[Bards] Re:Bardic and Performing Arts

Scott Barrett barrett1 at cox.net
Tue Apr 11 00:25:35 PDT 2006

Hi-ho, Your Excellency,

  Thank you for this informative post.
Let me make sure I understand the present situation concerning A&S at 
Gulf War.
There was no performance category for a war point this year, what may 
occur in the future won't allow our entertainers to strive for a war 
point, and the reasons given (?) don't strike you as completely 
I have to admit, I sense no dismissal or malice in this.
I rather suspect that, as has been the case for years, no one has any 
idea what to do with the performers of the SCA. Ansteorra is not alone 
in this struggle. It seems there is a sense of bewilderment when asked 
to compare an Elizabethan dress with an Elizabethan sonnet, yet the 
current mind frame in the SCA asks our A&S community to do just that. 
Frankly, I sympathize. I'd hate to have that sort of decision sitting 
in front of me.
The choice to lump performance in with all the other arts surprises me 
for that very reason. I'm a performer, and I can tell you right now 
that if my strongest, most historically accurate story was up against a 
quality lost-wax cast brooch, I'd put my money on the brooch every 
time. The specifics of the brooch are far easier to grasp and define on 
paper. "Wow, Finnacan, great stor.. Ooooo! Look at this brooch!"
The brooch will go to war via Kingdom A&S, for understandable reasons.

  I'm of two minds about this. First of all, I'm sick of competition in 
general. I understand that local groups want to support performance at 
their events, but it needn't be a contest every single time. It gets to 
the point that you enter a competition and see that the only audience 
aside from the judges are the other local bards and poets. Everybody 
nods at each other and bets are placed as to who will be the lucky one 
this time around. I can say with absolute conviction that the most 
extraordinary performances I have heard, and some of my better moments, 
have occurred around a campfire, pavilion or tavern with no competition 
at all. Oftentimes, a bardic circle doesn't really shine until the 
'official' competition is over and the performers deliver pieces with 
more spirit. And yes, those types of performances are period or period 
style more often these days. Most of us didn't become performers to 
"win" anyway, but to entertain the best we could.
  I'd almost rather there were request nights and open stages, arranged 
shows with a schedule hosted by the local brewers, Soup and Songs with 
Ferdiad the Feastocrat, something.
(I find particularly ironic that bards and minstrels are given little 
else but competitions at home yet now are not welcome to struggle for 
their kingdom at war).

  However, people like their titled bards. Bards like the wordfame (it 
is a requirement for the job) and the largesse that comes with it. So I 
suppose I'll never see this competitiveness die off, and it isn't all 
So I come to my second line of thought on this.
Could it be that as the SCA has grown over the decades, the category of 
A&S has become too undefined and murky to truly define the many crafts 
practiced in our game? I'm curious as to why performance wasn't kept 
separate from the more physical arts. If anything, I think it should 
have been categorized even further, into fields like poetry, prose, 
singing, musical instrument and other (magic, puppetry, dance). Who 
wants to compare a lute player with a reciter of Beowulf? As the SCA 
improves each year, more and more people are getting away from the "SCA 
Bard" and are concentrating more on what was appropriate for their 
chosen persona. Skalds are reciting sagas, minstrels are singing love 
songs, courtiers are reciting sonnets and seanachies like me are 
telling old irish stories. The performance judging form was a step in 
the right direction in my opinion, though I think many judges had no 
idea what score to give in the categories on that form other than 
"Documentation". Why? Simple. I can read and evaluate documentation. 
The other stuff? Ehhh, well, it had a beat and I can dance to it...
Thus the need for more performance judges. Unfortunately, most are 
usually competing!
  So while performers began to focus on more accuracy in their 
performance, judges unfamiliar with performance began to focus on 
documentation as the final arbiter. Documentation is an important skill 
in my mind, but it was being used to replace a real evaluation of 
performance. So it seems that we are taking steps backward, not 
forward. It is my opinion, and mine only, that comparing the so-called 
static arts to the performing arts is like comparing archery to 
waterbearing. Both require accuracy and devotion, but the similarities 
end there. Keeping them separate is fair to both poet and potter, and 
judging becomes less of a mystery, especially if the judge is also a 

If one of my responsibilities as a storyteller is to speak truth to 
power, I will say this. I want the landed nobles and the current royals 
(Their Majesties and Their Highnesses) to invite performers to 
entertain them in intimate settings, not in the middle of court. We 
tend to follow the banners lifted by our nobles, so I say we convince 
them to host circles and shows. I wanna see the King (better yet, the 
Queen) at Gulf War host an Ansteorran 'Revel of Roses' or 
'Minstrelfest', with formal invites to the other royals and performers 
of the various kingdoms for a grand night of entertainment. If we can't 
strive for the war point, we can at least honor and entertain those who 
can with one heck of a show every year.

Well... there went an hour of my life.

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