Persona-Play-art - 1/3/07
"Persona Play: A Suggestion for the Dream" by THL Caitlin Christiana Wintour.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.
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
stefan at florilegium.org
Persona Play: A Suggestion for the Dream
by THL Caitlin Christiana Wintour
How can we share a Dream if we are merely modern people dressing up, no matter how skilled and scholarly we may be? But why must it be so difficult to stay in persona in the SCA? Surely playing a consistent persona is one of our best ways to promote the Dream. Still, the SCA is not known as a persona-friendly playground.
I am going to suggest why this is, as well as some ways to bring persona back into our everyday Society events and pursuits. At first I referred to this as “persona work,” then I realized that it is rather “persona play”. Persona play is the act of staying true to your persona’s way of looking at the world and expressing that view in your speech and manner.
What Is Missing?
Persona play is largely missing throughout the Society. The majority of SCA members are 21st century people who are interested in recreating some aspect of the past, whether fighting, arts and sciences, service, or whatever their interest might be. There is nothing wrong with this: from this group can come our best scholars and artisans. But these people are first and foremost modern people with a shared interest. Beyond possibly creating a back story for themselves, they do not act any differently in the SCA then they do in any other part of their lives.
Then there are people who are attracted to persona play as a means of recreating the Dream. Duke Cariadoc refers to this as a “joint fantasy”, where SCA members come together and pretend to be their personas: people who lived in a far distant time. This is not to say that persona players look any better than anyone else. Indeed, their interest may not lie in accurate garb or period fighting techniques. Instead these people try to stay in persona as they understand it and avoid mundane topics of conversation. I maintain that it is these people who are more likely to dream the Dream that the Society is at its best, and who have the capacity to pull in others with them.
In reality, these two groups are not perfectly distinct. The modern member usually does his or her best to stay in persona when called up in Court. (Or if they are Royals, when they are holding Court.) And the persona player cannot always stay in persona even at events – if nothing else, walking into the Gump at a war precludes that. But there is still a distinction.
The persona play approach is challenging in the face of widespread uncertainty and indifference. People do not mean to be unkind but they often do not know how to do it, and do not know how to respond to it. For example, I will often hold out my hand to a man in greeting. Many times the man knows what to do – take it and kiss it – but just as often a man will shake it!
Another challenge is no one’s fault -- the SCA does not have a clear-cut time and place as a common area for persona players, but spans centuries and continents in scope. This does make personal interaction more complex than say, at Renaissance Faires where everyone is in the same time period. Still, we lose the Dream entirely every time we merely dress up, go to an event, and talk about computer games.
“I find it unfortunate that this view of the Society seems to have become rarer and rarer over the years, to the point that many members have not so much rejected as never considered it-and to the point where there are almost no events at which there is any serious attempt to maintain the illusion, save by a few scattered individuals.”
-- Duke Cariadoc of the Bow
According to His Grace, there are two primary reasons why this has happened: staying in persona requires continuing effort, and staying in persona is swimming against a very strong tide.
1. Staying in persona requires a continuing effort. The initial effort is very real, although it becomes much easier and far more natural after one has done it consistently for a time. But at the beginning the prospect can be daunting. It is especially difficult if the people around you do not know how to respond in kind, or are even actively trying to keep you from staying in persona.
2. Staying in persona is swimming against the tide. It is perfectly acceptable in most times and places in the SCA to talk about anything and everything mundane. To attempt anything else can be aberrant. This means that people carrying on mundane conversations at an event can talk in perfect union with the vast majority of other SCA members. But the small group of people doing persona play can only talk to each other, or risk being brought sharply back to the mundane world. (Not to mention getting strange looks.)
“Can and should anything be done to alter the direction in which the Society has drifted? Whether you believe it should be changed depends on whether you agree with me about what the Society should be. If you do, there remains the question of whether and how a change might be made. My own opinion is that the only way is for a substantial number of people to discover that staying in persona, making events real, is simply more fun than the alternative. It is difficult for a single individual to either stay in persona or show others what a real event could be. Perhaps a group of friends, a household or something similar, could make a deliberate effort to come to events in persona, support each other in their roles, and gradually ease the people around them into doing the same. Perhaps a small group, a new shire, could decide to make its own events as real as possible, and gradually spread the idea through the kingdom. Perhaps at some mass event such as the Pennsic War a group of true believers could fence in a patch of enchanted ground for their encampment and let it be known that whoever came inside was undertaking to join them while he remained. Perhaps the idea would spread. Perhaps.”
