Wednesday, 18 September 2013

On Entertainment at Feasts

In the modern world, when an event is held, the organisers may well be expected to provide the various entertainments that will keep the attendees from growing restive. This receptive form of entertainment is a rather new development, caused by the radio and television infiltrating our homes.

Until the 20th century, the evening's entertainment could logically by expected to spring from those around you, and from you to them, and this is the model most often followed by SCA events. There are of course exceptions, such as theatrical performances planned and presented, or dance events (though even this is debatable, for the performers in these situations will be your fellow SCAdians).

"But," I hear you cry (in my imagination and for sake of illustrating the point), "I can't sing or dance or tell stories! How am I supposed to entertain?" This hypothetical objection is understandable, but not insurmountable. For one, if you insist that you can't do something, and never do it, then you shall never learn how. Also, there are a diverse range of ways to make your evening, and that of those around you, more interesting.

The obvious entertainments which may be engaged are the performing arts. Singing, playing instruments, telling poems or stories (and with so much of period art, the line between these is blurred). All of these take some practice, and some preparation, but the level of skill required to improve the feel of an event is not as high as you might thing. If you have some minor proficiency in an instrument (such as being able to play it without unpleasant screeching), then take a small book of simple period tunes, find somewhere slightly out of the way, and practice. You don't need to draw a crowd, but some background notes can improve the feeling of the hall, and your own confidence will build as you play in company more often.

One thing to remember is to match your entertainments to the feel of the event in general. A beautiful Elizabethan madrigal will feel somewhat out of place at a rowdy Viking revel, as much as a bawdy Elizabethan popular song (and believe me, they exist) will be out of place at a stately high-court event.

As for the bard's art of reading poems and weaving tales, it is perhaps better to consider that you don't need to perform for the whole hall, just those few around you. A short quip in conversation, or fond recollections of the past, can soon give way to longer stories and the like, and those who wish to listen will come to you, rather than feeling like you've imposed yourself on the whole room.

You may find that it is useful to carry a small selection of stories, written in a handy form to remind you if your memory slips (unless you should choose to dedicate the years of work that a period bard would spend learning their various sagas and tales). And these need not be all written in period, many modern tales can be adapted by removing or modifying a few simple details.

Beyond the performing arts, there are a number of ways to entertain those around you. The simplest of these, and often the most engrossing, is through games. There are a great many boardgames, from the simple such as Gl├╝ckhaus (roll two dice, do something with the numbered square they say), to the strategic such as Nine Men's Morris, to the complex such as Chess. There are diverse dice games, most all of them designed to be gambled over, and card games (both using an early form of the modern deck, or the original form of the Tarot deck (yes, it was for gambling with)).

If you mean to gamble, it is a good idea to bring a supply of tokens, such as small glass pebbles, so that people aren't gambling for real money (this has legal implications, and can cause rather unfortunate fallings out).

Games are often simple to make, or easy to buy, and a travel set of one or two games, stowed in your basket or bag, is a fine way to stave off silence, as during the lulls in the conversation, the game itself may be discussed.

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