The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

Faire thee well

Kyle Seidel

“I must away, I bid thee farewell,” Lady Marie Hunter said to her chemistry teacher in a courteous Elizabethan accent.

She was two steps out the door by the time she realized that her 17th-century words and accent were out of place in 21st-century America.

“I had just come back from a Renaissance faire the day before,” she recalled. “I hadn’t had faire withdrawal yet.”

Lady Marie, better known as Amanda Lonsdorf, a freshman Renaissance faire enthusiast from Chippewa Falls, said she sometimes feels more at home in Renaissance “garb” (clothing) and speech than in the present day; transitioning between the two worlds can be a challenge. The character of Lady Marie is based on one of Lonsdorf’s ancestors, a descendant of Scottish nobility.

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Discovering faire was like discovering herself, she said.

“I’ve acted this way my entire life,” she said. “And I went, ‘Oh, they have events for this?’ ”

First faire
Lonsdorf attended her first faire in Kenosha with an aunt at age 16.

“I got this cheesy Hot Topic dress,” she recalled. A book shop owner at the faire struck up a conversation and offered her some cherries.

“I fell in love with faire for the people,” she said. “It’s more than a time period, it’s a community. It’s a celebration of life and passion for life.”

Lonsdorf’s friend sophomore Don Bhend, called Renaissance faires “a romanticized version” of the actual historical period.

“There’s no plague and you get to bathe more than once a year,” he said

Bhend attended his first faire at age 13 with his family – in street clothing.

“We decided that next time we come back, we’re doing this properly,” he said.

Since then, he said, his family has amassed a garb wardrobe and attended most faires across the eastern half of the United States at least once.

“It’s kind of born into you,” he said. “Whereas other families would go camping or something, this is who we are.”

His family attends a faire every weekend during the summer, including five or six weekends at the Bristol Renaissance Festival in Kenosha, which he said is smaller and less corporate than some major faires.

“It has that magical feel,” he said.

Dressing the part
Those who take faire seriously can spend large amounts on garb, admission and travel, Lonsdorf said.

“I save money during the year to pay for faire,” she said.

She makes most of her own garb and accoutrements, drawing on her four years working backstage in her high school theater department, she said. She enjoys researching historical costuming and has begun to dabble in leatherworking and metalworking, she said.

“It’s sad when you go into a furniture store and see a chair and say, ‘Hey, that fabric would make a really good corset!’ ”

Materials for a simple dress cost at least $80, she said. Shoes, jewelry and other accessories increase the cost, she said. Constructed garments sold at faires are even more expensive.

Antique stores and secondhand clothing stores also yield pieces that can be altered to make garb, she said.

“Costuming (at Renaissance faires) isn’t always historically correct,” said Heidi O’Hare, costume shop manager for UW-Eau Claire’s theater department. “It doesn’t need to be. Usually it’s not very heavily founded in history, but it has the shape and feel of that period.”

Today’s fabrics and sewing techniques are different from those during the Renaissance, O’Hare said, which results in technically different garments. Theater has aimed to represent “historically accurate” clothing only for a little over a century, she said.

The costumed events also echo royal festivals held by kings and queens, she said. People would dress up for a themed festival and get to be someone different from themselves.

“It lets people realize how important clothing can be,” she said.

Bhend said his garb collection continues to grow every year.

“It overtakes your closet if you really get into it,” he said.

More than a hobby
For Lonsdorf and Bhend, faire is where their true personalities come out.

“I can speak and act how I would choose to,” Lonsdorf said. “I’ve noticed a lot of people don’t understand gestures like opening a door for someone, and it’s more accepted there.”

Bhend, who goes by “Sir William” at faire, agreed.

“The chivalric ideals are a constant in my life,” he said. “That’s me. I water me down for here so it’s socially acceptable.”

Bhend said he enjoys inspiring awe in first-time fairegoers.

“People’s normal reaction is to stop and take pictures,” he said. “To bring that kind of joy to people is wonderful.”

This summer, Bhend plans to travel to faires across the United States.

“We live during the week just to get back to faire,” he said. “You lose yourself. You don’t expect to find a car in the parking lot when you leave.”

Lonsdorf and Bhend attended their high school prom together – in garb.

“A lot of people were impressed that we had the audacity to show up and say, ‘This is who we are,’ ” she said. “At faire it’s accepted. If you’re not in that setting it’s sometimes looked down upon.

“Honestly, if I had enough of the wardrobe, I’d wear it every day.”

Lonsdorf said she already has planned her faire schedule for this summer, including faires in Chippewa Falls, Wausau, Kenosha and Twig, Minn. “I’ll get up at 5 (a.m.) to stand outside the gates,” she said. “They’ve had to shoo me out at the end of the day.”

Her present-day persona finds freedom in the past.

“It’s not that I completely transform from mundane Amanda to Lady Marie,” she said. “I go essentially to be able to be all of who I am.”

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