Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Great Western War

Greetings, blog!

Last week I won my very first bardic prize competition!

It all started back during my first SCA War, during a week-long camping trip in Potrero.  I had been invited to stay with True's Crew for my birthday. 

For those not in the know, SCA (the Society for Creative Anachronism) is basically a Renn Faire on steroids.  Instead of it being a fair with apid performers that people can attend, everyone involved is "in character" to varying degrees, and everyone is wearing period costumes (or "garb") and contributing to the communal middle-age roleplay.

SCA was something that naturally appealed to me as a person who enjoys both performing and costuming, but I had been wary to join, because the whole thing seems to have a very steep learning curve.  It would be less daunting if I knew someone.  So when True Thomas the Storyteller invited me to stay in his camp for Potrero War, I jumped on the chance.  

True, a traditional storyteller with decades of bardic experience, taught a class on "fire crawling," the art of wandering between camps and entertaining, and escorted a small group around to practice their pieces and get feedback.  

It was enormously fun, and so I set my sights on doing it all over again at Great Western War this month.

I was staying with friends I'd made at Potrero, but I was not prepared for the sheer size of Great Western War.  My central plan was just to shadow the talented bards in our camp, but that was before I saw the flier for a bardic prize competition on Thursday night.

Whiskey tasting at the 'Three Drunken Celts" camp!

Above - Carpe Luxurium - host of the bardic prize competition.

I had many reasons to want to enter the competition.  The first and primary one was to practice a ghost story I had been working on back at Potrero.  The other was that the hosting camp, Carpe Luxurium, had a lot of Dionysus symbology that appealed to me immensely.  I'm not typically one to read too much into "signs," but if anything could be a sign, this was it.
So I showed up early for the sign-ups, and here's how it went:

First, there were five "flights" of four competitors each.  At the end of each round, the audience would vote for their favorite, and that person would go to the finals.  I was the first person in the third flight, and I felt immensely intimidated after seeing the kind of acts that had gone on before me.  There were people singing opera, people singing in middle English and Celtic, people with harps and guitar, original songs and well-researched, practiced compositions.  And I had a ghost story.

(If you're expecting me to write it down here, prepare to be disappointed!  It's a story meant to be told in front of a fire, not written down on a blog.  But if you know me and ever want to hear it, I'm happy to tell it.)

Surprisingly, I won my round, albeit in a VERY close almost-tie with an incredibly talented singer/harp player.
In a greater compliment than the win itself, one of the camp residents who was working by the "door" told me that a group of passerbys had paused to listen.  They were invited to join the audience and stay for the length of the cabaret, but declined.   However, they hovered on the edge of the camp, not leaving until my story was finished; they wanted to know how it ended.  The ability to arrest a crowd and get people immersed into a story is the most sincere indication of a storyteller's ability, and even if I had not won, knowing that three random people had paused and just stood there to listen because they'd gotten sucked in was compliment enough.

But I did win, and the problem the win now created was that I had to do a second piece for the finals.  I had nothing prepared and had also been drinking because I hadn't expected to win.  (There was only one other story teller and, as I was told later by the producer of the competition, story tellers almost never win.)  (The producer of the competition?  Hannah the Storyteller, a bard who got her moniker from none other than my own bardic role model, True Thomas himself!)

Smack in the middle of the finals round, I staggered up and proceeded to tell the story of Dionysus, Ampelos, and the Cadmean Vixen.  With all of the Dionysus-themed symbology around the camp (and my recent completion of my sommelier course!) it felt only fitting.

If I can say I have any regret from the weekend, it is that I did not get a recording of this finals performance.  I was on fire.  I have never, ever performed like that before; the entire audience, about 70 or 80 people, was completely enchanted.  They laughed, they "oohed," they hung on every word!  I had felt that my ghost story had not been told as well as it could have been, but my performance in the finals?  It was perfection.  It was the best I'd ever done. 

Above is Matthias, a dulcimer player with 16 years of experience, who got second place.  I would have been happy to lose to him, or really any of the other contestants, who were all immensely talented.

But after a close vote, I won the competition, which was the first one I'd ever entered.  (For a prize, I was allowed a choice; I selected a lambskin mantle.)  More importantly than the win, I made some amazing friends (including Hannah, who is a Bay Area resident!) and found a place for myself in the SCA.  I'm still very new and learning all the etiquette, but at Carpe Luxurium, I felt welcomed and inspired with the confidence to continue to work on my bardic craft.

Great Western War was everything I had hoped it would be, and more, and I'm looking forward to growing more as a storyteller and making more memories in the years to come.

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