lim-foc-evnts-art - 7/31/98
"Narrowing the Focus: A Different Kind of Event" by Nicolaa de Bracton of
NOTE: See also the files: Rus-Handbook-art, personas-msg, AS-events-msg,
event-ideas-msg, event-rev-msg, persona-art, Persona-Build-art.
KEYWORDS: article SCA event narrow-focus idea limited-focus persona
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set
of files, called Stefanıs Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at:
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be
reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first
or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris
AKA: Stefan li Rous
Narrowing the Focus: A Different Kind of Event
by Nicolaa de Bracton of Leicester.
In the past two or three years, the canton of which I am a member has been
experimenting more or less successfully with limited focus events. By "limited
focus", I mean events which are set in a specific geographical location and year
and attempt to recreate some aspect of life for that culture. Because I have
noted a great deal of interest in the topic, as well as no small amount of
controversy, I have decided to present our methods and rationale to the SCA at
Why present limited focus events? Our goals were simple: To capture the
feel of a particular culture as accurately as possible, to educate the populace
through participation, to involve as many people as possible, and, most
importantly, to have fun.
A couple of questions inevitably arise."How can you have a limited focus
event without offending people with personae outside the focus of the event?"
"How can you attempt to enforce authenticity, when the SCA says that anyone
wearing an attempt at medieval clothing is welcome?"
We started off with the basic assumption that most people in the SCA are
interested in learning, though not all are interested in research. Thus, we
made our primary goal an educational one: To learn and educate others about a
particular culture through preparation and a focused recreation. Our first
event was an Icelandic Althing, and though a number of members initially had
some objection to the selection of that particular timeperiod, after six months
of monthly talks on Viking culture and after seeing the handbook we produced to
help people prepare, these folks were among the most enthusiastic participants.
We also tried very consciously to avoid the "authenticity police" perception.
We never told anyone "We're having this event where you must wear this type of
clothing², or "Here's a list of requirements you must meet to attend", but
rather said, "Hereıs this really interesting culture, and here's how to easily
make appropriate garb," and left it at that. We also offered our own garb as
loaner gear and our homes, sewing machines, and expertise for those who wished
to make something special, but lacked the resources. How "into it" people got
was up to them. Ninety-five percent of attendees at the Althing were in early-
period garb; the remaining five percent were given the same welcome given to
everyone else. Authenticity is best taught by example....and enthusiasm can be
But we wanted to go much deeper than simply dressing up in Icelandic garb;
this is what separated this event from a mere "theme event". All too often in
the SCA we stand around looking terrifically medieval in our wonderful clothes -
- and talking about topics which have nothing to do with the Middle Ages. We
wanted this event to "feel" different, to capture that rare feeling of, for
just a moment, suspending disbelief and thinking oneself to actually be in
Iceland in 992. In other words, we tried to focus on recreating period
behavior and ways of thinking -- which requires no monetary investment at all,
just a little bit of planning and research, and perhaps a desire to better
understand what motivated a certain culture.
Does this pique your interest? I hope so! Now to the serious business at
hand: a few guidelines on planning a limited focus events, based on my own
1. Define your period of focus
This, more than any other factor, will determine the course of your event,
and ultimately, its success or failure. There are a number of points to
consider in choosing your period. First, is there enough available information
to plan a full day of activities? Second, are there people willing to do the
necessary research in your proposed area which will make the event something
special? You may want to consider existing strengths/weaknesses of your group or
region. If, for instance, you know a lot of people with Elizabethan personae,
doing an Elizabethan event will probably be a lot easier than it would be in an
area dominated by early Celts. You will also need to consider the existing
resources of your group, not only in terms of knowledgeable or research-
experienced people, but also in terms of library resources. For instance,
researching a limited-focus event in an area with no university library will
probably take more time; likewise, you will probably find it easier to work up
an event set in Baghdad if your local Laurel's specialty is Islamic culture.
This brings up another point: Know your limits. I speak from personal
experience here, having completed researching an event set in Kievan Russia
without knowing how to read Russian. I was lucky--not only do I live in a city
with a terrific university library, it also has a large Russian and Ukrainian
population, which made more resources available to me. Otherwise, this event
would have been well nigh impossible to organize and research. You should allow
yourself plenty of time for research and planning for such an event; the
Icelandic Althing was probably the most successful of the limited-focus events
in which I have participated because the autocrat had been formulating the idea
for several years
2. Gather your administrative team
The important word here is "team". I do not recommend that anyone run a
limited-focus event alone. The event I helped organize last year featured two
autocrats: one in charge of the educational end (booklet and classes) and
publicity; the other in charge of site coordination and getting volunteers. We
also had a chief cook, who assembled her own staff of two or three assistants, a
coordinator for the fighting activities, and a gatekeeper, who was responsible
for staffing the main gate. In addition to this, there were a number of other
people involved in various specific aspects of the event. With your team
assembled, you will be able to ensure that your event has the finishing touches
that will make it truly special -- a period feast, a particular kind of
tournament, demonstrations, musicians, period tentage or gear, games that fit
into the theme, special site tokens, or other such things. The successful
autocrat of such an event will keep tabs on how each area is progressing, and
help ensure that no one person has to do all of the work himself or herself.
