While that might seem like an effort to rush in the holidays, fair producer and manager/coordinator Andrew and Michael Patterson, consider it as a way to shake off "the malaise" of so much technology and emphasis on shopping and put a spotlight more on family-friendly events.
Andrew, age 28 and Michael, 20 are the grandsons of the Dickens Christmas Fair
founders Phyllis and Ron Patterson. Ron and Phyllis brought something to the SF Bay area that no other had done before. And, they made it a special event for all to share in. The Patterson Family has been instrumental in conceiving, producing and establishing "immersion theater and live-historical presentations through the Dickens Fair and The Renaissance Pleasure Faire.
Many in the Bay Area will recall the Renaissance Faire in the summer and early fall, at Black Point Forest.
An ideal rural hillside setting for an outdoor fair, Black Point was along the highway between Petaluma and Novato. The Renaissance Faire was an annual event, just like the Dickens Fair. While they wanted to continue producing both, it was extremely difficult to do so. The Dickens Fair was something the entire Patterson family cherished and wanted it to continue without compromise. Michael and Andrew are now the third generation of Patterson’s who are carrying on in the family tradition of providing quality live-entertainment events, through Red Barn Productions.
"Andrew and Michael are taking over what their parents (Kevin and Leslie) have been producing for 16 years now," said their father Kevin Patterson. "We have all worked hard and contributed to make The Great Dickens Christmas Faire a refined and well-evolved show to become a world-class event that has become a family tradition for thousands of Bay Area families and attracts guests from all over the world," he added.
"We have been doing this our entire lives, said Andrew as he took a few minutes to chat. He is now the production manager, organizing several departments of managers, designers, and installers, for the five-weekend holiday fair and as he told this reporter, we have stepped up our game.” When asked if he was overwhelmed by all the responsibility, Andrew said, "knowing all the players and participants for so many years, 90 percent of it is home to me. There is a wealth of collective knowledge and experience and we are all very accustomed to working together."
"Believe it or not, this is like a vacation for me," said Andrew. He explained that compared to working in the tech industry with the likes of Lucas Films and others, the annual holiday fair is a delight for him. "he enjoys the challenge of complex theatrical projects, said his father Kevin Patterson, who now is Executive Director of the annual fair and Red Barn Productions. His father also pointed out that "Andrew has lots of experience from stage tech at University of California at Santa Cruz, to coordination work for Lucas Films as well as Disney."
Andrew said that while still in high school he wanted to help the family enterprise by becoming a vendor at the fair. "Every year, we as a family and as a theater group, think of ways we can make the fair even better than before. Part of that is listening to the guests and attendees."
Upon hearing a few comments, Andrew realized there was not very many 'kid-friendly' food items available. “Our goal is to entertain and to educate about the history of Victorian England, all the literary works of Charles Dickens and of Christmas itself. So much of what we present tries to stay within accurate historical references. Yet, I realized that for kids having a bit more of something that they could relate to makes the fair more fun for them."
And this is how Maclaren's Cookies and Milk joined the list of vendors
. He noted, "I know biscuits would be more historically accurate." But since since Americans know cookies as cookies and not as biscuits in the UK, "we improvised, so that kids instantly recognize a favorite."
As soon as the McClaren's booth was established, then Andrew established Mr. Punch's Pasta. "while food choices were limited in Dickens' time, we know that in the 19th Century Victorian England, there was a form of pasta," said Andrew. Again, some improvisation, "we serve a simple bow tie pasta with a basic tomato sauce, with or without meatballs."
With the success of the food vending, Andrew also put together game booths and other carnival activities for youngsters, which increased his initial venture to over seven vendor installations at the fair.
This venture as Andrew explained was also done to also include his brother Michael, who is now in his third year of college at Sonoma State University. "We co-own the booths and we have been doing this together for about seven years now."
Michael admitted that at times it does get a bit hectic and stressful. "But we have it down to a science now and we are comfortable with adding more to the plate of what we offer," he said. Pointing out that much of what they both do is largely inspired by their parents and grandparents, "the Dickens Fair is a huge part of my life and I hope some day (as Andrew also expressed) I can share this experience with my children."
As a family enterprise, the Dickens Fair has been in existence for almost 40 years. It is unique and one of a kind. And this is something both young men cherish immensely. "I am very proud of my parents and grandparents," said Michael. "They have done a lot. And, my dad (Kevin Patterson) instilled in us that helping people to enjoy themselves and have a good time as a family is what pushed me to do this," Michael added.
"The real beauty of this Christmas Fair (especially with regards to our technological society) is that it brings people to a simpler time. It encourages them to be together and to realize that family time is really important. I think technology, even with its marvels, in a way robs us of that," said Michael.
"When I see the kids having a fun time as well as the parents, it's nice to see that and I am so happy to be a part of something that brings people together," he said.
The Great Dickens Christmas Fair opens on Nov. 21 and will continue for the following consecutive weekends at The Cow Palace until Dec. 20. For more information visit the Dickens Christmas Fair web site.
Or call 1-800-510-1558.