Next gen helps keep SoCal’s Renaissance Faire alive


The Cannaday family has worked at Renaissance Faires for the past 16 years. Photo by Danielle Chiriguayo/KCRW.

The public knows her as Lady Dorothy Deveraux – an aristocrat in Port Deptford distantly related to the Queen. If the need arises, she holds Her Majesty’s cup and basket, or partakes in a dance on occasion. 

But when the sun sets and the day comes to an end, Deveraux’s English accent fades and she goes back to being 15-year-old Rowan Cannaday – a high school sophomore. 

Rowan is an actor at the Original Renaissance Pleasure Faire, a 16th-century-style village erected at the Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area in Irwindale every spring. Actors, musicians, acrobats, and other players create an immersive world for seven weekends per year. The popular event attracts guests from all across Southern California.  

Decked out in her aristocratic costume here, a falcon sometimes riding her arm, Rowan represents more than just the past. She’s also a hope for the future of the Renaissance Faire itself.

An entire cast of actors, musicians, acrobats, and more creates an immersive 16th-century world. Photo by Zaydee Sanchez.

The Faire has been popular since it was first held in Agoura Hills in 1963, but after the modern-day plague of COVID-19 sent players and set-builders to shelter at home, the ranks of actors with Shakespearean accents thinned.

“My guild has gotten very small,” says Sue Honor, who runs an organization for Faire players called the Guild of Saint Cuthbert. “A lot of the acting groups at the Faire have lost members — not due to death, but because during the pandemic, people moved out of state, people got a little more concerned about being out in big crowds.

“In its heyday, my group had up to 150 people in it. This year, we're down to less than half of that.” 

Now Honor and other Faire long-timers are in a period of rebuilding and recruitment. And many are looking to their own children and grandchildren to carry the Elizabethan make-believe forward.

The Original Renaissance Pleasure Faire attracts guests of all ages. Photo by Zaydee Sanchez.

Honor, 65, says she looks to younger people to help draw in a new generation. “I've recruited some younger minds to help me get into the heads of younger folk to try to send out the right message, so that they know that there's something for them in this, and not just us old creaky people,” Honor says. 

In the meantime, she and other long-timers keep an eye out for those who might want to work at the Faire but just don’t know it yet, including enthusiastic guests and performers from local theaters and schools.

And then there’s the pool of talent that doesn’t need an introduction to the concept: so-called Faire brats, who’ve grown up with the annual costume party.

That includes Rowan, who’s never known a life without it: “Sometimes I tell people that I've been working at faire my whole life. And they don't imagine it to be my whole life. But I mean, it has been my whole life.”

For the last 16 years, the Cannaday family has worked at Renaissance faires. From L to R: Rowan Cannaday, Jessica Cannaday, Charles Cannaday, Fiona Cannaday, and Rowan Cannaday. Photo courtesy of FotoLumos Photography.

Rowan’s parents, Jessica and Charles Cannaday, started working at the Faire 16 years ago. Today, Jessica is a member of the all-woman folk music group The Merry Wives of Windsor. Charles moonlights as Baron Hunsdon, a cousin of the Queen and Lady Deveraux’s uncle. 

Jessica Cannaday says her kids get excited when the season rolls around every year. “When build comes, they're like, ‘We're gonna see our friends. We're gonna see our family.’ That's how they view it. We didn't have to make it a family affair. It just was one,” she explains. 

Every year, the Irwindale crew puts on what’s called “Faire brat day” — an afternoon when the kids parade around, perform for participating merchants, and show off what they’ve learned. 

“Seeing the kids come as a horde and seeing how many of them there are, you realize that it really is a true generational thing,” says Julie McMillin, the social media director for Renaissance Entertainment Productions, which runs the Irwindale faire, and a former player herself. “There are Faire brats having Faire brats at this point.” 

McMillin says those second-generation kids make great ambassadors to their peers. “You grew up here,” she says. “You're so exposed to living in the 21st century and the 16th century, you understand being open and welcoming to the audience, while still being able to navigate TikTok.” 

McMillin is optimistic for the future, seeing the community’s kids come up together and grow as people.

“That's how we know that the quality of show is going to continue,” she says. “We all care about it very truly and deeply. We've all encountered this place that allows us to play, and we want to make sure that it continues to exist for this year's audience [and] next year's audience.”