2020 started out like any other year. Texas Renaissance Festival staff and Ambassadors traveled to San Antonio, Fort Worth, Houston, Austin and Dallas for RV Shows to promote the Fields of New Market Campgrounds. Not long after we unpacked from the last show, COVID-19 came, and we shut down the TRF offices until mid-May with almost everyone working from home.
Preparing to Open
So began the new era of Zoom and conference calls with the rest of the country. Our GM and Operations Director went into preparation mode as Renaissance festivals around the country started to close early or announce cancellations of the season. They met with local and county government officials as well as state health agencies. Meanwhile we put in place a Crisis Communication and COVID-19 Response plan for the festival with the goal of opening for our 46th season in October.
We postponed the annual Sale of the Century usually held in May to July as we inched closer to the August 1 date of when the board would official decide if we would open for the season. With a limitation of 50% capacity, we also moved to date specific tickets which was a departure from our usual Any Day tickets but was necessary to comply with the restrictions.
Staying Busy Through the Summer
By the time we returned to the offices, it was time to think about Wedding Tours, Backpack and Blood drives. Three of the four wedding tours took place with safety and social distancing measures in place. Registered guests were instructed to stay in their cars until the wedding team could greet them and facemasks were encouraged since when we started, the Texas Governor's Executive Order 29 had not been established yet. Tours held after July 2, all TRF staff and participants were required to wear facemasks.
The New TRF Ambassador group gathered for the first time to donate backpacks and school supplies that were donated to the annual Grimes County backpack drive. We collected over 200 backpacks and The King and I had the pleasure of participating in the distribution of the backpacks to the students of Grimes County at the fairgrounds. The following weekend the Ambassadors held the 2nd Annual Blood Drive in partnership with the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Mobile at the festival office parking lot. It was a great success with some donors giving double!
Launching the TRF Podcast
With no events to attend with the pandemic in full swing, TRF needed an outlet to connect with our audience, and explore a new avenue of media, and so plans to launch a podcast titled "Hear Ye! Hear Ye! A Texas Style Renaissance Podcast moved along quickly with a planned launch date in July. At the Houston Pod downtown studios, we recorded the intro with TRF Entertainment Director Jeff Baldwin, with The King as host, and began getting our managers in to record segments about preparing for the upcoming season.
A few months later we had the opportunity to purchase Houston Pod's equipment and we moved the podcast recording studio to the Media Center onsite. This was a great addition because we were able to bring guests in during the week who were already in town for the festival. To date we have had guests such as Billy von Billy the Sturdy Beggar, Rhonni DuBose of The Queen's Pantry, Louie Migliaccio of the Dragonslayer and Wyrmwood Public House, Richard Mauritz of Airy Botter's Escape Room, Danielle Dupont of the Washing Well Wenches and the RESCU Foundation, Thomas Wood the Pyrojuggler and Tartanic. If you want to catch up on any episodes you may have missed, they can be found on our website, iTunes, Spotify and Google!
Countdown to Opening Day
As soon as the board approved the plan to open, the TRF shifted into high gear to prepare for the opening of the festival on October 3. TV and Radio ads were created, ad buys were made, Vendor and Entertainer contracts were signed, rehearsals began, social distancing signs were made, and a decontamination company was sourced. H-E-B was added as a new retail partner for tickets, and plans were made for a new Media Day event that would bring media to the festival to see our social distancing plans in person.
The season opening does not seem real until the first trailers start pulling into the festival grounds, the boards on the shops come off, the Ben E. Keith, Coke and Budweiser trucks start rolling in with orders for the season, and the office becomes a flurry of activity as performers and vendors come for pass office forms.
We did a couple of things differently as we prepared to open for a season unlike any other. First, we hosted a Media Day at the festival. Before we did a media food blitz where our food vendors woke up way before the crack of dawn to prepare food trays, and the marketing team and The King dropped it off at various radio and television stations in Houston. This year we wanted to highlight our safety guidelines, demonstrate our decontamination protocol, have the media tour the new expansion area, see a joust demonstration, ride the DaVinci Flying Machine, and of course eat foods TRF has become known for such as turkey legs, pastries from The Queen's Pantry, Greek food, and other delectable foods.
The other thing we did to prepare for the season was to invite clan members and TRF Ambassadors to dress rehearsal, so there was more of a "live" feel to the event which usually has cast, most vendors open, and hawkers calling out to empty lanes. Clan members tested the South Parking and festival entrance from the campground while the Ambassadors tested the North Parking. While there was limited food available and some shops were not open, the line monitors, Beefeaters, restroom attendants and the maintenance team were able to observe some actual patron use. Following dress rehearsal was the annual Magnolia Stroll, which was condensed to a smaller area and focused on Lone Pint Brewery, but it was nice to see people out and about in garb and the TRF company in costume interacting with those at the Stroll.
Part Two - Opening the Festival Gates Coming Soon!