Love & Sex

Talking to Strangers: Maryland Renaissance Festival

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Nerve asks deeply personal questions to rogues and wenches we just met. Verily.

Nicki, 31

What is your experience with the Ren Festival?
I've been getting the weekend pass for every weekend for the past three years. I always came a couple times a year and I worked here when I was younger and then ended up buying the season pass and just enjoying it. And I belly dance. I actually got inspired by watching dancers from the fair, and then I started taking lessons.

So, is there a dating/sex scene at the Ren Festival?
There is! It's actually really crazy. When I was sixteen, I worked here, and there was this dating game among the people working here. They used the rose vendors to pass dirty messages to random people. They would tie notes to the roses and pass them off that way. There's a lot that goes off at the Ren Festival, dating-wise. You're talking about a place that wants to market itself as family-friendly, but they also sell whips and paddles, so…

I've noticed that. Could you tell me about any hookups you've had at the Ren Festival?
You have places like the White Heart, which is the pub behind us, which is a little more tame. But if you go to the Dragon, you'll see things like girls making out — it's just a little more of a wilder place. Everything goes. I've had my share — kisses between friends, kisses between girlfriends. It happens.

Are the costumes ever involved? Is there a costume role-playing lifestyle?
I think there may be. I actually noticed this year that the vendor who usually sells the bondage stuff — one of the leather vendors — is not here anymore. I think they're trying to downplay that aspect — this is a family-friendly event, but there's definitely a lot of people who come here who are involved in BDSM or another alternative lifestyle. But really anyone is accepted here. That's the beauty of the festival. It's the most open place to be.

I recently learned about wenches and rogues. What are you looking for in your own wench or rogue?
Generally, the wenches are a group of women here who really play up their whole role. I've never really done the whole wench thing, but as far as guys — I don't know, I'm a pirate. So I guess I tend to go for other pirates.

Are any long-lasting relationships formed here?
Actually, I've been to three Renny weddings. I have some friends who come every weekend and they're getting married here soon. There are definitely some strong lifetime relationships. For instance — we call them "Mum" and "Da" — they work at Half Moon, he's the manager there, and they've been married many many years and their children come here. So there are some very strong long-term relationships that start here.

NEXT: "I'd actually just like to find someone. Seriously, stop playing around, find somebody."

Bing, 30

So, is this your life? The Renaissance Festival?
Not my life — I work on bridges, play paintball, I'm in a band, and that's my real life — but a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come to a festival like this, get dressed up, have a good time, and hang out with people who are of a like mind. And I'm extremely pleasantly surprised to find out that there are so many people into it, traveling around, dressed up. It's a good time.

And does this play into your romantic life at all?
If I could meet a bangin'-ass redhead dressed up like me, that would fulfill so many fantasies.

I'll keep my eye out. So, that's what you're looking for?
Well, it's not that I came here looking for that. But sure, if I could find someone who was into anything that I'm into, of course I'd love that.

Okay, so what are you into?
Well, besides the obvious — we're at the Renaissance Festival, I'm dressed up — anybody who can fight with swords, martial arts, paintball, lacrosse.

Does the Renaissance theme come into the bedroom at all?
I probably would not dress up like this normally. But if asked, I would definitely dress up like this whenever. Why not?

What are some dealbreakers that you wouldn't be okay with?
What's a dealbreaker? I seriously can't think of anything. I'm open to almost anything. Oh, wait, maybe… are you a dude? That's a dealbreaker, sorry.

So there is something. What is the kinkiest thing you've ever done, since you rarely say no to anything?
A threesome. Thirtieth birthday, best present I've ever had. My friend and her friend. It was great. It was an extremely nice gift.

What else, other than a redhead who's adept at sword-fighting, are you looking for?
You know what? I'd actually just like to find someone. Seriously, stop playing around, find somebody.

Do you believe in love at first sight?
Actually, no. Anybody can say "screw it" and just attach themselves to someone, just because they don't want to be alone. You have to take the time to get to know somebody, find common ground and interests. But just looking at somebody — I've seen a hundred girls here, I love them. They're hot. But I'll probably hang out with them for ten minutes and realize, "This is the biggest mistake of my life." It's not worth it. You've got to take the time, you've got to do the work. If you don't do the legwork, you're not going to get anything out of it.

Any advice for people who may want to meet someone at the Renaissance festival?
Well, I've met a lot of people here who are cool and open and into what I'm doing. There's a lot if you're open to it. The only thing I can say is: free yourself, open up, and have fun.

NEXT: "Everyone's a Renny when they're naked, I suppose…"

Jen, 31, Dave, 33, and Amanda, 30

Is this your first Renaissance festival?
D: Not hardly. I've been coming since 1998. I was dating a girl who was into it. She used to work at the leather mask place, and she probably still works here, but I don't see her anymore.
A: Hah. Yeah, I've been many times. I worked here last time and I've been coming for at least seven or eight years myself.
J: Me, maybe three years. But I'm not from the area. I live here now, but I didn't grow up here like these guys.

When you date someone who's into the Renaissance scene, does that play into your romantic or sexual life?
D: No, not at all. The costumes stay at the festival. I mostly dress up because I feel kind of dumb when I'm walking around in regular clothes here.
A: I mean, we buy each other trinkets — all the jewelry he has on is mine or I bought it for him here. It's not sex-related… but it's also nice to know that I'm not wearing a bra, so he could sneak anything in if he wanted to, you know? But there's not a lot of cross-over.
D: I mean, everyone's a Renny when they're naked, I suppose, right?

