fandom culture

Ren Faire PH and the death of the guilty pleasure

River Cruz

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Ren Faire PH and the death of the guilty pleasure

Leanne Johnson and Narciso Kit Adiaz

'You come to Ren Faire not to redefine what it means to be a nerd, but to galvanize it'

As a kid who grew up immersed in all things Star Wars with my cousins, read hand-me-down Spider-Man comics from my tito in the US, and was cursed to wear glasses at the ripe age of 4, I’ve grown all too familiar with the label of “nerd” lovingly and often callously placed upon me by various people in my life.

Honestly, I’ve always had apprehensions about being called a nerd. Child me would’ve personally preferred being called intelligent, learned, or even well-read. The only way I survived high school was because I took the opportunity to rebrand myself from the nerdy kid to the music kid, picking up guitar and singing covers at the school quadrangle. Eventually, I learned how to be funny on purpose and became a class clown of sorts. Each year, I added more and more layers of nuanced personalities, gradually burying the nerd within. And for a time, I was content with that.

Adult, Female, Person
AHOY. Look by Atelier Pierrot in collaboration with Fancy Moi and AYU of Yu-En. Narciso Kit Adiaz

So, you can imagine when I was asked to write a piece covering the Philippines’ first Renaissance Faire, I had my reservations, but not for the reasons you might think. The dawn of social media brought about a major shakeup in the societal zeitgeist, where it was suddenly and unironically cool to be a nerd. With the gradual rise in popularity of nerd culture, as proven by the massive success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and, to a lesser extent, Big Bang Theory, being a nerd was suddenly a badge of honor. The stereotypes were still there, but now they’re more seen as quirky little eccentricities to be celebrated. Loving Lord of the Rings could land you your dream job. Being a Game of Thrones fan could get you a date on Tinder. Knowing every actor who’s played every Doctor from Doctor Who was suddenly a skill to be envied.

My hesitation came more from the fact that maybe…I wasn’t nerdy enough to “get” Ren Faire and earnestly write this article. Ironic, I know. I spent most of my life hiding an integral side of me for so long, and now that I need to channel that part of myself more than ever, I’m worried I may have irreversibly stifled it. I wasn’t the D&D, Warhammer, Magic the Gathering, cosplaying kind of nerd. I had my nerdy obsessions, sure, but I was more of a consumer, loving everything at arm’s length. And yet there I was, the prodigal son taking the Baguio sleeper bus to nerd Mecca, aka Ren Faire PH 2024.

Architecture, Building, Outdoors
KNIGHTED. Boys get blessed by the blade in Baguio. Justin Alvaro

Renaissance Faire PH was a three-day event from March 22 to 24 in the Carentes Ancestral Forest in Baguio. Several key activities and shows were held throughout those three days, with a majority happening all at once and in different areas of the fairgrounds.

The first significant event was the Live Action Role Playing (or LARP) event, where participants equipped themselves with formidable foam weaponry and battled it out against the opposing team for honor and glory, in the most bombastic game of pretend that I’ve ever witnessed. The beauty of the event was in seeing all these older teens and adults enjoy themselves in this shared fantasy.

If I had to sum up the entire LARP event in one word, it would be “trust.” You trust that your opponents are going to play by the rules. You trust that no one is actually going to physically harm you. You trust that no one’s going to think this is all so silly and make fun of you. You trust that you can be yourself and not be shamed.

Concert, Crowd, Person
BURLESQUE. The artful striptease was one of the Faire’s highlights. Justin Alvaro

Another unforgettable event during Ren Faire was the burlesque show from Burlesque PH. After 5 pm, the fairgrounds were vacated to make room for the night shows geared towards more mature adventurers, such as the drinking contest, the fire dance, and, of course, the burlesque show.

This was my first burlesque show…ever. I thought I’d known what to expect, but yet again, Ren Faire found a way to upend my expectations. The performers had two main goals: entertain and educate, and boy, did they achieve both. If you’re unfamiliar with burlesque shows, you might assume it’s just sexy stripping with nipple tassels. But in actuality, it’s an entire ensemble that celebrates the joys of storytelling, costuming, dance, and sexy stripping with nipple tassels.

Now you’re probably thinking to yourselves, “River, none of this stuff sounds nerdy at all?” but that’s where you’re wrong, intrepid reader. You see, not only do they methodically plan out their whole routine, – which articles of clothing to strip off and at what time – but they also tailor and design everything that has to do with their performance, including their costumes, makeup, and props. Yes, that’s right: they’re all just a bunch of sexy theater kids, and that’s as nerdy as it gets.

But what really elevates the whole experience is the sense of pride in their craft. They’re well aware of the taboo nature of their chosen medium, and yet they dance. And yet they strip. Every movement is a declaration of war against all the naysayers who’ve shunned their expression of creativity. Every lace loosened is an act of rebellion in the face of a conservative country that will never understand, that actively chooses not to understand.

Stage, Plant, Potted Plant
BARD. The Faire’s Battle of the Bards was also one for the books. Leanne Johnson

We finally arrived at our last Ren Faire highlight: the Battle of the Bards. You’d be remiss to assume that this is just simply a medieval-themed Battle of the Bands, but if you’ve learned anything by now, nerds have a tendency to be a bit more extra. The Battle of the Bards isn’t just about who can sing or play well; it’s a competition of both showmanship and presentation.

And none exemplified these qualities better than the pair of opening performers who covered the seminal classic “I Need A Hero,” made famous by 2004 blockbuster of the year, Shrek 2. The crowd was absolutely wowed as the vocalist belted each high note, and they exploded in applause as he pulled a child from the audience who brandished the blade of the titular hero. Together they finished the song in a sea of cheers. The bar for bards was set to astronomical heights. The judges gave them mostly nines across the board. How could anyone possibly follow such a fantastic display of bardsmanship?

Clothing, Skirt, Footwear
LOLITAS. Looks by Atelier Pierrot in collaboration with Fancy Moi and AYU of Yu-En. Narciso Kit Adiaz

Well, they didn’t. A young girl walks up to the stage and announces her chosen number, some obscure Dutch song called “Troubadour.” Her guitar is out of tune. Her singing is clumsy albeit energetic. The crowd gingerly tries their best to sing along to the foreign lyrics and the off-tune melodies. Suddenly a stagehand interrupts the performance to ask if they could tune her guitar. The whole ordeal feels awkward, tense, and a little cringe-inducing. She instead forgoes the guitar altogether and opts to use tambourines instead. She finishes her song with a smile, and I honestly just felt relieved that it was over.The judges give her kind yet middling scores, but the results don’t deter this girl. The smile never leaves her face, not even once.

As she walks off the stage the host does a brief interview and asks her how she feels. Her response hit me like a metric ton of gold bricks. “I’m just so happy I get to share my most favorite song in the world to everyone. And what better place to do it than Ren Faire?” And the crowd cheered. Her performance retroactively evolved into a call to action for everybody in the Faire. She reminded us all that to be a nerd means to unabashedly love what you love without shame, without malice, and without guilt. 

You come to Ren Faire to find the special tabletop section where seasoned players test their skills, and where beginners are welcomed and taught the basics of Magic The Gathering, D&D, Warhammer, you name it. You come to Ren Faire to witness the cosplayers, craftsmen, weaponsmiths, jewelers, and artists as they flaunt years’ worth of hard work and dedication. You come to Ren Faire not to redefine what it means to be a nerd, but to galvanize it.

You come to Ren Faire to realize that nerdiness is a counterculture that doesn’t simply create martyrs, but punk rockstars. –

River Cruz is a writer, stand-up comedian, and one-third of the Galingan Mo Naman Podcast.

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