The Difference Between the SCA and the Renaissance Faire

My WMA instructors are a husband and wife team, Paul and Melissa, who own and operate Fearless Fitness. I arrive after work, and Melissa (or a member of her team) makes me sweat profusely for an hour.  We jump, run, do a multitude of ab, arm and leg strengthening exercises, and we learn to kick and punch.  After Melissa has worn me to an absolute frazzle, I pick up a wooden sword called a waster (longswords on Mondays, sideswords on Thursdays) and Paul tries his best to teach me the how to not kill myself with the steel kind.  He also throws in a couple of lessons in Italian and German languages, so with any luck I won’t sound like a complete idiot when I talk about swords in the world of sword enthusiasts.

Then I go home and take more ibuprofin.

Paul and Melissa are also the honored leaders of the Guild of St. Dismas, which is active in the local Renaissance Faire circuit. Several members of the guild are also my fellow students at Fearless.  Along with the various theatrical demonstrations normally associated with a Ren Faire guild, they also own and operate a trebouchet, largely for the purpose of disposing of surplus pumpkins after Halloween.

I have seen a couple of small scale trebouchets in action during SCA wars, but they only launch soft, safe projectiles short distances. (They are, after all, being launched towards human targets.)  Watching a larger scale trebouchet launch pumpkins to their doom tickled our fancy. Paul and Melissa invited us join them, so we loaded up with our SCA gear and drove to Fresno, California, where the St. Dismas trebouchet lives, to watch it in action.

While we have been to many Ren Faires in the past, we have never seen the “behind-the-scenes” workings before, and this experience really drove home some of the differences between the cultures of the SCA and Ren Faire.

The differences come down to this: The SCA attempts to create an internally consistent medieval universe for its own benefit.  The actors are also the audience.  The Ren Faire is theatre, put on primarily for the public, which pays an often usurious entry fee to see it, who then pay inflated prices for the crafts.

In the SCA, participants change from “mundane” clothing into SCA garb as soon as they arrive at an event, often Friday afternoon, and don’t change back into mundanes until they leave Sunday night.  Therefore, we were taken by complete surprise when the members of St. Dismas changed back into denizens of the 21st Century mere minutes after the Faire closed to the public.  It was like somebody had flipped a switch.  Quote one of the members, “Hey! After hours is after hours!”

This is not to say that one is better than the other, and certainly there’s a lot of overlap of participants between the two kinds of events.  Optimally, one should enjoy each kind of event for its own sake, and we had a great time. Though not so much for the event, but for the people.


One Response

  1. Good article. I belong to the SCA and I’ve been to Ren fairs and I’d say the biggest difference is between reality and perception. Ren fairs normally are what the general public perceives is medieval through watching movies or reading books while the SCA strives to be historically accurate and more immersive. Both are wonderful fun, but SCA people tend to take it a bit more seriously.

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