Well Met: Renaissance Faires and the American Counterculture

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Overview

The Renaissance Faire—a 50 year-long party, communal ritual, political challenge and cultural wellspring—receives its first sustained historical attention with Well Met. Beginning with the chaotic communal moment of its founding and early development in the 1960s through its incorporation as a major “family friendly” leisure site in the 2000s, Well Met tells the story of the thinkers, artists, clowns, mimes, and others performers who make the Faire.

Well Met approaches the Faire...

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Well Met: Renaissance Faires and the American Counterculture

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Overview

The Renaissance Faire—a 50 year-long party, communal ritual, political challenge and cultural wellspring—receives its first sustained historical attention with Well Met. Beginning with the chaotic communal moment of its founding and early development in the 1960s through its incorporation as a major “family friendly” leisure site in the 2000s, Well Met tells the story of the thinkers, artists, clowns, mimes, and others performers who make the Faire.

Well Met approaches the Faire from the perspective of labor, education, aesthetics, business, the opposition it faced, and the key figures involved. Drawing upon vibrant interview material and deep archival research, Rachel Lee Rubin reveals the way the faires established themselves as a pioneering and highly visible counter cultural referendum on how we live now—our family and sexual arrangements, our relationship to consumer goods, and our corporate entertainments.

In order to understand the meaning of the faire to its devoted participants,both workers and visitors, Rubin has compiled a dazzling array of testimony, from extensive conversations with Faire founder Phyllis Patterson to interviews regarding the contemporary scene with performers, crafters, booth workers and “playtrons.” Well Met pays equal attention what came out of the faire—the transforming gifts bestowed by the faire’s innovations and experiments upon the broader American culture: the underground press of the 1960s and 1970s, experimentation with “ethnic” musical instruments and styles in popular music, the craft revival, and various forms of immersive theater are all connected back to their roots in the faire. Original, intrepid, and richly illustrated, Well Met puts the Renaissance Faire back at the historical center of the American counterculture.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“From Laurel Canyon to a state fairground near you, the Renaissance Faire has been an enduring but oft-dismissed facet of American counter-culture. With historical verve and ethnographic clarity, Rachel Rubin takes us past the clichéd images of bodices, turkey legs, and 'men in tights' to reveal a sustained subcultural answer to an ongoing American dilemma: how to let your freak flag fly in a conformist society. Flower power may be dry and pressed, but the Renaissance Faire stages a world where utopian visions of acceptance, non-normativity, and exuberant sexuality still hold sway.” -Tavia Nyong'o,New York University

“Anti-modernism remains one of modernity's most significant and lasting inventions, and in Rachel Rubin's Well Met the theme finally gets its due. In the odd but telling subculture of the Renaissance Faire, Rubin finds anti-modernism intertwined with some of the most important strands of twentieth-century American culture--waning traces of vaudeville, the rise of the counterculture, shifting gender arrangements and sexual practices, a hunger for usable pasts, a rising politics of theatricality, and the culture's impressive penchant for commercialized anti-commercialism. Rubin writes with deep insight and terrific humor; and as intelligent as the book is, it also embodies a joyful appreciation for the quirky inventiveness of its protagonists. I can't wait for the movie!”-Matthew Frye Jacobson,Yale University

“In its first decade, the Renaissance Faire unleashed a multi-colored sub-culture in direct revolt against the monochrome of postwar America. It was a home-grown explosion of fancy dress, Shakespearian improv, hand-made objects both useful and ornamental, and music ancient and obscure, much of it heard for the first time in the dusty lanes of the Faire. Rachel Rubin deftly reveals the impact the Faire has had on style, craft, performance, and pop culture over the past fifty years in a one-of-a-kind study that begins in the left-wing lanes of Laurel Canyon, continues through backstage conflicts and couplings, and concludes with the corporatized, commercialized Festivals and geeky Ren-fandom of today. Well Met is a must-read to revel in the true roots of ‘Sixties’ culture. I know. I was there.”-David Ossman,member of the Firesign Theatre

"A must read for anyone interested in a nonstereotypical view of the faire, its adherents, and why it retains its appeal decades after its inception."-Library Journal,

"Fascinating [and] forthcoming."-San Francisco Bay Guardian,

Library Journal
Begun by schoolteacher Phyllis Patterson as a class activity in her backyard and fueled by a perfect storm of location, talent, and the free-spirited atmosphere in 1960s California, the Renaissance faire concept weathered initial struggles and became a wide-ranging series of gatherings and events that now draw in more than a million visitors each year. Rubin (American studies, Univ. of Massachusetts, Boston; Immigration and Popular Culture) focuses on the faire as phenomenon, and while the book presents an in-depth look at its 50-year existence, it's with an eye toward exploring its continued place in the counterculture and its significant effects on subcultural movements in music, crafts, and theater. Quotes from lifelong crafters, performers, and attendees give a candid look at the faire's history, its increasing corporatization, and the attraction of its nonmainstream views of community, the arts, self-image, and sexuality. Rubin also devotes two chapters to exploring the faire's detractors and its portrayals in fiction to give the fullest possible view of this institution's place in American culture. VERDICT The results are a must read for anyone interested in a nonstereotypical view of the faire, its adherents, and why it retains its appeal decades after its inception.—Kathleen McCallister, Univ. of South Carolina, Columbia, Lib.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781479859726
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 2/22/2014
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 300
  • Sales rank: 992,998
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Rachel Lee Rubin is Professor of American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She is author of Immigration and American Popular Culture (with Jeffrey Melnick, NYU Press) and Jewish Gangsters of Modern Literature, and co-editor of American Popular Music: New Approaches to the Twentieth Century and Radicalism in the South since Reconstruction.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Faire Grounds
1 “Welcome to the Sixties!”
2 Artisans of the Realm: Crafters at the Faire
3 “Shakespeare, He’s in the Alley”:
Performing at the Faire
4 “A Place to Be Out”: Playing at the Faire
5 “Every Day Is Gay Day Here”: Hating the Faire
6 Hard Day’s Knight: Faire Fiction

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