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The Original Renaissance Pleasure Faire
Commemorative 50th Jubilee Book
Renaissance Faire 50th Jubilee Bookby Roxanne Browder Dungereaux
To order, please email the author at roxanne.dungereaux@gmail.com

Foreword by Kevin Patterson

Pleasure Faire! Fifty years ago in 1960s California, the delicious excitement once stirred in 16th-century hearts by those two simple words was magically revived. The Renaissance Pleasure Faire & Ha’Penny Market, based on the lively crossroad trading fairs of Elizabethan England, was the 20th-century brainchild of my parents Ron and Phyllis Patterson, two arts educators who sensed a coming resurgence of creative spirit in the world… a Renaissance of the Renaissance.

Though the year was 1963, the era known as “the Sixties” had not yet begun, and the fashions, music, and freedom of expression associated with the flower-power movement were yet to take shape. Phyllis, a drama major and English teacher from Tennessee, was feeling the need for more (and more creative) arts education. The daughter of Memphis City Schools Superintendent E.C. Stimbert, Phyllis already had a vision of how she could open youngsters’ eyes to their own dramatic and artistic potential by using the great themes of the past. Ron, a UCLA-educated art director, was intensely drawn to creating an artistic life for his new family. Ron’s passion for authenticity and improvisation was exceeded only by his bohemian flare and bawdy sense of humor. Their combined talents provided the perfect alchemy.

Wanting to fulfill their vision and still be at home with their toddler Kevin, Phyllis and Ron decided to offer afterschool theater and art workshops. Their big backyard on Lookout Mountain Avenue in Laurel Canyon, a eucalyptus-scented mountain refuge just minutes from Studio City and the Sunset Strip, made an inspiring setting. The recipe for the original Pleasure Faire, concocted to engage the imaginations of lively 9-12 year olds, began with a pinch of Native American creation myth, a sprinkle of e. e. cummings, a dash of improvisational theater, and a generous dose of Commedia dell’Arte.

Phyllis and Ron’s students were the children of Hollywood Hills art directors, writers, musicians & other talents. The first actual “Faire” opened its two-day run (a fund-raiser for KPFK-Pacifica Radio) on May 11, 1963, at a wacky North Hollywood summer camp called Haskell’s Rascals Ranch. That instantly popular event, initially inspired by Ron and Phyllis’s wide-eyed Laurel Canyon students, has since amplified itself for half a century all across America, becoming a true renaissance of the creative spirit.

In its many variations from coast to coast, this art form of Renaissance Faires and Festivals has touched and changed the lives of many thousands of Americans, quite literally becoming a way of life. For countless others, it has provided entertainment, escape, and inspiration.

“Tis I have been to Pleasure Faire, and oh what wonders, found I there!
Good Queen Bess, she greeted me. Hi Ho, the Faire!”

In 1965, the Renaissance Pleasure Faire found its long-time home in a beautiful valley of magnificent oaks and rolling meadowland called the Paramount Ranch (now preserved as a National Park due to the efforts of Faire folk), just outside of Los Angeles. In redefining the nature of outdoor events, my parents created a fertile environment where people from all walks of life were inspired to re-invent age-old handcrafts, to re-discover ancient instruments and rhythms, and to engender a new form of personal expression for Americans longing for authenticity in their lives. The English Renaissance provided focus, but the spirit of the Faire came into being through the craftspeople, actors, musicians and “commoners all” who “let the world slip” and joined the dance.

“Let merriment be thy measure” was the motto my parents chose for the early Faires. They recognized that the Faire possessed the best qualities of ancient pagan revels, providing a chance for ordinary people to slip out of their everyday lives and into entirely different costumes, roles, and experiences. Phyllis once observed, “Seasonal celebrations also remind us of a simpler time, when people were more in touch with each other and with the natural world.” Not surprisingly, countless variations of this original Faire spirit are still flowering in forests, fields and parklands from Oregon to Florida, New York to California.

In creating the Faires, Ron & Phyllis inspired both a new social art form and the renewal of a timeless tradition, nurturing its evolution for decades. Their passion, artfulness, and determination, (and that of Laurel Canyon cohorts like Doris Karnes, Constance Spreistersbach, Mildred Holland, and Ed Mann) are indeed legendary. The same could be said of the lives and efforts of so many of the staff, crew, performers, and artisans (many from Santa Barbara’s Mountain Drive community) who uniquely influenced the early years of the original Renaissance Pleasure Faires.

I hope this book will help establish the deep value and many important influences the Faire has had on modern culture. I believe it is important to confirm, for present and future generations of “faire family,” that they are part of a rich tradition. In our family, my younger brother Brian perpetuates the tradition of the Punchinello character in Commedia dell’Arte with his full-time occupation as a Punch & Judy Puppeteer. The Patterson Family event business, led by my wife Leslie and me, and our sons Andrew & Michael, continues to produce the annual Great Dickens Christmas Fair, founded in San Francisco in 1970, and to present the lively history of early California at museums and state parks.

The amazing Roxanne Deveroux, 25 years ago, was instructed (in a workshop led by Phyllis Patterson) to keep a journal of her experiences at the Faire. Roxanne paid attention, never missing a day. Her training in Commedia dell’Arte and journalism provided the perfect background for the creation of this wonderful anniversary book. Ron and Phyllis would be very proud of her style, determination, and perceptiveness.

It is now up to the next generation to continue this rich tradition. The past is merely prologue, and the seasonal village we call the Faire continues to live and thrive in the hearts of all who have walked its playful pathways. Huzzah! ~ Kevin Patterson

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