Interesting comment. So, the Renaissance festival isn't a turn-on for you?
D: I mean, there's a lot of chicks with their boobs out. There's that. But… no.

I've heard a lot of people say that there's an underground "scene" here, but I'm not getting much concrete information.
A: Oh, I'm sure there is.
D: Yeah, there definitely is, but it's not like a secret underground S&M scene type thing. It's more like people who know each other who hang out after hours. It's there, but it's not grotesque.
J: If you're single here, you can definitely pull trim if you try at all. You just have to try.
A: I know that when I was single coming here, it was make out with all the guys. Everybody would buy me all the drinks, and I would make out with all the guys, and it was awesome.
D: Everybody who works here, they like to act like it's all a big sex joke. Hawking their wares, it's all innuendo. But I haven't seen it leave the park that much. We're into this thing, it's fun, but we're definitely not reenacting anything.
A: We're definitely not historically accurate.

So, you two are married? How did you meet each other?
A: Mutual friends, actually. Clubbing, probably. Yeah, he came up to me and said, "We've never been on a date before. We should do that." And I said okay. Ballsy on his part.

Was it love at first sight for either of you?
D: No, it was like dating for a while at first sight. We've been married three and a half years and together for eight and a half.
A: We didn't move in until we'd been together for almost three years, and then he proposed on our five-year anniversary, which was extremely romantic. He took me to Disney World for my first time and proposed to me on the lawn of the rose garden in front of Cinderella's castle while Tinkerbell flew over… it was ridiculous! Perfect. Storybook proposal right there. And then we got married in our backyard. Very nice.

What would your advice be for anyone, Renny or not, who's looking for love or a long-term partnership?
A: Communicate. If something bothers you, don't let it fester. Tell them. That has been the biggest thing. I once read an advice book that a horrible person told me to read, but I read it and it turned out to be full of truth. One of the main things that I took away was communicate, communicate, communicate. Also: don't be afraid of penises. That's the other thing I would tell all the ladies. Just do it: let the guy know that this is a good thing. If it's making the guy happy, just take care of him and he'll take care of you. That would be my advice. And I think that's kept us together for as long as we've been together. We both had no longer than four-month relationships before, and he was married before me. So, communicate, and don't let the issues build up, and don't ignore the penis.

What about you, Jen? Are you single or married? Any advice?
J: I'm married. He's just overseas right now. I would say: be yourself and compromise.

That seems a little contradictory.
J: If you're going to make a partnership with someone, you have to understand that you're in it with them, and you both have to find a way to make it work.
D: I don't have any advice. I just don't really try that hard so…
A: Hah. We've had a lot of back-and-forth conversations. I feel like writing it down or emailing it to each other helps you get your thoughts out more. And then you can go back and read it and understand, "Yes, that's what I wanted to say," instead of heat of the moment, pissed off… but we very rarely fight. If we fight, we work it out. So, communication.

What about keeping a long-term relationship fresh and exciting sexually?
D: Do it a lot.
A: There are always new toys out there. And I was really happy that our third anniversary was leather. Just throwing that out there, ladies, gentlemen, everybody: third year is leather. Make it to year three and get some leather stuff!
D: Finding new stuff to do and fun people to hang out with. That's all it is.
A: Hang out with good-looking people and then be like, "I love you even more because I'm with you and not these other people." Tell your partner that you love them. Say it. Even if they know it, say it. And don't be scared of oral sex, just do it. I'm just saying, just do it.
D: Learn to suppress your gag reflex.
A: If you need the person to shower first, whatever you need, do it. But, don't be scared. Both sides. Oral sex keeps the love alive.

NEXT: "I was the costume mistress and he was tech…"

Sara, 27

Is this your first time at the Renaissance festival? Are you a regular?
I'm a regular! I've been coming once a season since I was seven years old, so, twenty years.

Happy twentieth! What attracts you to the Renaissance festival?
When I was a kid, it was because my parents brought me. When I was a teenager, I knew people who worked here. And then recently, I started bringing my boyfriend, and now he really likes it. It's something we enjoy doing together.

So, how did you and your boyfriend meet? Was it a Renaissance Festival hookup?
We actually met in a Rocky Horror cast on the University of Maryland campus. I was the costume mistress and I also played Janet. He was tech.

Is there a community that you're a part of?
There's a couple of different communities within the whole Renaissance Festival structure. There are online news groups based on different sects in the community — for instance, the wenches have their thing going and they're actually a big charity organization, part of the International Wenches Guild. It's similar for rogues — not the band, just guys who dress up — and people who are friends from other things and then collectively come to the fair, like us.

Is there a role-playing community based on this at all?
There are definitely a lot of people who have met here, just sort of normal like you would meet anywhere else. The Ren Festival also has a large number of people in the fetish community who tend to hang out here, just because it's generally more accepting than anywhere else — no one is going to look at you funny if you show up wearing an entire leather suit! But furries will show up here occasionally, people who are into alternative lifestyles, pirate fetishes, people who are into that kind of thing. In terms of role-playing for the festival itself, there are people who have a whole other persona when they're here. I tend to not do that, just because I think it's a little silly, but I'm also just generally not into role-playing.

A lot of the costumes, especially for women, seem very sexualized.
Yes. They're very suggestive. Very booby. They recently put a new caveat in the rules — it used to be the only two rules were no weapons could be real, and no pets. But now costumes have to be family-friendly because the leather skirts were getting shorter and tops were getting lower and girls were falling out all over the place. So they had to make some rules about that. But otherwise, it's a place where you can show up wearing basically whatever, and nobody's going to bat an eye at you.