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Renaissance Faires- On Crying Your Wares (Merchants)

Updated on June 21, 2012

"Vegetarian Breakfast Sausage."

"Get your vegetables early so you can eat what you want for the rest of the day"

"We know you want one. We can tell by the look on your face that you really want a pickle..."

courtesy of the Hostel Pickle Sellers

The sun is up, the gates have just opened and it's another day of wonder at the renaissance faire.

As a medieval merchant, you step outside of your shop to greet the day. In the distance, you can see the first excited visitors in the distance down the lane.

You take a deep breath.

It's time to cry your wares....

What is Crying My Wares?

Crying your wares consists of making public vocal statements about what you have for sale in order to interest potential customers. Consider it as advertising before radio or television. Crying usually involves repeating statements, and often is done in a way that sounds like chanting or singing

Crying of wares was prevalant during the medieval and Renaissance periods. It persisted throughout the Elizabethan and Victorian periods and is still practiced in certain settings to this very day.

Why Would I Want To Cry My Wares?

Not all vendors at renaissance faires cry their wares. Many do not. Many people hear about crying their wares, and think it sounds like a lot of work. Why would you even want to do this at all?

There's a few good reasons:

  • First, a renaissance faire is immersive entertainment, and part of that is creating a medieval environment that visitors can enjoy and interact with. Crying contributes to that atmosphere, offering the experience of shopping in a very different culture.
  • Crying makes your neighborhood more interesting to patrons, which is good for business. People are more likely to turn into a street where interesting things are happening, than one that is quiet to the point of being boring. A colorful experience can draw more traffic which translates to more business.
  • Crying can make your booth more interesting to people. With the assortment of beautiful and unique items offered at a faire, patrons can become overwhelmed and just cruise through without actually looking, but a good cry lets you reach out to potential customers. It helps you make a human connection which can be good for vendor and patron.
  • Crying advertises what you're selling and puts your products in front of faire visitors. It gives you a chance to not only say what you offer, but show how it's desirable.

Crying wares makes the faire more picturesque, and also helps you create more potential business.

Checklist for Creating a Cry

What things should you focus on when creating a cry for your wares?

Try these three:

  • What positive benefit do people get from what I'm selling?
  • How can I make my cry catchy, funny or attention-getting?
  • Simplify, simplify, simplify..


Figuring Out What To Cry

So, if you've decide to cry your wares, what exactly are you going to cry? It's not like there's an agency that you can hire to think up a catch phrase for you, right?

  • Start with your wares and what they have to offer.
  • Focus less on what's special about your wares, and more on what they offer a purchaser. (Why would they want to own a krumhorn?)
  • What's a short and catchy way that you can tell patrons this?
  • Are there jokes or plays on words that fit? A good joke catches people's attention.
  • When you have a potential phrase, say it out loud. Is it easy to say, or does your toungue trip over it?

Short, sweet, catchy, fun and easy to say- these are the hallmarks of a good cry.

Cry "Foresoothly"

When you're creating the phrases that you will use to cry your wares, chose your words carefully. You're creating an atmosphere of historical marketry, so it's important to chose medieval words and phrases

  • Don't mention computers, IPods or automobiles;
  • Say "Come and buy" as opposed to "Let me hook you up.";
  • And please don't say "Dude".

It's also important though to chose words that the patrons can understand.

  • Don't throw around words like "bezant", "hautban", or "garderobe", unless you're reasonably sure that your audience is ready for them.
  • When in doubt, chose the simpler word.

Finally, if you're using an accent, be sure that the words you've chosen are recognizable to a modern ear with that accent.

Don't be so medieval that you become incomprehensible. Your cry is meant to catch people's attention and draw them in. You can explain specifics once they're interested and ready to talk.


"Palmistry, Tarot, Crystal Dowsing, I Ching. We see all, we know all, we tell much..."

"Cards turned. Coins tossed. Palms read and futures told."

"The sooth, the whole sooth, and nothing but the sooth, so help me God...."

a variety of cries by the psychic readers of Foresight


More Than One Cry

Have you figured out the phrase you plan to use to cry your wares?

Good. Now you need to figure out at least one more (and more than that is better...)

Why? There's a few good reasons;

  • Crying your wares is designed to catch the attention of passing patrons and interest them enough to draw them into your booth to look at your wares. Many times though, the first cry makes them stop and make eye contact, but doesn't entice them in. If you repeat the same words, you'll lose their attention and they'll walk on by. If you have something else witty to say, many times they'll laugh and enter.
  • If you repeat the same phrase non-stop all day, you'll probably make your neighbors crazy. You don't need a lot of variety, but some helps with your good neighbor standing.
  • What goes for your neighbors goes for you too. If you repeat the same one line all day, you'll not only annoy yourself, you'll also tire of it and your delivery will get stale. Stale is ineffective. Having some variety keeps your presentation fresh and keeps you from burning out.

Try and have at least two or three cries or variations thereof to get the best effect and avoid making yourself and everybody else around you crazy.

Articulation...

Once you've got your "cries" set up, you need to work with them so they become easy and effortless. You're going to be doing this all day. You need to practice your skills so you can do this.

First, work with being intelligible. Many of us unconsciously mumble or slur words. If you want your cry to be publicity instead of just noise, people need to be able to hear and understand you.

Say your words as crisply and clearly as you can. Be sure you open and move your lips and tongue fully. You may feel like you're exaggerating your words, but what feels funny to you will probably sound "just right" to your patrons.

