Sunday, August 20, 2006
War, but not the bad kind
I just got back from the Pennsic War. This is an annual trip I have made for the past 20 years or so. It's the largest SCA event in the world (at about 12,000 people) and you have to attend it to fully understand it.
This year we were blessed with great weather (a rarity) and a general lack of drama in our camp (a very good thing). The biggest event for me was the resurection of the Hell Party. We ran this party for 6 years before discontinuing it about 4 years ago. But last year's parties were so dismal, so completely devoid of energy or fun that with the help of my campmates we resurected the party with pretty good results.
The party has a slight historical petigree. It was roughly based on church or 'Mystery' plays in the middle ages where the institutions of the church were mocked with slapstick comedy and bawdy humor. Our party featured several carnival style games; Bobbing for Bourbon and the cock-ring toss. We also had a whip-chick area with a stocks and St. Andrews cross. We served great beer and a concoction called Swamp Gas (composed of Mountain Dew and Everclear). We also set up a stage and brought in entertainers.
The one day of bad weather was of course, the night of the party. The grey skies turned black and the rain came just after the first act on our stage. In the rain it was almost impossible to arrange my entrance with the stage manager. In the end I just game in hoping the crowd would notice a 6'2 guy painted red with horns and a pitchfork. They did. I ascended the stage and my makeup began to run into my eyes, blinding me. And then, the three propane torches giving light to the camp, blew out leaving everything in darkness.
This was one suck-ass opening.
I got off stage and did a quick intro by the fire, stumbled 'back stage' and got the worst of the makup out of my eyes. When the rain let up I used some scrap paper on the end of my pitchfork to re-light the torches. The party began to pick up steam. We brought out a fire eater. After that, it was time for our secret weapon. We snuck a generator into our camp (not permitted by campground rules) and used it to power a snow machine that blew fluffy soap-based flakes over the crowd. It was amazing and the crowd loved it. More people crowded in. We sold t-shirts, cigars and indulgences for donations to help defray the cost of the party. This was my biggest worry. Running an event of this size takes a lot of cash. My friend Ed personally fronted about $1200 bucks to make this happen. If the weather had been just a little bit worse, the party would have failed, and more importantly, we would have been left with huge expences. In the end, the donations covered the cost of the party and allowed us to make a donation to the Tuchux Breast-Cancer charity (The Tuchux are a loose affiliation of barbarian types who have gotten a bit of a bad rap over the years).
It was an enormous undertaking. And none of it could have happened without the hard work of everyone in my camp. From locating and picking up long-disused props to setting up the games, the stage and the whipping area to selling tshirts, setting up and running the bar.
I think we reclaimed the 'coolest party' award in the eyes of the attendees. As usuall, I ended up taking a shower at 4am to try and get the red paint off. And the next day my back informed me that lugging 150lb kegs can be hazardous to your health. I spent much of the next 2 days in a bit of a haze. Doing the party just burned up a massive amount of my personal energy reserves. It wasn't just the physical part of helping run the party, but all the stressing out I did in the days before it. Now that its over I am more relaxed. People are already asking me about "Next Years big party". Sorry, I am giving absolutely NO thought to this right now. The Michigan Ren Fair is open and the Ohio Ren starts soon. My garage and shop are disaster areas. It's back to work.
But it was one Hell of a party.