'Complete sh*tshow': Drive-thru Dickens fair deemed a disaster

Publisher's Note: This article was published in December of 2021 and only refers to the 2021 drive-thru COVID pivot. The annual Dicken's fair at the Cow Palace is a wonderful event and a tradition in my family.

The Great Dickens Christmas Fair really isn't so great after all. The annual event at the Cow Palace in in Daly City, California was COVID-cancelled last year but reopened this past weekend as a drive-through experience promising to transport attendees to "lamplit Victorian London," at $25 per vehicle. Sadly, this "Drive Thru Dickens' London" fair didn't fare well, both with the public and with a group of cast and crew members.

Poor organization, inescapable hours-long waits, and lack of adequate sound, food, drinks and toilets were just the beginning of the many complaints expressed by attendees. It got so bad that, on Saturday afternoon, instead of addressing the growing list of bad comments dumped on the Fair's official Facebook page, some Scrooge at Red Barn Productions, its management company, just deleted it. Not the comments, the entire page for the business! Their Instagram has also gone missing.

So, the discourse naturally landed on Yelp. Here's a small sampling of the comments left by disgruntled attendees:

Not exactly what Kevin and Leslie Patterson, the little dickens who run Red Barn, advertised:

For three weekends only, from 11am – 5pm, December 4 through 19, 2021 the Dickens Fair will present Drive Thru Dickens' London. Bring a carload of family and friends for a one of a kind outdoor excursion through Victorian London. Order from a curated menu of hearty English foods and specialty handcrafts before driving past enchanting tableaux from 'A Christmas Carol', period carriages, and the Docks of Dickens London. Your purchases will be delivered car-side along the Grand Concourse to take home or enjoy while parked at London's own Covent Garden for an ever-changing mix of lively music, dance, and comedy…

Oh, but it doesn't stop there. On that same day, the Drive Thru's opening, Black cast members boycotted the Fair, calling out Red Barn Productions for being racist, sexist, and ableist, and asking people to sign a petition.

"I want people to recognize what their values are and decide if the Dickens Fair aligns with them," says [LaToya] Tooles, founder of an affinity group for the fair's Black performers called Londoners of the African Diaspora, or LoAD. 

Organizers of the boycott, a group of Dickens Fair cast and crew dubbed the London Solidarity Network, won't support a return to the fair until a list of safety requirements is met. A petition in support of the action has already received more than 3,000 signatures. 

"Every member of LoAD has been called a slave," says Anastasia Elizondo, an Afro-Chicana actor and comedian from Oakland who has been performing at the Dickens Fair for nearly 20 years. She adds that fairgoers' limited knowledge of Black history can lead to offensive generalizations and assumptions. "One of us has been called Aunt Jemima, another Sally Hemings."

What the Dickens?!

A friend of mine—who spent hours slowly driving through this faux "Victorian London" on Saturday, and lived to tell about it—told me comparisons to the infamous Fyre Festival are justified. They joked, "Honestly, people are saying its much worse than that!" They also told me that safety protocols were not in effect, "The thing that's nuts is they're advertising that they did this because of Covid. But their performers aren't masked, they come right up to your car window to engage with you! Some of the staff delivering food and gifts, weren't wearing masks either. Or they'd be wearing one, walk up to the open car window, remove their mask to talk to you, then put it back on to talk away!!!"

Sounds like it was the best of times, no, scratch that, it was just the worst of times.

screenshots via Yelp and Twitter, photo by The Ghost of Christmas WTF?!