3. Pick an appropriate site and date.
This is very important, because it greatly adds to the atmosphere. The
Icelandic Althing was held outdoors, in an isolated campsite with a stream
running through the site. No homes or pickup trucks could be seen. We also
restricted the central area to period tentage and gear--you might consider
having a "stuff person" whose whole job is to find items which will add to the
overall ambiance of the event, from tents to furniture to tapestries and
banners, or to invite artisans to set up shops (at the Icelandic Althing, we had
a blacksmith and a lady with a warp-weighted loom). Just as outdoor sites lend
themselves well to early-period events, so does "neo-Gothic" architecture work
well for later-period affairs. Itıs worth the extra effort to find the perfect
Timing is important as well. Think about the weather in your area. Will
it cooperate with an outdoor-only event, and if not, what plans will you make to
deal with this? Are there "traditional" events held on specific weekends that
will draw people away from your event? Remember, theme events will probably not
attract the masses of people "generic" SCA events can, and anything that might
keep attendance down should be considered when budgeting for the event. On the
other hand, thereıs nothing wrong with having a smaller event--so long as you
plan it to be small.
4. Plan out how you will educate people.
Eoforwic's approach has been to give a series of preparatory classes by
local "experts" and to prepare a comprehensive practical handbook on the culture
being researched. This handbook contained articles researched not only by the
event organizers, but by members of the canton who were interested in writing on
a specific topic. For instance, a lady with a great deal of knowledge about
horses wrote on Icelandic ponies for the Althing handbook; another lady working
on medieval drama researched early Russian entertainment for the handbook for
the Kievan Russian event. The focus in these handbooks was one of practicality
-- the articles on Christianity, for instance, focused not on high theology but
on the practices of the common people. Articles on history, religion, names,
weapons, dance, transportation, costume, games, music, and social interactions,
to name just a few, were included. A full bibliography was included so that
people interested in doing research on their own could pursue it.
A specific person was charged with gathering articles and editing them so
that the booklet could be available a month ahead of time and sent to anyone who
preregistered; the idea being to be able to read it before the event. This is
especially important if your event is set in a culture unfamiliar to most
people. If this sounds daunting, you're right, but it was definitely worth the
effort. The goal is to remove the major roadblocks most people find in
researching a particular period--lack of time and lack of resources.
You may also wish to set up less formal sessions, such as sewing circles,
in order to give as many people as possible a chance to learn more. The earlier
these things happen, the better.
5. Define the focus of the event itself and get people involved
In order for the event to be successful, you will want to have as many
people involved in the "action" as possible. This will take planning in
advance. Let me use an example from my own experiences.
Iceland in the Viking period was divided into four districts. We
simplified Icelandic society a bit, giving each district a chieftain (in
reality, chieftains were much more numerous). Each attendee had to select a
chieftain; when he or she arrived at the event, the first order of business was
to go to the chieftain's tent and be formally welcomed. Since one of the main
activities of the Althing was the settlement of legal disputes, we made this the
focus of the day's events. There were two main legal cases, each involving a
pair of the chieftains -- one was a disputed marriage, and another was a case of
murder. These cases were thoroughly researched ahead of time, and the research
notes given to the participants a month in advance so that they could digest the
information. The cases were brought before the Lawspeaker, and each side had to
present their case, as well as witnesses to the crime and to their good
character (which were recruited from the supporters of each chieftain). The
outcome of the cases was not decided in advance, which added a lot of realism to
the proceedings-- the decisions really did hinge on the testimony offered and
the wisdom of the Lawspeaker. We also allowed other cases to be tried -- and
this offer was taken up to settle a disputed land claim. Nearly everyone at the
event became involved in at least one of the cases. This worked because people
were personally involved in the action, and because the chieftains were selected
because they were well-known and had strong personalities. While the main
players had to do a bit of reading ahead of time to know how an Icelander in a
similar situation might react, the action for the majority of people was based
on basic emotions -- loyalty, bonds of friendship, desire for vengeance or
justice -- which were not only ideal for Viking age Iceland, but also required
no research ahead of time. Your chieftain ( mundanely a good friend) simply
approached you and asked "I'm involved in this dispute. Can you attest to my
good character?" No real acting was needed!
The key here was to give people some basic knowledge of a culture, a
setting, and then to let them run with it as befitted their own personalities
and interests. I suggest you choose a "plot device" for your event that
involves some sort of intrigue or controversy, rather than a generic
"celebration" in which people stand around looking pretty in their new garb, but
never get personally involved in the specific flavour of the event. It's best
to stay away from in-depth scripting -- rather, prepare a sheet listing the
basic facts of the plot and the major players and how they are involved. Then
procure well-known or charismatic people to take the major roles and make sure
they are prepped in advance for the event. On the day of the event, have "cheat
sheets" at troll listing who's who, what's going on, and suggestions on how
attendees might participate in the action. This worked so well in both events I
have been involved in that spontaneous additions to the plot line which fit in
wonderfully occurred at every turn.
5. Get the word out
Anyone who has ever autocratted an event before knows the importance of
getting event flyers to newsletters and seneschals in a timely manner. Many
people plan their schedules months
in advance, and if they know there is an event coming up set in a timeperiod
they are interested in or which sounds interesting, they will make sure to
A few other hints: If you choose to assemble a handbook, try to get it
done at least a month ahead of time so that you can take it around to events you
attend to show people and drum up enthusiasm. Make sure people whose regular
personae fit into your focus know about the event. Visit neighboring groups;
offer to give a talk on the event or on some aspect of culture relating to it.
If you are expecting royalty or other dignitaries, make sure they know whatıs
going on well ahead of time and try to get them into the action if possible.
6. Have fun!
This is the most important advice I can give. Indulge your sense of
adventure, whether the culture you choose is that of your persona, or something
I am always interested to hear of the efforts of others in running limited
focus events, and to share my own experiences with those contemplating running
them. I am also willing to swap handbooks with anyone who prepares one for such
Copyright 1996 by Susan Carroll-Clark, 53 Thorncliffe Park Dr. #611,
Toronto, Ontario M4H 1L1 CANADA. Permission granted for republication in
SCA-related publications, provided author is credited and receives a copy.
Copyright © Mark S. Harris (Lord Stefan li Rous)
All Rights Reserved
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