[Bards] Situations That Ruin Bardic Circles

Ken Theriot kentheriot at ravenboymusic.com
Sun Apr 29 14:57:55 PDT 2007

This is sort of a follow-on to what Dutchess Willow has posted in regard to
bardic circles.  This is, of course, my opinion.  So with that intro....

Bardic circles represent the primary type of venue for us to perform at
events.  There are obviously other circumstances where people perform, but I
want to focus on the bardic circle.  What makes a good one?  What makes a
bad one?   

Good Circles:  Smallish circle (no more than 15-20 people...around 10 is
best), not a competition, well-ordered (turn passes from person to person in
a specific order), and time-limited (performances should not be more than,
say, 10 minutes).  Why does this describe a "good" circle?  The more people
there are, the less airtime we get.  My underlying premise is that as bards,
we like to perform....in front of an audience.  This may not be universal.
But if there is a bard out there who does not enjoy performing, I'd say they
are in the severe minority.  

Bad Circles:  Mainly the opposite of the above.  Let's start with size.
With 20 people in a circle (assuming they only take an average of 5 minutes
for their piece, AND the turn is passing in order), you will get to perform
1 piece every hour and a half.  Now if we start adding people, and factoring
in the longer times, it just goes up from there.  For example, let's take 30
bards doing an average performance of 6 minutes.  Now you're only getting to
perform every 2 hours.  If we add in lack of regulation it gets even worse.
When poorly regulated, people will just jump in and start
performing...sometimes performing more than one piece on their turn.  This
happened several times at a recent circle that many on this list attended.
It is not fair to other bards at best, and downright rude when there IS
supposed to be an order, but people simply jump the line.  In these
situations, the loudest, most forceful bard dominates (regardless of
talent), and the more unassuming bards perform little or not at all.  The
solution to most of the above problems is to have a circle leader who
maintains control.  

Summary of Common Problems with Bardic Circles and How to Solve Them: 

1.  Problem: People who perform without waiting their turn.  Reason: not
fair to those who HAVE waited their turn.  This refers to folks wandering
into the circle and those already in the circle.  Solution: Circle leader
does not give permission for interlopers/turn-jumpers to perform.

2.  Problem: Stories that are 20+ minutes long!!!!  Reason: Hogging airtime.
Solution: If you have a 20 minute story, serialize it into 10-minute
increments and do one increment per turn.  Circle leader must state a
10-minute (or some other agreed-upon time) rule up front, and periodically

3.  Problem:  Songs filked to obviously modern tunes (A filk to "Will The
Circle Be Unbroken" is one I have heard twice in the past 6 months).
Reason: Some people like to put the modern world behind them at SCA events
(go figure!).  Doing modern filks ruins that for those people.  Solution:
Circle leader must state this preference up front, and/or gauge whether the
atmosphere is right.  I have (I admit it) heard songs like this that I like.
Efenwealt's "Ophelia" sung to "Cecilia" is actually really funny.

4.  Problem:  Bardic Circles With More than 20 People.  Reason: Stated
above.  Solution: This is tough, and there is no easy solution.  It would
seem rude to turn people away if they want to join the circle.  Suggestions:
1. For every new person that joins after a certain point, reduce the
time-limit per piece.  2. Hold a private, invite-only circle.

5.  Problem:  Bardic Circle As a Competition.  Reason: Circles are for
everyone to enjoy themselves.  Competitions have a different goal, and tend
to create a more stressful atmosphere.  Solution: Hold competitions in other
venues...during the day (just my preference).

6.  Problem:  Bardic Circle Doesn't Happen.  Reason:  Obvious...no bardic!
How many times have you been at an event, where there are many bards, and no
circle is happening?  Sometimes there is even a mention (or footnote, more
like) of bardic in the newsletter, or at court.  But it was just an
afterthought with no planning.  Solution:  Schedule and publicize the circle
(must put one person in charge and state time and location).

So that's my story, and I'm sticking with it:).  It's just my opinion.
Others may disagree.



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