Ren Faire: True Stories Behind the HBO Show

‘Ren Faire’ transports us to the heart of the Texas Renaissance Festival, where knights joust, dragons walk among the upbeat crowds, and a silent struggle for succession brews. “King” George Coulam is the founder of the fair and runs a lucrative empire surrounding it. Well into his 80s, Coulam has grown increasingly eccentric and decides to retire in order to focus on his romantic life. His announcement draws the attention of those in his vicinity, with their eyes coveting his crown. Among them are a long-time manager of the festival, a kettle-corn kingpin, and a former elephant tamer.

Co-created by Lance Oppenheim and David Gauvey Herbert, the HBO show’s highly stylized visuals serve to underscore the ridiculous nature of its power struggle over a Renaissance festival, making for comedy gold. With the detailed premise steeped in culture and populated with increasingly colorful characters, viewers will undoubtedly find themselves asking if the show is based on actual events.

Ren Faire Uses Elements in Reality to Spin a Tale of Fiction

Lance Oppenheim describes ‘Ren Faire’ as a docu-fantasia that blurs the line between reality and fantasy. The element of fantasy comes from the vibrant slow-mo and unfocused shots of the festival in all its glory, immersing us in the festival, which seems to exist in an alternate reality where the rules are different. This is very close to the truth when looking at the festival and characters on which the show is based. Written by Max Allman, Nicholas Nazmi, and Lance Oppenheim, the story’s central figure is George Coulam, who is the real-life owner of the Texas Renaissance Festival.

Much like his onscreen persona, George Coulam is shrouded by tall tales and controversy. As seen in the show, when it comes to the Texas Renaissance Festival (TRF), he is the undisputed king and seemingly untouchable. While he is not cross-eyed in reality, Coulam is infamous for his reports, rumors, and allegations regarding women and his search for a bride. News reports have detailed accusations by Coulam’s employees who allege that they were tasked with finding romantic partners and a bride for the founder. Thus, the subplot of George Coulam focusing on finding love in the show is likely reflective of such real-life speculations and reported incidents.

Founded in 1974 by brothers George and David Coulam, TRF has grown into one of the largest and most renowned Renaissance fairs in the country. Located in Todd Mission, Texas, just north of Houston, the TRF spans over 55 acres of picturesque woodlands, transforming each fall into a bustling medieval village. The festival features a kaleidoscopic blend of outfits, from elaborate costumes and period-inspired performances to interspersed fantastical elements such as fairies, witches, and dragons.

In the show, George Coulam serves as the perfect center as an over-the-top character for a similarly over-the-top festival and power struggle. The real-life persona of the founder is reminiscent of the Tiger King, Joe Exotic, mixed with a succession dispute dramatized to the point of evoking HBO’s ‘Succession.’ In reality, there are likely dozens more candidates who expect a part of TRF’s ownership with the passing of George Coulam. This is because Coulam is reported to provide assurances of including his partners and even employees in his will to keep morale high.

According to a news report, a horticulturist working for Coulam revealed that she placed a newspaper ad for the founder. The ad was titled “loving wife for loving husband,” and offered a $35,000 allowance for the bride to live with Coulam at his estate alongside a $10,000 wedding gift. The horticulturist also accused Coulam of making her search for a mail-order Thai bride for him by coordinating with a doctor in Thailand. In November 2020, Toni Ewton, a former employee of the Texas Renaissance Festival, sued the festival for sexual harassment. She said that she was wrongfully fired when she spoke against finding women for Coulam as his personal assistant for three months.

Ewton accused Coulam of asking employees to find romantic partners for him using sites like,, and Much like an earlier sexual harassment lawsuit in 2018, Ewton’s lawsuit was settled for an unknown amount. Coulam was not the defendant in the case, which was levied against the company. Regardless of the rumors and cases surrounding Coulam, to many, he is an esteemed member of the community. He serves as the Mayor of Todd Mission, where the festival is held. TRF provides employment to over 1,000 people and has become a part of  Texan culture for many who have attended the annual event since their childhoods.

‘Ren Faire’ is a work of fiction that finds its inspiration in the charming backdrop of TRF and the eccentric reputation of its founder, George Coulam. Using its premise in reality, the show adds exaggerated elements of the founder retiring to pursue his full-time passion for women and a dramatic succession dispute involving intrigue and manipulation.

Read More: Best Comedy Movies on Apple TV+