JANESVILLE—Mother Nature hasn’t always been kind to the Janesville Renaissance Faire.
In recent years, biting winds, chilling drizzle and even threats of late-season snow have become common in early spring. And for a group of folks wandering about in capes, corsets and chainmail, such conditions are certainly less than comfortable.
Fortunately, this is Wisconsin, where people are used to fluctuating forecasts. And they’re not about to let a few snowflakes or raindrops keep them from doing what they enjoy.
“Actually, I thought (the weather) would be more of a problem,” said Chris Last, a member of the board that now owns the nonprofit faire. “Last year, the numbers were down from the 2,500 to 3,000 we used to get for the weekend, but we were still at just more than 2,000 when it was on the verge of snowing Saturday. That’s still a good turnout.”
Last and his cohorts will make another run at sunshine when the 13th annual faire takes over Traxler Park on Saturday and Sunday, May 19-20. As always, the show will go on rain or shine.
“Over the first couple of years, we had decent weather to get our feet and start making progress toward building a following,” Last said. “That also helped us build partnerships with several local community groups, so we get a lot of cross-promotion on things.”
Those partnerships have paid off—literally—for a lot of people.
Since the faire became a nonprofit 12 years ago, it has made annual donations to local service organizations and scholarship programs. Along with giving to groups such as ECHO, the Salvation Army, Project 16:49, the YWCA Women’s Shelter and others, organizers also have gifted more than $25,000 to local high school seniors to help fund their educations.
“We give out about $5,000 a year in forms of scholarships or donations to community groups. When we’ve had good weather, we’ve almost doubled that,” Last said. “I wish I could get about 6,000 people through the gate, or about 1/10th of the population of Janesville. We could easily give away $10,000 to $15,000 a year.”
If the faire is blessed with good weather and strong numbers this year, at least one financial goal might be in reach.
“We fell short of our $100,000 goal (in total donations) last year,” Last said. “After two years of not-great weather, we’re at about $85,000 to $90,000 in 12 years. I’d love to cross that $100,000 mark this year.”
Last gives at least some of the credit for his group’s philanthropic abilities to the entertainers and vendors who take part in the faire each year.
“They have really bought into our goal of raising money for these groups, and they spread the word out to their followers, as well,” Last said.
This year’s lineup includes long-standing acts such as Jane the Phoole and the sea shanty-singing group Bounding Main, along with several new acts Last thinks will add flavor.
Among these are 2 Noisy Knights, a pair of medieval pranksters who use props as they share stories while standing inside a large knit sack, and “They Fight,” performers who present a dramatic yet comical performance focusing on the violence of Shakespearean plays.
Additionally, a troupe of LARPers (live-action role players) also will be on hand to school those interested to learn how their game works.
On the vendor side, Last said several new businesses will meld with those returning to share wares such as leather goods, jewelry, pottery, stonework, costumes, art and more. And, yes, you will be able to get one of those big turkey legs to gnaw on as you wander the grounds.
“We’re still getting about 10 to 15 percent new (vendors) each year, “he said. “There are a couple of other little shows that happen in the Midwest in the same time frame as ours, so some do those shows and then come back to do ours. That allows for variety with both vendors and performers.”