attractive? Do you need access to propane heaters, or to rig a shade structure?

If you plan, you can pull off surprising accomplishments. We did a tiki party in bikinis and grass skirts with sleet falling outside. We’d cranked the heat to 80 degrees and had sun-bright lighting going in the party space, so when people arrived, they stripped off their parkas, and there they were: Volcano Island.

  • Alcohol. Most parties in our culture serve alcohol. If you choose to do so, there are some considerations:
    • Minors. Having minors at a party with a self-serve bar is a problem socially and legally. If you’re having people under 21 at your party, have someone tending bar, and make sure they have a way of knowing who doesn’t get served. Don’t allow minors to attend if a parent isn’t there as well. If you catch a minor drinking, boot their parents, too.
    • The Law. There is a huge legal difference between a private, invitation-only party, and a public and/or ticketed event. Be sure to find out if you need a permit…and if you do, get one.
    • Excess. Some people just don’t know how much is too much of a good thing. You have to keep an eye on your guests and figure out whether someone needs to be cut off, provided a ride home, or made to stay until sober. Err on the side of caution. If it’s going to be a long affair, make arrangements for those who need it to have a place to crash.
  • Insufficient Personnel and Host Conscription Syndrome. Identify jobs that need doing, and make sure they’re covered. Many party concepts require some roles to be played: a bartender, a person on the door to collect the cover, maybe an MC for the cabaret floor show.  Make sure you have your jobs covered…and that you are not locked into one of them.

You’re the host. You need to float. You should not be stuck behind a bar or in some other role that keeps you from troubleshooting and helping your guests to have a good time. If you have to, hire a bartender, door person, etc., but if you’re planning on the cheap, find friends who will take on shifts.

  • Neighbors. Parties are loud. People who drink are loud. Music can be loud. You only have three choices here:
    • Notify those nearby that there is going to be a party, and get their buy-in (invite them!);
    • Develop a noise plan to bring the party indoors, close the windows and step down the bass on the music after 10 PM; or
    • Find somewhere to hold your party that’s far away from anyone else.


Follow the concepts outlined here, and you will be throwing unique and amazing events your friends will be talking about for years.

Invite me, won’t you?

At publication, the Dragon was ENTHUSIASTIC

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