Performers of color said the Great Dickens Christmas Fair had become a bleak house of racism and groping incidents, and instituted a boycott of the fair the last two years, but they now have great expectations that fair organizers have addressed those concerns adequately.
The SF holiday tradition of the Great Dickens Christmas Fair goes back to 1970. And it’s had a few stumbles over its 50-plus years: the Loma Prieta earthquake forced its cancellation in 1989, it moved to Sacramento in 1990 only to see the venue evacuated over fire sprinklers exploding, there were several years in the 1990s when the fair just didn’t happen, and the 2021 fair (where people just sat in their cars because of COVID) had botched food ordering and staffing problems.
More than 200 cast members and thousands of guests have pledged to boycott the Great Dickens Christmas Fair over its failure to protect its volunteers and guests from racist and sexist behavior.https://t.co/06prXJoJai— San Francisco Chronicle (@sfchronicle) December 4, 2021
But the biggest scarlet letter slapped on the Dickens Fair was a set of allegations, also surfacing in 2021, that the fair was turning a blind eye toward racist behavior directed at performers of color, and a series of sexual misconduct allegations reportedly being swept under the rug. A lengthy Chronicle exposé also detailed that there was allegedly a secret VIP bar called “the Opium Den” or “Le Cave Chinois” that was rife with demeaning Asian stereotypes and allowed some line-crossing behavior.
A group of Black Dickens Fair performers dubbed themselves Londoners of the African Diaspora and called for a boycott of the fair in 2021. Another group called London Solidarity Network joined the boycott over concerns about the treatment and trans and disability community participants. The Dickens Fair boycott was about to enter its third year.
It will not enter its third year. Both the Londoners of the African Diaspora and London Solidarity Network recently announced they are no longer boycotting the Dickens Fair, nor its organizers Red Barn Productions, as they say Red Barn Productions has adequately addressed their ongoing concerns.
“We, the London Solidarity Network (LSN) and Red Barn Productions LLC (RBP), producers of the Great Dickens Christmas Fair, are pleased to announce the end of the boycott that has affected our participant community over the last three years,” according to a joint statement Facebook post. “After careful consideration and constructive dialogue between the LSN and RBP, we have collectively reached an agreement to resolve the issues that led to the boycott, as outlined in the revised Minimum Requirements for a Safe Dickens Fair.”
The statement adds that “This decision comes as a result of open and productive communications, which have allowed us to find common ground and work towards a more collaborative and equitable future for all involved.”
Those “Minimum Requirements for a Safe Dickens Fair” are documented in a six-page letter. Many of the concerns also revolved around pay disparities, lack of anti-discrimination and anti-harassment training, and the general lack of a human resources-style structure for dealing with workplace issues.
The letter also called for Red Barn Productions to “remove all orientalist naming conventions and decorations from the private room commonly known as ‘the Opium Den’ or ‘Le Cave Chinois.’”
So the boycott is over, and the 2023 Great Dickens Christmas Fair runs every weekend at the Cow Palace through December 17.
Image: Rich Yee, The Great Dickens Christmas Fair via Facebook