Persona development

Being a 'script' for a workshop on how to build a persona in the SCA. "Script Directions" are marked.

Well, what is a persona? A persona, by the SCA definition, is a made up person who could have lived in a particular place/time within the SCA defined "period". That is not very specific, but that's pretty typical SCA in general. More specifically, it is the person you play when you go to events. You dress like them, eat like them, and so on.

In the SCA you are to a certain extent required to have a persona, but there is no requirement on the level of development of that persona. Some people will just use a non-specific name (sometimes their own mundane name), get a basic t-tunic, and hey presto, that's the full extent of their persona. This is fine. Nobody will stomp on anyone else for not going further than that.

On the other hand, some people will go to great length to research their persona, build up a wardrobe, a set of attitudes, and become that persona as soon as they change their clothing. We here don't really have anyone to that calibre, but they exist within the society. Duke Cariadoc of the Bow seems to me to be one of them.

//May need to explain who he is//

Now I am going to ask you to stand up and introduce yourself as your personas. Try to tell us something about yourselves, but without stepping outside persona. Don't say "I'm a 10th C Cumbrian." How many of you would walk up to a new acquaintance and say "I'm a 20th C New Zealander"? If you feel you need to specify the time, say, "I was born in the year King Alfred died, and I am thirty years old."

Tell us what you know. We're not going to validate your persona for you, so don't worry about how much you know about them yet. If you don't have a persona, don't be embarrassed to say so - we'll just move along to the next person.

//Go through each of the people, on a play-or-pass basis, and give them each a couple of minutes to introduce themselves in persona.//

How far you go with your persona development depends on what you want to do with it. There is no need (although it might be fun) to develop an extensive background if you're only going to use your persona as a 'clothes hanger' at events.

Really, there are three levels of intent, as I can see it. They can be valid independently of each other, or combined in any way.

  1. you have to have one, so you pick a name and a clothing style. End of story.
  2. as a focus for research. You pick a time/place, and start researching as much as you can about that period. This is great - I think that's exactly why the SCA came up with personae.
  3. as a vehicle for role-playing.

The most interesting and long-lived (and IMHO best) personas come out of the combination of 2 and 3. If you have a well researched persona, and role-play it consistently, then that persona is going to become a real person. (But don't let them become too real!)

Believers in number one are not going to bother about workshops and research. There's no need, beyond the research needed to pick a name and a fashion. Please note - there is nothing wrong with that. This is a game. We do it for fun.

Number two is easy (well, comparatively). Just go to the library. Read books. If it's a good book it will have a bibliography. Find those books. Read more. And so on. The methodology of research is a workshop in itself, but it is essentially a solitary job. Part of the purpose of the persona workshops we're doing monthly is to share resources and bits of facts that we come across, and to be able to discuss these matters with other people.

Number three is difficult. Role-playing is acting without using a script. The only support you have is the background knowledge of your persona's place in time. To do it well, you have to know a lot about the world they live in. But you don't need to go around and tell everyone their life stories. You don't go up to strangers and tell them everything exciting that you've done in your life, do you? Rather, you have to know how they, based on their skills and knowledge of the world, would act and react. To be believable they have to be consistent.

Think about every day situations. How your persona would do these things. How would they wake up in the morning? What would they do? How do they wash? Do they? When do they eat their first meal of the day? How would they greet others? How would they react to an insult? How would they enjoy themselves? How would they act when confronted with the unfamiliar? By necessity, you may have to make this up. Especially for early period personas we may not actually know the answer. Don't worry about it. Whenever you can find documentation, great! Use it. Otherwise, make it up, based on what you know. As long as there is some base for your invention, that will work.

//This could be a point of discussion//

Now I'd like you to pair off at random, and act as if you had met for the first time. Introduce yourselves to each other, and small talk. Stay in persona, and feel free to ask about the other person - they must look strange to you!

//Give it a few minutes, and help with those that find small talk hard.//

That brings us to the main problem with persona playing in the SCA. There is an inherent contradiction between playing a persona, a 'real' person in a historical setting, while being a citizen of a shire in the Kingdom of Caid, with a ranking system and culture that only bears a slight resemblance to any medieval system.

