By Polina Runova
Every year, a group of dedicated artists come together to transform the Cow Palace, a warehouse in Daly City, into Victorian England on Christmas Eve. “People are coming into something that they’re unfamiliar with,” Claudia Swanson, a vendor at the fair, said. “You’re walking into London at nighttime at 10 o’clock in the morning.”
Over the years, the people involved in the Great Dickens Christmas Fair have formed a close community. “My next door neighbors have been my next door neighbors for years,” Sue Thompson, a vendor at the fair, said. “These are my people; we’ve been doing this for 20 years.”
This transformation doesn’t happen overnight, though. Heidi Boucher, the production designer, explains that many people spend all year working on the fair. “We start a few months after the closing of the fair and then talk about it all year long.” The actual construction of the fair begins three weeks prior to opening, but plans are being made, songs rehearsed, and characters developed months in advance.
Joseph Schmitz, in addition to being an actor in the fair, leads a workshop for other participants. “It’s the connection with people that’s the most rewarding part,” Mr. Schmitz said, referring to his “fellow cast members, who have become dear friends of mine” as well as to the moments when “you can see the joy light up on somebody’s face.”
Although the Dickens Fair takes a lot of work, the people behind it love what they do and what they are able to create for others. “The process of making the Dickens Fair is a labor of love,” Ms. Boucher said. “We work hard in this cold, dusty environment because we know that what we’re creating is magic.”
See below for a video about how the Dickens Fair comes together: