Since its humble beginnings more than four decades years ago, the Texas Renaissance Festival has grown by kingly proportions. This year’s opening weekend saw a record attendance of over 60,000 guests. Consistently, it draws hundreds of thousands of visitors during its eight-week season in the fall.
But preparation gets underway long before those gates open in early October. As a major money maker for the area, its impact can be felt not just by local businesses, but also ordinary people.
At the festival’s job “faire” in early September, prospective employees came by the dozens to fill out applications. A lot of them have already worked here, such as Kyle Castaneda. He’s returning for his third year.
“I really like the experience,” Castaneda says. “It’s more than just a company, it’s a family.”
Also at the job fair is 20-year-old Jennifer Apostolo, who’s sitting on a bench filling out an application. She’s been coming to the festival most of her life and thought it’d be a fun way to make some extra cash. She says she’s been working on her English accent.
“Last night, I looked up stuff on Google and was saying to my parents, ‘Good day, m’Lord, fair thee well,’” Apostolo says, laughing.
Fast forward to a soggy weekend in November, when Castaneda is busy working as a hawker. Basically, he’s trying to entice people to come over and check out the goods. He has a trick of balancing a large metal bowl of kettle corn on his head and scooping out samples for people passing by.
Castaneda is a freshman in college and wants to get into the film industry.
“It’s really helped my acting skills and you get to know a lot of people,” he says. “Surprisingly, there are a lot of people who are in the filming business (here).”
Coincidentally, Apostolo ended up working in the same booth as a kettle corn bagger. It’s hot, hard labor, but there’s camaraderie among everyone inside and there’s a lot of laughing.
“In the beginning, I wanted to be a garland girl but they thought kettle corn would be a better fit since it’s my first year,” she says.
Castaneda and Apostolo are just two examples of the brigade that comes to work for the Ren Fest each year.
“We employ about 4,000 people during our operational season,” says Travis Bryant, Texas Renaissance Festival’s Marketing Director.
Those positions can range from hawkers and beer wenches to musicians. More than 500 artisans and merchants have also set up shop this year. Paul Premazon is one example. He’s the owner of the Magick Cauldron, located on Montrose in Houston, but he’s been selling goods at Ren Fest since 1999.
“It’s very good business for us,” he says. “It’s about 40 percent of my yearly gross.”
The festival doesn’t release ticket sale revenue numbers, but they do report that the revenue generated by their independent merchants is in excess of $10 million. Others business owners, like Raven of Black Dragon Pewter, have been coming from across the country. In Raven’s case, for 24 years.
This past April, USA Today named the Texas Renaissance Festival the best cultural festival in the country. Some see it as a cultural institution.
“One of the things that I say that sets us apart from other types of theme park environments is that we’re an immersive environment,” Bryant says. “And we tell people, ‘Come be part of the magic.’”
The Texas Renaissance Festival runs through November 29th in Todd Mission, about 50 miles northwest of Houston.