By THLaird Colyne Stewart
June 2014 (AS 49)
While I know some may wonder why I would write upon such a subject, since I do not often perform myself, I feel it is a subject that should be explored. Though I do not perform often I do have experience singing and storytelling around camp fires and in feast halls, as well as having non-SCA performing experience.
As such, I though it might be useful, especially for novice bards or those who are thinking of taking up the bardic arts, to have a discussion about the following.
Where to Perform
The most common place to sing a song, tell a story or recite a poem is around a campfire. In fact, many events that feature camping will have a campfire set aside specifically for bardic pursuits. Whether it’s a dedicated bardic circle or not, most people will welcome a song or two.
Another great place to perform is in the feast hall. You can approach head table and ask to perform for the royalty in attendance, or to perform for the entire hall. If performing for the entire hall keep in mind that conversations may well continue as people have had an exciting day and want to discuss it with their friends. Do not take it personally if the entire hall does not go silent for your rendition.
A different approach to use in the feast hall is to go from table to table and ask if anyone would like to hear a song or a tale. If they say yes, you will have a smaller audience who will easily be able to hear you and will be able to give you their full attention. I have actually seen bards play for their dinner in this manner, being given some of the feasters’ dinner as payment for their performance.
A third option for the hall works best for music, and that is to provide ambiance for the room by playing off to one side. I have attended feasts where a harpist played throughout the meal, and it added so much to the experience.
Besides the bardic circles and the feast halls, where else might a bard ply their trade? During the day you could take on the role of a wandering minstrel and simply walk about the site while singing a song or playing your instrument. This is another excellent way of adding ambiance to an event without the other attendees needing to stop what they are doing.
Court can be another place to perform, but this should be cleared with Their Majesties, Their Highnesses or Their Excellencies before hand. Ealdormere is known as the land that sings, so some of our courts do feature music. If you want to ensure that music plays a part in the court you are attending, talk to the royalty and offer to lead the populace in song. This can be a great way to end a court.
Keep your eye out for bardic challenges and contests. Often someone (especially Royal Bards and Baronial Bards) will issue challenges to the people of the kingdom to write or perform a song or story or poem. This can be a great opportunity to meet other bards, hear new works, and perform your own. The Atheneaum Hectoris, a school in Ealdormere dedicated to teaching the populace how to write, is planning to hold several such contests throughout the year.
What to Perform
Assuming you have now found your venue, what item from your repertoire should you perform? The answer to that comes from reading your audience.
Are the people present calm and focused on you? Then this might be a good time for a story or a poem. Are they riotous and energetic? A popular song might be best. Is the mood upbeat? Then don’t sing a dirge. Is the mood downbeat? I’d suggest picking something a little brighter to try to bring the mood up, or stick with something serious in nature.
It is important to read your audience, as I have seen bardic circles killed by someone telling a long, dry story and destroying the momentum the circle had been experiencing. Remember, we as bards should not be trying to showcase ourselves and telling what we want to tell, we are providing a service and should be telling what the audience wants to hear.
Around a campfire your best bet is always singing, as it is interactive and the audience can join in on the chorus. The basis of great storytelling is keeping the audience invested, and including them in the experience is the best way to do so.
Though not often seen in Ealdormere, another option for performance is the play. There are many extant plays from period you could perform, or you could write your own.
How Long to Perform
This is an extremely important topic. Again I have seen rousing bardic circles dwindle and die as a bard decided to tell a fifteen minute long story. If your piece is too long, the audience will get bored, and a bored audience is never a good thing. A bored audience will get restless, loud and may even leave the area. Not good.
When around a general campfire, if you want to tell a story or recite a poem I would encourage you to keep the piece to under five minutes. If the venue is dedicated to storytelling or poetry, that’s a different story. This audience knows what they are in for and is expecting longer pieces and will be able to stay focused on you. Otherwise, you run the risk of engendering boredom. (Which is the exact opposite of what we want to accomplish as bards!)
If you are performing a play, again, try to keep it short. Your audience will not want to sit still for too long, as there are so many other things to do at events! Between five and ten minutes is a good run time. Again, if you can make the experience interactive in some way, you will better keep your audience’s attention. When the Septentrian Performing Arts Troupe performed its version of Twelfth Night, Baroness Gaerwen came up with interactive activities (ala Rocky Horror), such as booing certain characters, cheering others, and so forth. She did this on the fly, and it saved the performance (in my opinion).
If you are a novice bard or someone interested in taking up the bardic arts, Ealdormere does have a
that can assist you. Though the College’s webpage is only bare bones at the
moment, there is a group on Facebook, and several of our bards are high profile
players within the kingdom. Most are quite open to helping out new people. If
you are nervous about performing at a fire or feast, ask an experienced bard to
mentor you. They can stand beside you as you perform, and perhaps even
introduce you before you start. If you find yourself completely at a loss as
how to proceed, you can always find me at an event and I will assist you as
best I can. Bardic College
Below I have included some links which can help you on your way to bettering your performances, or help you make contacts within the bardic community.
Atheneaum Hectoris (Ealdormere’s school of writing), http://athenaeumhectoris.blogspot.ca/
SCA Bardic Arts (Facebook group), https://www.facebook.com/groups/bardicarts
SCA Bards (Yahoo group), http://groups.yahoo.com/group/SCA_BARDS/
SCA Bardic Arts Resource Page, https://sites.google.com/site/scabardic/
Things I state are rare in this article may not be so in your own area. Mileage will always vary.
THLaird Colyne Stewart is a student of the written word. He is the Curator of the Atheneaum Hectoris, the Precentor of the Scriptorium, the Royal Historian of Ealdormere, the Baronial Historian of Septentria, a chronicler and a member of the Bardic Colege of Ealdormere. He is a past Bard of Septentria and one of the founders of the now defunct Septentrian Performing Arts Troupe. In the modern world he holds a degree in English and Creative Writing and has studied writing, storytelling and folklore.