The informant is a freshman at USC from Barrington, Illinois. During a call, I recorded an interview with them about rituals, superstitions, and festivals. When asked if they perform at any festivals, this is what they performed. Important context to know is that they would be part of the “Bristol Busking Frolic” performance troop that would perform at the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin over multiple years.
PL: I’m going to tell you about Queen’s Feast at the Bristol Renaissance Fair in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Okay, so every day at the Renaissance Fair, which is in the summer, and stuff. So the whole–one of the–one of the big concepts from the Renaissance Fair is that it’s a day in 1574 in Bristol, England. And Queen Elizabeth the first is visiting, you know, like you do. Yeah. And so there’s the whole thing is like, “Whoa, we’re going to see the queen.” So I’m part of a cast called the Bristol Busking Frolic. BBF, for sure.
PL: And every day at, I believe, like, two–I think it’s two, I think it’s two, I’m gonna go with two. I don’t remember somewhere in like the early afternoon, or noonish.
PL: We, as a cast will all meet beforehand and plan a couple of things for the Queen’s Feast. And the Queen’s Feast is a thing that is primarily the court cast does–the cast–to please the Court.
PL: And so queen will sit at a table. And she will have like the mayor and like her ladies next to her. And then they will be presented with food. And that’s literally their lunch. Like they eat as a performance. And there’s chairs and there’s benches set up around to like watch and like hang out. And then there’s a little carpeted area where you–during the day, like, the Court will do like court dances and stuff like that.
PL: And the Queen, so she’s eating lunch or whatever. And we the Bristol Busking Frolic will show up, and we will each day usually sing two songs and do one mum, which is a story or skit sort of thing. And sometimes that’ll be shaken up because like sometimes someone might want to like share, like, something they’re learning or like a thing or like a solo on the flute that they learned. But usually, we will do two songs and a mum and there’s a set, there’s set songs we do. They’re like folk songs and stuff. There is a lot about boats. One about drinking, you know, classic folk song stuff. And then we’ll tell mums which are often based on or feature a folktale.
Interviewer: What is the structure of a mum? How is it different from a folktale?
PL: It’s–okay, so it’s usually one person will tell the story and there’ll be like the narrator. And then a couple of other people will play the characters in the story. And we’ll have brief lines, but mostly it’ll be like, “And then the sausage said, I’m a sausage!” and it’s like, hahaha. They’re usually funny. They’re funny stories. They’re short.
PL: And any one person narrates it, and they know the story. And they and everyone else either sits to the side or they’re players in the story and they’ll have honestly, there aren’t really costumes but a lot of times there’s small props.
PL: Like a donkey’s mask–we have we have a mask with a donkey on it. Anyways, yeah. And, and they’ll act out the scene, and the story and they’re funny and it’s like, whoa, ha, ha, ha. And then we all bow. And at the end, at the end of our performance, after we’ve seen–we’ve sung one song, and then we do them and then we sing another song, The Queen will be like, thank you so much. And we will all like skittishly gather around and like bow. Actually, we don’t bow. That’s the big thing. Bowing isn’t a thing, you révérence, which is where you take one foot behind the other and lean back on that back foot and keep your forward leg straight. Actually, that’s the male reference. The female reference is basically just a curtsy.
PL: Whole thing with like, maintaining eye contact or something. I don’t know. Anyway, different thing. But we’ll we’ll we’ll révérence and she’ll be like, thank you so much. And then here’s this tradition. She gives us grapes. Oh, it’s weird. I don’t know why. But traditionally, she throws grapes to us and we try to catch them and we’re like, “Oh, the grapes from the queen!”
This performance is a key part of the Renaissance faire; as the informant describes, it is the main part of the each day. The “queen” is supposed to be Queen Elizabeth the First of England, but her performance is less of a historically accurate depiction of the historical queen, but rather a representation of a homogenized ideal of the time period in question. The performance harkens to “tradition,” but it demonstrates that “tradition” itself is more of a contemporary performance referencing the past rather than an accurate depiction of it. It is not certain whether the act of throwing grapes was ever something that Queen Elizabeth I did, but it is part of this performance because of its mix of entertainment value and “Renaissance” aesthetic.
Certain aspects of the historical time period hold over in this performance: of course, the clothes are meant to represent this time period regardless of whether they are perfectly accurate, but gestures such as the révérence seem to have actually been practiced in that period. The révérance might be the easiest part of emulating the Renaissance time period as performance, as it is simply a specific movement of the body. However, it is not certain whether this act was performed in the same context as the performers sought to emulate. It is instead meant to signal historical performance to the paying audience.