-- Duke Cariadoc of the Bow in Dying Dream
How to Do Persona Play
Please note that I am not a fanatical persona player -- even though I love persona play, I do not try to maintain it throughout all hours of an event. There are simply times when it is not appropriate, and other times that no one knows how to respond and you are left talking to yourself. I am also not holding myself up as a shining example, since without other persona players to play off of I rarely do it myself. My SCA New Year’s resolution is to change that. (I also resolve to actually sleep the night before Pentathlon. This is probably a foolish resolution.)
If you are intrigued by the idea of persona play but are not sure where to start, here are some suggestions.
1. Enchanted Ground. The concept is from Duke Cariadoc’s brilliant notion of a persona area, Enchanted Ground at Pennsic. An Enchanted Ground encampment is a protected persona-play area. People are free to come and go at will so it serves both those who like their persona play in small doses as well as those who can keep it up all day. The more period the physical surroundings, the easier this will be.
Since other people will not be able to read your mind, you must physically separate your area while announcing that it is an Enchanted Ground for persona play. His Grace puts his Enchanted Ground encampment in an accessible area and holds a bardic circle most evenings. He cordons it off with a sign announcing what Enchanted Ground is, and people are free to enter as long as they stay in persona. If anyone in the encampment needs to discuss something modern, they exit the area. This is not as difficult as it seems: Faire actors are used to staying in persona on the streets, and ducking backstage as needed!
The campsite should be reasonably period-looking, as it’s challenging enough to stay in persona without staring at your nylon pup tent. The same thing can be done at an day events with your sunshade or pavilion, although an Enchanted Ground at these events will likely be less formal.
2. Group Persona Play. This is best done with a household or a group of people who agree to do persona play together. This group generates its own persona play without noticing mundane conversations around it. This need not be – indeed, should not be – viewed as a rejection or exclusion, but rather a certain way of interacting that supports the Dream. If a household, they might choose to make their encampment/pavilion an Enchanted Ground, or may make their persona play more informal.
Individual group members can easily go in and out of persona with other people not in the group, and can talk about mundane topics with other individuals as needed. They can then quickly switch back to persona play with fellow group members. Such a group can choose to be strict or more relaxed about their persona play among themselves.
3. Persona Performance. Persona performance can be anything from a judged persona competition, to writing articles in persona, to performing bardic as your persona, and to participating in persona-based competitions such as Persona Pentathlons.
Judged persona competitions can be found at events and at Caid’s Pentathlon. They are not precisely what I mean as persona play because they concentrate on knowledge of your persona’s history and geography, but they’re fun and great ways to develop a back story that makes sense. (I am personally prejudiced against ridiculous back stories, sorry.)
Writing articles in persona. I have not tried this yet and will. This means sharing your knowledge in an article or newsletter as if your persona were writing it. Naturally you should write using your persona’s point-of-view – which can be an interesting exercise if it is different from your own!
Performing as your persona: Performing the bardic arts as your persona adds an extra dimension to your performance. The audience may or may not know you are doing it, but I believe that a persona dimension adds depth to a performance. This need not mean that you have to stick with your persona’s contemporary works, but that there is a reason that your persona would know them. For example, my 16th century Englishwoman spends some time in Venice. Following the Battle of Lepanto, a number of Turkish religious writings and poems entered Venetian literary society. And this, good gentles, is why my persona knows Rumi. Of course, one can always argue that your persona can have learned pieces from all over the Known World. There is nothing wrong with this: we play in the SCA and not in a recreated Renaissance England or Court of Burgundy.
Persona Pentathlon/Presentation: I do not know how possible a competition would be to do on a kingdom scale given our existing Pentathlons. (I love Pentathlon, don’t change a thing.) But a war, or a Shire or Barony might want to adopt the idea for an A&S Persona Pentathlon. For example, a late 15th century gentlewoman from England might draw entries exclusively from her persona’s given location and time period. She might enter a Burgundian gown, a hennin, a poem written in the style of her times, a dessert from 15th century English recipes, and a jewelry box painted with period designs from the same time period and location. Of course, for the next Persona Pentathlon the same person might decide to enter as a Norman or a Viking. As long as all of her entries were consistent to the chosen time and place, she is perfectly within the rules. Not only does this approach allow individuals to deepen their knowledge of a specific time period and location, but also allows judges and observers to do the same.
There are many more ways to do persona play in the SCA. I believe that persona play is one of the quickest and most rewarding ways to transport yourself and others into the Dream that we share. Such a gift given to yourself and to others is a great gift indeed.
Copyright 2007 by Christine Taylor, P.O. Box 3499, Wrightwood, CA 92397. Permission granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided author is credited and receives a hard copy, or the URL where the digital copy appears. You can reach Christine (THL Caitlin) at: christine at ctaylor-co.com.