Valhalla Renaissance Faire: A journey through time
Sometimes we have to go back in time to learn how to live in the present.
When Marti Miermik’s family emigrated from Poland to the United States in the 1980s, they were political refugees who received asylum from the Communist government.
“My father was a pretty well-known businessman in Europe,” she says. “His younger brother used to fight for Solidarity. After he was arrested, our family started being persecuted. So we waited two years for him to get out of prison. Then we were smuggled to Yugoslavia and six months later we were on our way to America.”
Before leaving her home country, Miermik had played in the Polish theater as a young girl.
“I was raised on Shakespeare,” she said. “My favorite subject in school was history. I loved the theater and being able to interact and react. I was a nerd of a different kind.”
[pullquote]Right from the front gate we have music, we have entertainment, and people are fighting with swords. We have 800 actors playing from the moment you step through of the gates. We try to transform you to a different time period.”[/pullquote]When she came to United States, she had a hard time acclimating to a new culture where history and arts were not valued in the same way.
“I think as kid I knew more about the U.S. than the kids I met here knew about Europe or even their own country,” she says. “Because of that we had a communication gap that was very difficult for me to pass through.”
One day her friend brought her to the Renaissance gathering at Black Point Forest in Novato, California.
“At the Renaissance Faire, I found a place with common ground and I wanted to be part of that place,” she said. “Because of the people I met at the fair, it became easier to acclimate to the American culture.”
From then on, Miermik was a regular participant on the Renaissance circuit, often playing Mary, Queen of Scots, a role for which she felt naturally fit.
“Mary was Scottish, but raised in France,” she explains. “When she came back to Britain to marry, she had to reacclimatize to her world. I tried to play from a background similar to that side of it since we had that in common.”
For the past 15 years, Miermik has been the CEO of Renaissance Productions helping to run festivals throughout California, handling the actors as well as the marketing.
While perfecting her passion for organizing Renaissance festivals, Miermik spent many years working in the tech industry. At one point, she was a part of the team that launched a phone game sensation, Angry Birds.
Although accomplishments like these still helps to pay her bills, she believes that the rapidly advancing communication machinery of our modern society is creating isolation through technology addiction.
“I see our interaction with each other and how sometimes it is lacking,” she said. “I think as we use the technology more and more we are alienating ourselves from the world. Even though the world is becoming smaller, we are not interacting with each other as much as we used to. As a culture, we are morphing. I see it especially with the kids.”
She works on emotional engagement with teenagers from halfway houses by introducing them to Renaissance culture. She has seen for herself how visiting a world of the past can help young people to learn how to interact in positive and genuine ways right now.
“Kids these days are so immersed in their technology that very few have the ability to look up and have a real conversation with somebody,” she says. “You are always just waiting for them to log off. So we immerse them in the kind of environment where they have to look up.”
By transporting people into another time and place, Renaissance fairs allow people to disconnect from the constant stream of useless information in order to engage in the present moment. Even through it’s not exactly reality, it may be more real than our current obsession of the screen.
“They get dropped by a bus at the fair entrance and right from the front gate we have music, we have entertainment, and people are fighting with swords,” Miermik says. “We have 800 actors playing from the moment you step through of the gates. We try to transform you to a different time period.”
In this place of fun and imagination, people young and old gain insight that can’t be learned inside the four walls of a traditional classroom.
“In high school history class, the Renaissance is short and sweet subject you pass through in a couple pages before you go on to the next thing,” she goes on. “We let you see how people really lived then. We teach you how to look up and smile and notice different things. Our actors know how to get your attention right from the get go and help you develop the sense for something that could be foreign to you. “
In the end, this strange new experience might be getting to know yourself again after all.
“Here you are able to travel to different world to speak in a crazy language or learn how to dance in an unexpected way,” Miermik says. “You connect with people you never imagined and see yourself with new eyes. I just think its beautiful.”
– Sean McAlindin
Valhalla Renaissance Faire25th annual celebrationWhen: June 2-3 and June 9-10
Where: Camp Richardson, South Lake Tahoe
Tickets: Adults $16; seniors, military and ages 13-17 $12; children 6-12 $8; children under 6 free
ABOUT Sean McAlindin
Sean McAlindin is a writer, musician and educator based in Truckee. When he's not drafting new story ideas, he can be found jamming with his Celtic bluegrass band, Lost Whiskey Engine, hiking for a local backcountry powder stash or hanging out with his daughter, Penelope.