[Bards] Bardic and Performing Arts (Long)

Kathy Elliott bardkat at verizon.net
Sun Apr 16 09:56:31 PDT 2006

I've been listening to the various pros & cons of competition vs. bardic
circles, and I thought it was time to chime in my opinion.
Whether at Gulf Wars, Kingdom A&S, or a local group, the ground rules are
generally published beforehand.  Most competitions aren't designed to find
the best singer, best poet, or best storyteller - they are looking for the
best overall performer that day.  If you don't want your sonnet compared to
a song or story, then be prepared with multiple pieces.
We all know that there's a certain amount of strategy involved.  If Master
Robin is coming up after me, I'd better pull out my "big guns."  If the
performer before you flubs a bit, you might be able to save your best piece
for later rounds.  If I'm also competing against static A&S, I'd better have
my documentation in order with a "wow" factor, and I'd better do a
period/period style piece.  (The fact is, static A&S documentation pretty
much blows us out of the water most of the time.)
If I don't want to play this way, I don't have to enter.  The competitions
are by no means required.  I personally enjoy them because they help keep me
on my toes - researching new pieces, delving into foreign languages - I feel
that the competitions help me bring out the best in myself.
If you don't like the way your local group does their competition, approach
your baron/baroness about a new format.  Or, offer to help with next year's
competition.  Volunteer to be the event steward!  The sky's the limit.
I personally feel that a titled bard should be versatile enough to perform
in just about any situation the baron/king requests - whether you are asked
to inspire the army, perform for a feast hall, keep the populace happy while
court is delayed, entertain drunken nobility with bawdy pieces, or perform
for a period luncheon.  I also feel that a titled bard is not just an
honorary position - it is a job.  The titled bard of a group should teach,
and help organize bardic circles at that group's events for the next year.
If you can't be available for that group, you shouldn't enter their
The comment has been made that good bardic circles take money to host.  I
disagree.  Is largess nice?  Sure.  Are drinks nice?  Sure.  Are they
required?  Absolutely not.  How many of you would get up and leave a bardic
circle because you weren't given some trinket after you perform?  How many
of you have brought your own soda/beer/mead/etc to a circle?  How many of
you wouldn't come to a circle just because it wasn't hosted by the local
A bardic circle can be as simple as the folks in your campsite entertaining
each other around the fire, or you can plan a larger circle and include it
in the event activities.  (And small informal gatherings often turn into
large circles on their own!)
Titled bards - I offer you all a challenge.  Before your term is out, host a
circle for at least one of your group's events!
For a larger circle, you will need:
1.) Someone to bring / collect firewood, and be in charge of getting the
fire going, and putting it out.  Or, you can use tiki torches.  If your
circle is inside, don't worry about the fire.  Some people prefer hosting a
circle under a pavilion lit with lanterns.  That works, too.
2.) Bring all your chairs, and have your friends bring theirs.  Some people
will show up to a circle with their own chairs, but most won't.  If you have
a couple of rugs or pillows you can throw down, all the better.  Or, if
there are benches available, scoot them together.
3.) Yourself and a couple of your bardic friends to be the "seed" group.
Call on the former titled bards & the up-and-coming bards of the group.
Learn something loud that you can perform together.  Use a drum or
tambourine if you like.  Let everyone hear you.  If they can hear you, they
will come.  "Come and be Welcome" is a great starting piece.
4.) Don't set up in some remote corner of the event.  Let everyone see you.
The middle of the camping area, the list field, etc.  If you're in an indoor
feast hall, start your circle before everyone gets cleaned up and leaves.
Otherwise, they won't come back!
5.) Find a herald at the event to announce your circle.
6.) If you want alcohol, get in touch with your local brewer's guild.  Give
them as much notice as possible, you don't want green mead.  We've had some
success passing the hat after populace for the brewer's guild.  (Remember,
you can't use SCA funds for this, but our reeve said we could collect money
after populace was over.)  Or, tell people it's BYOB.
7.) Find a couple of friends who have Igloo water coolers, and set up a
table with water and lemonade.  (Drape a cloth over the coolers to hide the
mundanity.)  I usually provide some extra goblets - someone always forgets
theirs.  Check with your local water bearers - they may be willing to let
you use their equipment, as long as you're willing to clean it.
8.) Don't forget to check with the event steward & baron/baroness to make
sure they don't have anything special planned for the evening, and to invite
them to come.
9.) Clean up on Sunday morning or when the circle's over.  You don't want to
earn the wrath of the event steward!
10.) Have fun!
If you are hosting a circle, it's your job to set the tone, keep the circle
going, and fill dead space.  Also, to bring the circle back on track if it
starts going downhill before you want it to.  (You may or may not want
Gilligan's Island filks.)  You can do an open circle, where whoever wants to
just jumps up and performs.  This works well for a small-ish group of
not-so-shy bards, but I wouldn't do this with a larger group.  A lot of new
or more timid performers tend to get overlooked, and it can quickly turn
into a one-man-show.
We've had a lot of success with the "play, pass, or pick" method.  You will
need a candle, pinecone, tambourine - something to pass around.  This object
is passed around the circle to everyone in turn.  When it comes to you, you
can either "play" (stand up and perform a piece of your choosing), "pass"
(say no thank you, and pass it on to the next person), or "pick" (Gerald -
I'd like to hear Born on the List Field).  If you "pick," that was still
your turn.  Even if Gerald was the next person, he still gets his own chance
to play, pass or pick.  (If you use this method, be sure to explain it to
new folks as they arrive.)
If you decide to give largess, don't feel like you must give something to
every performer, every time they perform.  It's much more meaningful if you
only gift items to those performers who really move you.
One of the other reasons I believe we are seeing lees circles is that we as
a kingdom are not camping as much as we used to.  I'm just as guilty - it's
hard to camp with three kids - but we used to show up on site Friday night,
throw on a cloak, and sit by the fire entertaining each other - or have a
circle at the gate.  Saturday, we could stay up as late as we liked, because
we didn't have to worry about driving home.  Since I doubt we're going to
change the day-tripping trend, what about having a circle in the "dead" time
after fighting, before feast?"  Make it family-friendly, and invite the
kids.  Not as much fun as at night, but it might be an option at day-only
Okay, enough brainstorming for today.  I cannot attend Steppes or Stargate,
but I will be at Bordermarch and possibly Ravensfort.  And, if there's not a
circle going, I'll be looking for bards to help me start one!
Katrina of Coventry
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