How do you reconcile your persona with the realities of the Society? How does a 10th C Cumbrian farmer of the freeborn nobility deal with getting the Caidan Order of the Dolphin? Meeting the 14th C Welsh King of Caid? Running into a 16th C Italian at a feast? Dancing a pavane after dinner? Having her hand kissed by a 15th C Provençal lord?

There is no easy way of answering those questions. Each person will have to come to terms with this in their own way, or at least reach the point where they can ignore the bits that are too difficult to reconcile.

One way might be to treat the Laurel Kingdoms as Hy Brazil, or some such mythical land. Most western European countries had myths about a strange land in the far West, where giants lived and wonders happened. Or maybe they are Brazil - a land that you know exists, far across the lands you came from. In either case, we have arrived in these lands, where the various settlers have formed the 13 kingdoms and tried to make it work.

Another way could be to say that this is all a dream. In 'reality', my 10th C Cumbrian is at home on the farm, plodding along in her daily life. But every so often she dreams of this strange world where the Kings are different, and people dress strangely. As it is a recurring dream, she begins to recognise things, and adjust to this otherworldly place. Perhaps this is the Other world?

Perhaps there is some other rationale entirely that you would like to use. It varies for each of us, and for some nothing will work. A certain gentleman I have had the pleasure of discussing this topic with, has resigned himself to being absolutely unable to bridge the gap between history and fantasy.

//Take some time to open a discussion on how we each can deal with this.//

For myself, I'm leaning towards the dream at the moment, but that's liable to change at any given time. For now, it allows me to develop my persona within the society, as well as research the way her life could have developed in her own setting. When I get an award, I treat the award as an honour within the Laurel Kingdoms, and I use the rank given to me as a vehicle for research. What would be the equivalent rank for my persona. How would I have come by it?

When at events, I want to act as my persona would have acted if this was a vivid, and recurring dream. She reacts and forms opinions based on her own background, but some of the things she sees, recognises and does, may be things she's learned of in the Laurel Kingdoms. Dancing, for example. It is more than unlikely that my persona would dance the dances we do at events. But I think she would enjoy them if she had. I do. So she's learned some dances from a Scottish woman with these odd bits of material hanging off the elbows of her dress, who teaches dancing in her dream, and she sometimes practices when she's minding the sheep and nobody can see her, just for the fun of it.

She is also unlikely to call everyone "m'lord" and "m'lady", and she'd not know what "Viscount" or "Baron" means. But in the context of our game, she has figured out that the terms are honorific, mean something specific in terms of rank, and are polite to use. She has no wish to offend anyone, especially not when they are armed, so she follows the local customs. But in her mind she translates the rank of lord to "lower ranking thegn, probably serving another thegn, not an earl or one of the king's thegns". And a Prince translates to a king, but not a Bretwalda or Ard Rí, because that is known as The King, and as there are thirteen realms, there are thirteen Kings at any given time, and once on the throne they have very short lives. Not that she finds that strange at all, especially considering how much they love to fight.

//More discussion about the equivalents in rank and title. Ask how others deal with awards (or how they think they would if they got one).//

A few things;

It is easier to treat this as a fantasy if we use the term 'Laurel Kingdoms' rather than the SCA, Society, or even Known World.

And remember, you might know that a 10th C Cumbrian can't be in the same room as an Elizabethan, and you know that they lived on the same island. But the 10th C Cumbrian doesn't. The Elizabethan does, and they have their own set of problems when playing persona as a result...

//This would be the point to talk about how we can use our persona, and in what circumstances we can role-play. Mention the enchanted ground, how it works and how everyone is welcome to play there during the weekend.//

//Personal observation. Dealing with the inconsistencies in the above way, ie dream, hy brazil or otherwise, also could be used to handle the situations when you want a 'crossover persona'. Rather than creating a 'shipwreck persona' to explain how you came to own/want/be named/ whatever, just say you picked it up in the Laurel Kingdoms...//