The Merrie Pryanksters is an English Country Dance (ECD) group based around performing at Renaissance Faires in and near Northern California. There are two main infestations of Pryanksters, one in the San Francisco Bay Area and the other near Sacramento. The group is recreational, social, as well as a performing troupe. The main focus is early ECD as collected by John Playford, but the group has been known to indulge in Scottish, Irish, Cotswold Morris, Longsword, and Welsh Border dances as well.
A Little History
The Merrie (Merri, Merry, ...) Pryanksters were formed out of members of the Newcastle Country Dancers in the mid 1970's by Patti Blanco and Karen Sands in Southern California. Both a dance and theatrical group, it performed a mixture of street dancing (with audience participation) and stage shows which combined their own special form of English Country Dance (learned from Richard Chase, "the old man") and bawdy plays. It has also performed away from the Faire under the nome de plume of The Oakwood Country Dancers (and inside joke, because the Faire "village" was called "Chipping Under Oakwood").
For many years the group consisted of a relatively small group of about 20 active dancers and 5 musicians. Performances were almost exclusively at the northern and southern Renaissance Pleasure Faires, under the auspices of the Living History Center. The group also spawned a Northern California branch, which has been directed by folks like Antone Cepernick, Bob Crabb, Catherine Horton, Diane Moore, and now Ellen Coatney.
In the 1990s, activities in the south pretty much dwindled away, leaving the Northern California branch as sole center for the Pryanksters. Around the same time, due to changes in the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, now owned by the Renaissance Entertainment Corporation (REC), the group was not invited to perform. At that point, the group expanded into performing at the many smaller fairs throughout northern California.
This thriving organization now boasts over 150 members spread between the San Francisco Bay Area and Davis California.
Don't be misled!
Although it's good stuff, and we drink it (well, some of us), and it's sounds similar, we are NOT the folks in Fort Bragg who make: