A&S Judging: Criteria / Standards

dennis grace amazing at mail.utexas.edu
Wed Oct 23 21:05:20 PDT 1996

greetings, good cousin, Aquilanne here.

Amra/Kihe/Mike wrote...

>As a storyteller, singer, and bard-in-general-practice, I fear that formal
>standards may begin to skew the material in general circulation in ways
that >would not ultimately improve the arts-as-performed.

Just a note to this particular concern:  standards exist. Period.  Each
person coming to the table in service as a judge for any artform comes
complete with her or his own set of standards.  Those standards may be based
upon and influenced by years of training in the area they are judging; on
the other hand, they may be only mildly familiar with the area they are
judging, but they will have a set of standards nonetheless, whether those
standards are based in scant, peripheral knowledge of the area judged or
some familiarity with something that once looked/sounded/felt/smelled like
the thing being judged.  The point of trying to establish formal standards
for judging is (ideally) to bring a level of consistency to

>The skew is particular marked for longer performed works, or individuals 
>whose performance style / ability is not really of a nature suited to the 
>performance site.  As an example of the latter, consider the lady with the 
>small timid voice that is still pitch-perfect and well-phrased -- but who 
>just does not have the physique to provide support from the diaphragm.

In a full-blown A&S competition, there is rarely time for individual
performances of more than, say, 10 to 15 minutes if there is a full slate of
competitors.  As for strength of diaphragm, most judging takes place with
the judges in fairly close proximity to the judges--not a major concern in
my experience--and not necessarily having anything to do with criteria in
any case.
You're making the assumption that someone would impose criteria requiring a
voice loud enough to be heard across a large and noisy room.  Every A&S
competition I've been to has had a separate area of performance.

> As an 
>example for the former, allow me to borrow the excellent presentations of 
>tales concerning "the Nine Worthies" as performed by HG Willow. Beautifully 
>told tales, with an eye to preserving the flavor of the language as well as 
>entertain and educate. And, by many standards, really too long for a 
>competition based upon fixed criteria.

If one were to desire to perform a "Nine Worthies" piece, and the complete
works ran overtime, then they would be obliged to perform an appropriately
timed/edited/revised version or section thereof.

> Willow has received many accolades 
>for her performances over the years. Knowing this, a newcomer might expect 
>to gain some recognition by emulating the reknowned shanachie - and, 
>encountering a standard which has changed to reduce the possible score 
>attainable by longer works, receive less recognition than would otherwise be 
>right & proper.

I'm going to make a great big assumption here that the accolades the good
Willow has received have little to do with A&S scores.  Accolades and A&S
scores are two different things, and there's nothing to prevent an admiring
protege from excelling at their adopted art either informally or at A&S
competitions.  The two have nothing to do with each other.  

>     As a _performer_, I must observe that we do not have any truly reliable 
>basis upon which to base a standard. 

But there are.  There are many bases upon which to set standards, some of
them quite simple.  Go to any university where performance arts are taught,
and you can normally get some rudimentary guidelines as to what constitutes
an adequate performance.  Ideally, an SCA performer would have adequate
documentation to support whatever deviations from the norm their performance
might take.

>I will comment also that any really *good* set of judging standards will 
>have to be well-distributed, open to regular revision / amendment, and 
>include definite expectations for the feedback to be presented to the 

I can only agree with you here.  The greatest danger a set of formal
criteria really presents is that of being "carved in stone" and therefore
above refining.

>Robin of Gilwell has a favorite tale concerning A&S judging criteria as they 
>have been used in other kingdoms.  It involves the challenge of a sovereign, 
>the ingenuity of one of his challenged subjects, and a brick.  If you who 
>read my words have not heard the whole of the tale, ask Robin for the 
>details some time.
>And I would urge anyone or any group who considers the establishment of 
>judging standards to remember the lesson of that brick.

Please don't do this.  It's annoying.  If you want to reference a "lesson of
the brick" moral, then you are obliged to tell the story, or at the very
least summarize.  As it stands, the last two paragraphs are meaningless to
much of your audience.

I think having some guidelines for judging A&S competitions is not only a
good idea, but necessary if you want to maintain some semblance of
consistency.  Without some rudimentary standards, judge A's scores at the
spring A&S to-do can easily be contrary to judge B's scores at the fall A&S
what-not.  People end up getting mixed messages, and can become frustrated,
sometimes to the point of just not participating in the A&S scene anymore.
I've seen it happen.

If it would be of any help for putting ideas together, I could get a copy of
Atenveldt's A&S criteria booklet.  Atenveldt has had its share of problems
with the A&S judging stuff, but some of the later modifications to the
system worked pretty well.  If nothing else, it would give you an idea of
what some other folk are doing, and what you do and do not like about it.
Let me know if I can help.


Mst. Aquilanne        
Dennis G. Grace
Postmodern Medievalist
Division of Rhetoric and Composition
Department of English
University of Texas at Austin
amazing at mail.utexas.edu

Baro, metetz en guatge                    |  Lords, pawn your castles,
Chastels e vilas e ciutatz                |  your towns and cities.
Enanz qu'usquecs no'us guerreiatz         |  Before you're beat to the draw,
                                                    draw your swords.

                   -- Bertran de Born (a really fun Viscount)

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