osewalrus (osewalrus) wrote,

Battle on the Bay Report Part II: Experiment Results

In my previous entry I described my two experiments at the Storvik SCA Event Battle of the Bay. One was an effort to do a long form storytelling contest. The other was an effort to prepare a Bible story as a Viking story to tell at the contest.

The short version is that my boast Friday night at the boasting contest worked better for me than the story. There were a lot of issues for me in telling the story, many deriving from the fact that (as usual) I did not have enough time to work on it and what got premiered was really a very rough prof of concept rather than a final conceptualized story. OTOH, for reasons I will elaborate on below, while I am glad to have tried the experiment, I'm not sure it is worth the effort to improve it and try again.

As for the contest itself. I think that went better. But I did not do nearly enough to publicize it so that it got an audience to see that long-form storytelling is fun and good stuff. I can definitely think of ways to improve on that is I run the experiment again.

Friday night we had the boasting by the fire. Igor and Fevronia, who live nearby and therefore commuted to the site, showed so Igor could make his boast. We also had Teleri camping on site for her boasting.

We got a fire going around 9 p.m.  The problem, of course, is that this was all ad hoc with no announcement of any details at Troll when people checked in. We had some modest success rallying people around us, but many folks were busy setting up, eating dinner, and socializing. So it was a modest circle and did not serve one of the hoped for purposes of advertising the challenge (it also did not attract any fighters or others to boast separately about their deeds, which is a pitty).

But it was fun for those of us who were there. I will record my boast because I liked it:

"Here me you skalds, you bards, you loremaster and word weavers! I am Mar Yaakov HaMizrachi! Twice I have been Poeta Atlantia, chosen above all other word weavers to serve our Queen. My teacher is Mistress Dorigen of the Grey Gate, the mightest poet of the East Kingdom! My sisters are Mistress Esperanza HaLevi, Mistress Fiana of Clare, and Mistress Anna de Guzman! Of my House are Master Toki Redbeard and Master Grim! We have been skalds to Kings and Queens times without count! Our wordfame runs from Eldomere to Trimaris, to Drachenwald and Locharc!

(Hold up right arm covered with pretties) "My right arm is heavy with silver, gifted me by princes and patrons in payment for my stories. These pearls on my neck (which is both Order of the Pearl medallion and some fake pearls given as a bardic favor) are the prizes of my poems and wordweaving. The clothes I wear, this pouch on belt, the plate on which I eat my bread and the knife with which I cut my meat are all prizes and gifts given for my making.

"Therefore do I, Mar Yaakov HaMizrachi, former Poeta, make this challenge, that I shall best any teller of tales tomorrow. I offer this prize (a necklace modeled on an Anglo-Saxon horde find) and this fine cup for your mead (hold up ceramic cup) to any who will accept my challenge. The Lady Scholastica, the Royal Bard, shall host my challenge at her day shade -- and shall judge between us. Come all you people and be amazed at our wordweaving. Come all you skalds to my challenge if you be not afraid!"

Whereupon Master Igor got up and made his challenge. I cant quote it exactly, but he displayed the wealth of his House that he would wager. He had a nice pile of armbands, amber, and some costume jewlery. Teleri made her challenge and offered up her strand of amber beads. We exchanged some fun insults and wordplay. Then we drank and got down to bardic.

The Contest

Teleri recruited another contest -- a woman named Linea who had told an excellent Irish tale at the previous night's bardic. Teleri herself had to drop out. She woke the next morning all horse and looking like she was have an allergic reaction to some local plant pollen. So the entrants were Me, Igor, Rhudri and Leana -- performing in that order. Each teller was alotted 20 minutes. I used all 20. Everyone else used about 15. I told my experimental tale, running from the beginning with Abraham until Jacob tircks Isaac into giving him the neck ring. So it ended up being how the blood feud started rather than about how the blood feud was resolved. Igor told a tale 'I beign with the most dangerous words one can say to the Vikings: 'Loki was bored.'" He told a transformed tale as well, one usually told of the devil but set now in a Viking village. Rhudri told announced that as a Scott he would tell a tale a Viking tale but a Scotts tale of defeating Viking raiders. As Rhudri later explained, he was actually assembling the story spontaneously (not that one could tell from watching, his delivery was flawless). Leana told essentially two stories, first was an invented one of the cosmology of the Irish and how the world came to be (apparently we do not have any Irish cosmology myths), which segued into the tale of Makka and her curse on the men of Ulster. Although neither of her stories were related to the Viking theme, we all agreed she had told the best tale and she won.

Lessons from the contest experiment

If I want this to attract more people, both as audience and as tellers, I need to do a lot more to promote the contest beforehand and at the event itself. I have some ideas on that which I won't bother to list here but will keep in mind for next time. This was sort of a last-minute inspiration becasue I only decided to go the event two weeks in advance.

All in all, however, the contest worked as a very entertaining time for me, and for those who did participate, both as audience and as tellers. So in this most fundamental sense it was a success.

Results from the story experiment.

I knew going in it was going to be very rough and it showed. There were too many places where I was obviously pausing and trying to edit and figuring out where to go next. As often happens when I develop the story, I do a lot of thinking about and developing the background. This then needs to get trimmed down through preparation and practice. That clearly didn't happen here.

However, one of the very good things about this was that I had four excellent storytellers there to give me feedback. Which, after some coaxing, they did. (As I kept explaining, I know this was an experiment and I need honest feedback, so please don't hold back on what didn't work.)  In addition to the problems already mentioned, there was a name pronounciation issue. I always use the Hebrew names when telling Bible stories: Avraham, Yitzchak, etc. It was recently brought to my attention that many people raised on the English translation of the Bible actually have trouble recognizing the names of the characters. So I tried to use the trad English prononciations. I kept flipping back and forth between various name pronounciations.

Finally, in 'amusing performance tips,' I chose to wear my big fancy floppy scholar hat. This proved distracting, particularly since the story was not solid enough to really hold people's attention.

My biggest problem and reason I don't think I will try this again. My actual biggest problem was that although I liked the challenge and enjoyed the process, is that I felt rather uncomfortable telling it. Usually I go the opposite directions, telling stories of other cultures and making them compatible with period Jewish culture. That feels much more natural and much more 'in persona' if you will. It also coincides with my natural sympathies. Certainly I tell stories of other cultures straight, as well. But they are recognizably stories of other cultures.

Taking a Torah story and converting it into a pagan story felt, well, unnatural. It rubbed me as the teller the wrong way to do it. Not that I would object to someone else doing it. To the country, I enjoy the intellectual exercise and appreciate the artistry for what it is -- art. Nor was it that I felt that this was somehow sinful or wrong religiously. Everyone there recognizes it for an intellectual exercise and appreciated it as such. No, it just felt uncomfortably out of character.

So I'm not sure I will continue the experiment. I might give it a go. But the payoff doesn't seem worth it for me. I'm not familiar enough with Viking stories or have a Viking persona to feel authentic on the Viking end, and it is totally out of character for the Jewish persona I do have. So I think I will simply stop the experiment here.

OTOH, if anyone else wants to run with it, please do! Looking at you fianaclare


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