Sunday, October 22, 2017

Idea Garage Sale: Rennies, the Soap Opera

I'm a long way from back, but I did have an obvious garage sale idea the other night, something I couldn't possibly write for myself.

It's Renfaire season in Texas, and our closest friends are essentially living out there for the duration. They only do this one Faire, but many of their friends-and-neighbors make all or most of their income travelling from Faire to Faire all over the country, interspersed with craft shows, flea markets, fan conventions, and similar local events. Known as "Rennies," they are a subculture with footholds in a number of adjacent ones, particular lifeways, roots in the counterculture that go back to the 60s, and a network of fluid connections and intersecting relationships that, while natural to them, look convoluted and confusing to more sedentary professions.

And, people being people, this subculture is full of Drama. Open relationships that turn out to be not as open as all that. Seasonal relationships that are stable as long as no one changes their yearly schedule. Business partnerships that are also romantic ones; ongoing rivalries; children and teens being children and teens, forcing free-spirited parents to be grownups; health crises; emotional crises; shoestring budgets; vicious infighting side-by-side with breathtaking generosity; polyamoury; neurodivergence; religions from paganism to Christian Fundamentalism that are both deeply felt and a kind of performance art; an atmosphere of infinite acceptance that can be savagely broken if certain lines are crossed - tell me all this wouldn't make a great Daytime Drama!

The beauty of this idea is that it would allow the writers and producers to do an end-run around a lot of the problems that a long-running dramatic show is generally faced with. Did a character not work out, or is a popular actor leaving? No need to force a dramatic write-out willy-nilly, just have him change his schedule so it no longer intersects with the main cast's, or quit to work a more conventional job. If the actor comes back, well, the new schedule or job didn't work out; or he's filling in for someone; or he returns with his new family - on the other side of the booth, a consumer rather than a producer of the Renfaire experience. The standard soap practice of ungainly and unrealistic serial marriages punctuated by affairs and divorces is unnecessary in a subculture in which polyamoury and seasonal relationships are so common; and the prospects for High Drama are better due to the intersection of so many different personalities and situations. Children who appear and disappear as required by the plot are far less jolting in a culture in which children of a particular age may live with grandparents during the school year, or live alternately with parents who no longer work the same shows.

My own biggest problem with soaps is that sooner or later people who should know better keep repeating the same mistakes and reliving the same stories, because the choices the writers have are so limited. The Rennie lifestyle renders this unnecessary - there is always somebody who can plausibly throw a wrench into a situation. Why does anyone still deal with the Scheming Matriarch? Why, because she runs the biggest Faire in the circuit! Why does anybody still fall for The Heartbreaker? Because the non-standard expectations of the culture result in just as much drama, but fewer broken hearts.

Anyway, got to get on with my Sunday schedule and can't delve into practical details. But it's a natural. I'm shocked no one's done this.

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