We are saddened to learn that Phyllis Patterson passed away on May 18, 2014. She was a passionate and artistic woman who conceived and created the modern Renaissance fair; and without her vision, the world of belly dance might be quite different today.
Phyllis Ann Simbert was born on January 25, 1932 in Tennessee. She married Ron Patterson, and in the 1960s the couple lived in Laurel Canyon near Hollywood California. Phyllis was a high school drama and English teacher, and Ron was a UCLA-educated art director. The couple held various after school theater and art workshops in their back yard for students. In May 1963, Phyllis and Ron produced the first Renaissance Pleasure Faire as a fundraiser for KPFK, a listener-sponsored radio station. (Edited audio broadcast with still photographs from the original fair held on May 11 and 12, 1963)
The Faire was faithfully modeled on a 16th century country fair. The annual Spring event grew steadily and, by 1967, a second Faire was held yearly in the fall in Northern California at China Camp in Marin County.
It was at the first Northern California Renaissance Pleasure Faire that Jamila’s belly dance students were blocking the flow of traffic with their impromptu performances, and it was at this Faire the Phyllis spoke to Jamila about fixing the problem. The solution to the problem was Jamila’s creation of Bal Anat. The fair, as well as all its many components and acts including Bal Anat, were immediately copied throughout the United States. (1974 Bal Anat performance at the Northern California Renaissance Pleasure Faire)
Roxanne Browder Dungereau wrote about Phyllis:
The Renaissance Pleasure Faire is so much more than a theatrical event. It is so much more than dressing up in historical costumes and acting. It is, as Phyllis taught in her class, a life changing experience. In her class she relayed her reasoning for the purpose of the faire. She felt deeply the importance of reconnecting with a time when we were attached to the earth, and the wheel of the calendar year, the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. She stressed the need for celebration with euphoria, sorely lacking in our modern world and explained the importance of experiencing ecstasy, ‘to stand outside the ordinary self,’ through the creation of living art.
The Salimpour Family honors and thanks Phyllis, whose vision is still realized and safeguarded by her children. Phyllis and Ron Patterson imagined and designed an incredible event that provided the unique opportunity for Jamila Salimpour to create Bal Anat. And the creation of Bal Anat was an important moment in time that changed the trajectory of belly dance not only in the U.S., but throughout the world.