2008-02-20 / Front Page

Faire attendees have a wicked good time

'Wicked Faire' boasts pirates, ninjas, knights, many, many, many others

For the most part, the Holiday Inn in Edison is surrounded by roads and the cars that drive upon them, contemporary artifacts of the modern industrial age we currently inhabit, with a number of asphalt paved parking lots a little bit farther to the south. A quick look around establishes quite firmly that one is in the 21st century.

The hotel's interior on Feb. 8, however, is a slightly different story. Yes, there is the electric lighting, indoor plumbing and central heating that one would expect fromany remotelymodern building. This night, however, there are also ninjas, pirates and knights, as if, blind drunk, history had regurgitated into the hotel lobby. Victorian ladies stand in line for hot dogs alongside vampires, while in another room a mime stands unironically at attention.

The event is called "Wicked Faire," held in Edison for the third year in a row. One might compare the goings-on to a time travelers convention, but many of the personas adopted by its attendees never existed to begin with- one of themain events, for example, was a traditional Jedi wedding, held around 1 in the morning.

Billed as a "Renaissance/Pirate/Ninja/ Lovecraftian/Whatever Faire," it is a weekend for people with what organizer Jeff Mach calls "fringe interests" to meet, organize and indulge.

"Pretty much everyone who comes to this event is someone who has two kinds of fringe interests, at least one major kind, like they're a 'Renaissance fair' person or a 'Gothic' person or a 'Rocky Horror [Picture Show]' person, and then there's someone who has some other fringe interest, so they realize that their fringe interests are connected," said Mach.

The event itself featured a number of performers throughout the night, vendors selling everything from comic books to handcrafted jewelry, and hundreds of people, most in a staggering variety of outfits, from the relatively tame to the out-and-out extreme.

"My particular armor is made by some guys who pretty much are the best in the world. I couldn't possiblymake this," said a self-described numbers-cruncher from Philadelphia calling himself DarkLord. While it is generally against policy to anonymously attribute quotes, the Dark- Lord does not have the appearance of one someone argues the point with.

A large man, he spends the evening walking around in heavy, studded leather armor, which he said is no heavier than full steel armor would be. He wears a helmet upon his head that reveals only his mouth and eyes. His voice is rough and his speech comes in short, staccato bursts.

"This [armor] is one of a kind in the world. It's very hard to duplicate. It's very much a work of art and collectable," said DarkLord.

"Wicked Faire" is a labor of love for Mach, a Hackensack resident and the event's organizer, who this year made putting it together his full-time job. Working some 60 hours a week, he organized a staff of volunteers to work with the vendors, handle promotions, secure the performers and do other logistical work.

A portion of the event's proceeds will go to the nonprofit SPARC (Summer Project forAcademic Reach and Creativity), a summer camp for children in academically gifted programs run by alumni of gifted programs.

Financially, he has staked much on this event. As he watches druids and fairies walk past him in the hotel lobby, he says that he is going bankrupt while doing this. Much of this had to do with a contract dispute with the hotel, resulting in significant legal expenses over the previous two months. The possibility of not holding it next year, though, does not occur to him. If things do not go spectacularly well, he says, he would just have to work full time while putting everything together again. He is passionate about holding events such as this and does not want to let a thing like money stop him.

"It's the best thing in the world. Do what you love," said Mach.

He said that he has received a great deal of support fromthe volunteers and fromorganizers of similar events, such as science fiction conventions, comic book conventions and Renaissance fairs, which has been heartening.

There exists a sort of shared cultural solidarity between those who have "fringe interests," which probably contributed to the support "Wicked Faire" received when news of its woes began spreading, Mach said.While pirate and ninja enthusiasts are often cast as bitter foes, for example, neither lose sight of the larger picture in which the pirate/ninja debate takes place - that both speak a shared language in which such absurd arguments can happen to begin with. Most people outside the hotel that night would probably never have known about this contentious issue at all, though inside it can be a good way to start a conversation.

Much of the appeal to the people attending lies in the opportunity to experience this shared culture without judgment. Despite a great deal of self-deprecation among many, the fair's mood is largely earnest and unironic, a chance for people to love the things they genuinely love that might be met with a raised eyebrow anywhere else, but here is not only accepted but welcome. It is something that is uniquely their own.

"If you look past the corsetry and the velvet and 'I'm dressing up as Joan of Arc,' or whatever, these are good people, they're really nice, really caring," said Alex Jay Berman, who was dressed relatively conservatively with a long, black coat and tan hat. "I'm sure a lot of people here like to give themselves the illusion of 'This is where I go and lose all control,' even though everyone is doing that, but this is fun. Good, mostly clean, fun."

Mostly clean - "Wicked Faire" was specifically advertised as a 16-and-over event, and several volunteers staffing as securitymake sure to check IDs, especially for a roomfor people only 18 and over. Inside is a variety of adult materials and paraphernalia. Later in the night, it also features a live demonstration by a professional dominatrix. Meanwhile, a percentage of the women attending, in general, are dressed in ways that, put lightly, is definitely not winter attire.

Outside the 18-and-over room, a tall, skinny man dressed head to toe in black with several silver buckles checks IDs. As he smiles, he reveals pointed teeth, which he later says are very convincing prosthetics. He says his name is Arez. When asked about a last name, he says that it's "just Arez."He turns his attention to two women with ID in hand.

"Are you attached to anyone?" he asks. One asks why. "Because I'mprobably going to hit on you tonight."

When both walk past himinto the room, he says that most people don't know what to say to that, which lets the question just be put out there. His costume, he said, was part of a movie he is in.

"It's currently in production, called 'Last Kiss Before Sunrise,' and I am playing a vampire by the name of Butcher," saidArez, who alsoworks as a stagehand inNewYork City for the Metropolitan Opera.

The vendors, occupying three rooms, form their own sort of bazaar, selling a variety of items, many of them things they have made.

DanielleAckleyMcPhail, an author and publisher, said that going to events such as this really helps her get to know her audience, which does not hurt sales. She is the author of a line of books called "Bad-Ass Fairies," featuring what she said are "fairies with attitude" such as biker fairies, mobster fairies and cybernetic ninja fairies. As she walks down a hallway, dressed in a long, green gown resembling Renaissanceera dress, she explains that she has always been intrigued by fantasy.

"I've always been into fantasy and magic, and ["Wicked Faire"] has that element to it, and it's a bitmore risqué, but I've always been into the fantasy side," said McPhail.

Many vendors lead almost nomadic lives, traveling from event to event.

"I do science fiction conventions, I do craft fairs and I do belly dancing events, because that's a lot of my stuff," said Pacita Prasarm,who technically lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., but spendsmost of the year traveling. She will be in Boston next weekend and Georgia the weekend after that.

Prasarm sits behind a booth selling a wide variety of handmade jewelry such as bracelets and earrings.Much of it, she said, she hasmade herself,with hours and hours of work. She also spends time overseas, buying things that she thinks she could sell in the U.S.

Working at the check-in counter, and thus brieflymeeting everyone at the fair, is Diano Beno. She has been witnessing the people filtering in since the beginning, though she is supportive of thewhole thing.

"I think it's cool. It's like something different in this area we have, you know. We don't really have a fair, and I think it's cool they have all these people dressed up and they hang out and have a good time," said Beno.

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