Get yourself one or more buddies who are willing to stand at a distance and listen. See if they can accurately understand what you're saying.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing is breathing deeply from the diaphragm. To learn to breath that deeply:

  • Place your hand on your stomach, and practice breathing fully. If you're talking a full breath, that hand should be pushed out as your stomach expands. If it's not going out, breath deeper.
  • Once you've got the basic breathing down, take a deep breath. When you speak or cry, pull your stomach in so the full breath is exhaled and used for speaking. You'll be surprised at how much more volume you can put out, how much further you can be heard, and how it's not hard, once you get the hang of it.

...and Projection.

Once you've got the basic words down, next you need to learn how to be heard at a distance.

Most of us breath shallowly, only using the top of our chests. When we speak, this means we're hard to hear.

To be heard fully at a distance, you need to breath deeply and speak from your diaphragm (the muscle at the bottom of your rib cage that helps you breath). Breathing this way is called diaphragmatic breathing, and it helps you to speak or sing more loudly without straining your voice.

Keep in mind that it's also possible to be too loud. Watch the faces of patrons and other vendors as you cry. If they wince or shy away, you may need to cry more softly or make sure that the tone you're using is pleasant.

The last part of the process is saving your voice, so you're not hoarse or unable to speak by the end of the day. To do this:

  • Don't cry constantly. Take breaks and let your voice rest.
  • Make sure that you are drinking liquids, preferably water, throughout the day. Talking a lot is thirsty work.
  • Last, consider "singing" your cry. I find that crying with a musical tone like a Gregorian chant is easier on my voice, is pleasant for those who hear it, helps me to be heard further away and keeps my words clear. (Hey, generations of monks can't be wrong, right?)

Be Prepared to Break Out of Crying and Make Contact

When you're practicing crying your wares, you're also going to want to practice how to break out of crying and talk to people who are interested in your booth.

The objective of crying your wares is to catch people's attention and interest them in your wares. Once you have eye contact and interest, you want to break in order to talk to them as people, and make a more individual connection.

You don't want to break off in mid-sentence but it's good to make that personal contact as promptly as you can, once you have signs of interest. Here's where a series of short phrases for crying comes in handy. It's easier to break in between them and make your contact in a timely way.

Return eye contact with folks who look at you while you cry. Smile. Say "Good day my lord or my lady." Invite them into your booth and make them feel at home.


"Shade -ona -stick!

"Free samples!"

(holds parasol over the head of passing patron)

"See- much cooler! It's like magic!"

this interaction courtesy of Won Lo of Won Lo's Shady Emporium, purveyors of hand painted parasols.


Pulling it All Together

You've got your words and clever phrases. You've got a variety of them. You've practiced projecting your voice and you've planned how to break out of crying to make an individual connection with visitors to the faire.

Now, it's time to pull it all together.

Practice crying for a significant amount of time. Something that works for one round may lock you up if you do it repeatedly.

  • Have you memorized your words and phases? Do you remember them easily?
  • Are your words and phrases smooth and easy when you repeat them, or do you trip over your tongue?
  • Can you gauge how loud to be in order to be heard without blowing your voice out?
  • Have you practiced enough so that you can do this automatically, without sparing a lot of thought to manage it?

Practice enough so that the crying will be easy and natural, and you can focus on the people at the faire.

Playing Nice with Your Neighbors

It's one thing to cry in isolation. It's another thing to make your crying part of the character of a neighborhood at a faire. In a neighborhood, you need teamwork.

  • Once you're at the faire, remember that the noise should not be constant. Create a rhythym of alteranting sound and silence for the best effect (and don't waste your time crying when there are no patrons around to hear you...)
  • Besides drawing people into your booth, crying can draw people into your neighborhood by making it look interesting. Keep an eye out down the lane, and cry as people approach a crossroads to attract them into your area.
  • Check out who else in your neighborhood may also be crying their wares. Be aware of them and try to alternate, avoiding stepping on each others' lines. (This is theatre, after all.)
  • Most people who cry their wares will pick this rhythm up automatically, but some have a harder time of it. If you have a neighbor who cries their wares, but doesn't get the hang of alternating or attracting people, you can sort things out many times with a quiet and respectful talk after hours.

Work together and have the most interesting and colorful neighborhood at the faire.


"Green Knights - ona-stick...."

heard from a passing barrow vendor selling pickles on skewers

Should You Cry?

At a renaissance faire, some people cry their wares. Some people don't- and not everybody has to.

It's worth considering though whether you could benefit from crying your wares. It's an art that offers color, beauty and historical flavor to a faire, and can also add to your business. Give it some thought, and see if this is something that you'd like to try.

Perhaps the next time that I work at a faire, yours will be the voice I hear sounding in the distance....

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    • giazz profile image

      giazz 4 years ago from North Reading

      Good tips as usual - few small comments:

      1) It's actually called "Hawking" not "Crying" no one really wants to see anyone have tears

      2) You might consider asking a wandering musician/bard to come and do some "music" or sell some of their CDs for them - in lieu of giving them a tip

      3) If you do hawk (or cry) your wares, be sure that it is NOT DURING A SOFT PERFORMANCE/Show - this goes for performers too - have some respect for others, and they will do the same to you.

    • Catherine Kane profile image
      Author

      Catherine Kane 4 years ago

      Thanks for signing in, giazz. Always a pleasure to hear from someone who knows her stuff.

      Historically, it's been known under both names. I've found that folks who've heard these terms tend to associate "hawking" with a more hard sell approach, which is not what we're shooting for here, so I chose to use the other term

      The point of being sure you're not overiding a soft performance is a good one. I'd think of that as falling under the point of alternating, as noted in playing nice with your neighbors, but listing this specifically is useful.

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