Entrtng-n-SCA-art - 2/18/05
"Entertaining in the SCA: a short essay" by Baron Hrolf Herjolfssen.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.
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Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
Entertaining in the SCA: a short essay
by Baron Hrolf Herjolfssen
Feasts are not just about eating, drinking and dancing. Without one other ingredient present at every early event, right up to modern times, they are just noisy parties. You need to have appropriate entertainment for an event to feel right. For many personae to be complete, they need to have cultivated some aspect of the entertaining skills. This specifically includes anyone with a Viking, Saxon or Celtic persona or anyone from a nomad culture. Anyone can entertain, all can do it with training, and some people can do it naturally. The latter are rare and are probably doing something now.
What about the rest of us? Many people say they entertain as they get stage fright. I am one who feels the dread butterflies in the stomach. Stebbins (1992) has shown that over 60% of all entertainers (and he uses the term broadly to include sportsmen and all public speakers), both amateur and professional, get stage fright. It is just a matter of learning to overcome or even work with this. There are many tactics that can be used here. Many just ignore the audience and address the air in front of them. If this works, good, but I have not found this effective. All public speakers have been told to imagine their audience in their underwear. This is supposed to render them less formidable. Given some of our audiences however, this may introduce other distractions. I have found that most people can talk to one person at a time. This is the tactic that I use. I try and make some form of eye contact with one member of the audience. Switch to another, then another. This has the double advantage of making your audience more personally involved with what you are doing and allows you to better gauge how you entertainment is being received.
The next thing to do is to avoid boring your group. Keep things short. While early audiences would sit through a three-hour saga, modern audiences are more in tune with the three-minute video clip. Limit almost anything you do to five to ten minutes, only using the longer time if you are experienced and the audience is receptive. If this means you have to serialise a story, do it. Break it up into chapters and tell one per feast. If you do this right each feast will have more attention paid as they hooked into the story and wait for the next instalment.
Lastly you need to avoid mundanity and breaking of the spell you are weaving. This means avoiding non-period references or ‘cute’ circumlocutions (eg dragons instead of planes – use the words flying machine instead). Where you are reading out of something, have it concealable or else disguise it as a scroll or a folio, rather than a printed page or a book. If you fumble, do not stop, stammer and apologise, just start the line again or continue. Our audiences tend to be polite and understanding of people who are just starting out. On this point, it is also best if new performers start out practicing at a revel or small bardic circle of friends rather than before the Crown.
Once we have decided that we are going to try something, the question is what. I am using four broad categories of entertainment. These are (in order of difficulty) songs, poems, stories and other items.
Songs fall into four categories: period, non-period (but acceptable), filk and tropes. Period songs are those written and performed with period. They include classics such a ‘Greensleeves’ or ‘Summer is icumen in’ (both in WWCK 3) and madrigals. Singing, as a solo activity is relatively hard. It either requires skill or great enthusiasm. I know several persons who have really bad voices but who sing with such gusto and enthusiasm that they carry the audience with them and get them joining in. If you are uncertain about your voice, get together with a group and practice. Four or more people together tend to sound better than the individuals who make up the group. Obviously period songs can be suitable for any event (see CA 11, 44 & 45). I state can be because some such as ‘Sir Walter Pleasuring His Mistress’ (CA45) may not be advisable if there are children present.
Non-period, but acceptable, songs include ‘Three Jolly Coachmen’, ‘Three Ravens’ (WWCK 3), ‘The Foxy Song’, the English version of ‘Men of Harlech’ and a number of pieces by Kipling such as ‘Song of the Men’s Side’ (WWCK 4). These are songs written or written down after Shakespeare which sound right within a feast or general event. They have become generally accepted for use in most SCA occasions. Here would also include any original songs written today which sound period and use period-styled music and words. ‘I am only a simple serving girl’ (WWCK 5) may fit here.
Filk is a piece of song (often humorous) that is written to modern or period music that does not sound medieval. Examples include ‘A Grazing Mace’ (WWCK 1), ‘Bohemian Rhinohide’ (WWCK 5) and ‘We Wear Chainmail Knickers’ (WWCK 1). In most cases these are totally unsuitable for feasts – especially high feasts, but are great for bardic circles, post-event revels and singing in the car on the way to or from events to get you in the mood or maintain it. Filk generally details much of the oral history of the SCA. It tells the stories of our culture.
Troping lies between the period song and filk. It consists of taking a period tune and putting medievally styled lyrics to it. Examples include ‘The PĺŅ-sĺccan Song’ (WWCK 2&4) or ‘An Easter Carol’ (WWCK 1). Usually I regard these as suitable for performance at any event. If done correctly, they sound right.
Poems can be easily recited at feasts. They can be as short as a cinquain (5 lines) (‘Shoes’ in WWCK 4) or as long as ‘James the Lefty Sinister’ (WWCK 2). Beginners may want to start on reciting such things as the Shakespearean sonnets or similar. Once you are familiar with this, and know how to recite and how to breathe start writing your own. Might I point out that a poem dedicated to a Lady is always appreciated and Royals tend to like them as well (probably with different results). Resources such as rhyming dictionaries are invaluable here. I use Wood. It also contains details on verse forms, meter and foot. You might also like to look at CA67.
