Faire History - the Origins of Pleasure Faire
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Phyllis Patterson

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TPhyllis and Ron 1963hough 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 Patterson, a drama major and English teacher from Tennessee, and her husband Ron, a UCLA-educated art director, felt the need for more (and more creative) arts education. Their combined talents provided the perfect alchemy.

Ron Phyllis JudyWanting to fulfill their vision and still be at home with their toddler Kevin, Phyllis and Ron decided to offer after-school theater and art workshops in their big backyard on Lookout Mountain Avenue in Los Angeles’ Laurel Canyon.

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

1st Annual RPFS poster

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

Kevin 1965
Leslie 1966

Hearing about that first unique gathering “in the woods,” people from all walks of life were inspired to re-invent their lives in new and creative ways.

As they came together in the San Fernando Valley, the spirit of the Faire came into being through the artistic “counterculture” lives of craftspeople, actors, musicians and “commoners all” who “let the world slip” and joined the dance.

Patterson family 1969In creating and setting the tone for what would become a nationwide phenomenon, Ron & Phyllis inspired and nurtured a new art form and a thriving entertainment tradition. Their passion, artfulness, and determination are legendary and truly heroic— as recounted in countless tales of Phyllis spending countless hours making sure that civic leaders and authorities would allow the gates to swing wide on opening day. The same could be said of the lives and efforts of so many of the staff, crew, performers, and artisans who uniquely influenced the early years of the original Renaissance Pleasure Faires.

Kevin and Leslie Patterson, Faire ProducersAfter 50 years and many changes, I believe it is important to reaffirm, for present and future generations of “Faire family,” that they are in fact part of a rich and textured 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.

Andrew and Michael with turkey legsIt is now up to the next generation to continue this rich tradition, and to add their own arts and visions to the living history of the Faire. The past is indeed merely prologue, and the seasonal village we call the Faire continues to live and thrive in the hearts of all who walk its playful pathways everywhere. Huzzah!

~ Kevin Patterson

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