There are two types of stories, period and non-period. Period ones can be read out. This tends to bore the audience unless we are very good at imbuing them with life. It is easier to read and thoroughly understand the tale and then paraphrase it in you own words. You can write notes to yourself to remind yourself of plot highlights and your delivery will be more natural and less stilted. Good sources for these include the Norse Sagas, Boccacio (1972), ‘Tales of the Monks’ (Komroff 1928), ‘1001 Nights’ (Burton’s original translation may still be the best) or the more period tales from the Fairy books of Andrew Lang (Pink, Blue, Brown et al).
Non-period stories are those made up by yourself or others that fit within the genre. Stories can be made up by anyone. Read up on a period and just tell the tales they told. Books like Baring-Gould (1894) will help you understand the tales that are told in period once you have read these, make up your own variations. If you need help in understanding the narrative structure you are working with, authors like Lüthi (1976), Naddaff (1991) and Tolkien () are very useful (as well as being entertaining themselves). Once you have an idea on this, start doing things like asking the audience for 5 (or 7) items and make up a tale about these. This is a lazy person’s way of story telling. You just have to plug the items into a framework and you have a tale. It takes me, usually, about 10 minutes to write one of these stories.
The last category of entertainment requires the most skill and / or preparation. It is everything else. It includes (but is certainly not limited to): plays, juggling, music, tumbling, belly dancing and puppetry. Music is the most commonly seen of these and, if you can play an instrument, there are many books around to give you the melody. For a start, you can ask your local dance instructor. If you really want to be appreciated in the SCA, learn some dance tunes so that those who do not trip over their own feet can dance to live music.
There are many people around to teach the arts of juggling, tumbling and belly dancing both within and outside the SCA. Period puppetry is harder to find, but we can help put you in touch with some people here.
Plays are great for people who feel they have little talent. A group of you get together; select a script and practice for a long time. They require a lot of preparation for a one-off event, but are well worth it if you do them right. Generally they require so many resources from within the group that you can only put them on when you are expecting a significant attendance from outside. Plays fall roughly into the categories of period normal plays (includes Shakespeare), miracle plays and made up plays. The normal period plays are usually too long to be done at an SCA event, but you can often do a scene and act it out. This may be best done as a modified narration with a group of actors who are hamming up the activity (Master Taffy was responsible for a hilarious rendition of a scene from one of Shakespeare’s comedies one year). Miracle plays (CA9) are done by some groups in the USA. These have always been very well received, but are best done before a large audience (think Rowany Festival). Made up plays include both the burlesque "Mistress Seamchecker Explains It All At You" and the more period-styled pieces of Anton de Estoc. These are always well received and definitely repay the effort you will put into them, but require, as does all theatre, a dedicated group to carry them out.
I hope that I have given you some indications of how you can improve your SCA experience by entertaining. If you are still nervous about the idea, any practicing bard will be delighted to help you further, or to point you towards someone who can (the idea of me teaching a juggler should reduce anyone to fits of laughter).
Baring-Gould, Sabine (1894) Curious Myths of the Middle Ages Longmans, Green & Co, London.
Boccaccio, Giovanni (1972) The Decameron (translated G. H. McWilliam) Penguin Books, Middlesex, ISBN 0 14 044269 3
Compleat Anachronist 9 Thus We Make ayn Mysterie available from the Stock Clerk
Compleat Anachronist 11 Traditional Ballads available from the Stock Clerk
Compleat Anachronist 44 The Troubadours available from the Stock Clerk
Compleat Anachronist 45 Medieval and Renaissance Choral Music available from the Stock Clerk
Compleat Anachronist 67 Ars Poetica Societatus available from the Stock Clerk
Komroff, Manuel (editor) (1928) Tales of the Monks: from the Gesta Romanum Tudor Publishing Company, New York
Lüthi, Max (1976) Once Upon a Time: On the nature of fairy tales (translated by Lee Chadeayne & Paul Gottwald) Indiana University Press, Bloomington, ISBN 0 253 20203 5
Naddaff, Sandra (1991) Arabesque: Narrative Structure and the Aesthetics of Repetition in the 1001 Nights Northwestern University Press, Evanston, Illinois, ISBN 0 8101 0990 5
Stebbins, Robert A. (1992) Amateurs, Professionals, and Serious Leisure McGill-Queen's University Press, Montreal.
Tolkien, J. R. R. () Tree and Leaf:
‘We Wear Chain Mail Knickers – an Ynys Fawr Songbook’ (WWCK) (vol 1-6)
Wood, Clement (1936) The Complete Rhyming Dictionary and Poet’s Craft Book Garden City Publishing, New York
Copyright 2002 by Cary J Lenehan, 16 Maweena Pl, Kingston, Tasmania, 7050, Australia. <lenehan at our.net.au>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited and receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.