Persona Pitfalls

I. What is a Persona?

The SCA definition of a persona is a made up person who could have lived in a particular place/time within the SCA defined "period". Generally there are three levels of personae throughout the SCA and they are each equally valid either 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.

3.     As a vehicle for role-playing.

Many of the most interesting and enjoyable personae come out of the combination of 2 and 3. When you have a well-researched persona, and enjoy persona play as frequently as possible, then that persona brings you to an entirely different level of the SCA.


Persona development is entirely optional. Do it because it’s fun, not because you feel you have to. Getting inside the head of a person who lived so many centuries ago and viewing the SCA as they would is fun and highly amusing. Solving problems, creating art, celebrating at events are all so much more fun when attempting to do it in a historical way... after all history is the heart of our Society. If you aren’t enjoying it, stop immediately!


II. What is Persona Play?

Persona play is an attempt to recreate this persona’s life as you would have them live it in a way that cannot actually be confirmed nor denied. You dress as they would dress, eat as they would eat, walk as they would walk (trust me, authentic clothing + hairstyles + accessories = a change to the way you walk!), and behave as they would behave.  


Most people don’t go as far as speaking with “thees and thous” or “prithees and wherefors”, and generally an affected accent will get a few laughs unless you’re really really good at it. But adding in an occasional term, curse, phrase, or foreign word adds a wonderful dash of authenticity that is greatly appreciated by those around you.


Role-playing is hard for most people. Generally, it leads to feelings of hilarity or social uncertainty (am I doing this right? are they laughing at me? what if I don’t have the right answer? is my accent on straight?). But persona play is more relaxed; it’s a blurred middle ground between your modern day personality and the stresses of acting out a performance piece on the fly. It is an adaptation of a new name, new clothes, and new situations, which you respond to in a way your research leads you to believe your persona would. This gentle blurring of the lines can help you reconcile your persona with the realities of the Society.


III. The Cause of Persona Pitfalls ....  I’m not REALLY in my persona’s kingdom; I’m in the SCA!

There is no One True Way of coping with this problem. Each of us has to come to terms with it in our own way. Some people choose to believe this is all a dream (I am really a Mongolian herdsman who drank some bad koumiss and is having wild fever dreams about a distant land with bizarre peoples). Some people choose to explain it politically (I am a lesser son of a noble house and have been sent to this foreign court as a political dignitary).


Another way to deal with this is The Improbable Persona Story. A person who uses this technique to cope with the complexities of the Society creates a vast, highly detailed, and ultimately impossible story for their persona. They believe this story helps them be more believable and legitimate, using it as an excuse to wipe away any odd behavior they know their persona would never have done but that they themselves enjoy doing at events. “It is a little known fact that the ancient Celts used to wear ray bans and carry M16s into battle” is how Kollin McRoth of the Midrealm jokingly refers to such farcical stories.


I will use Lady Charity Binggleybottom of Cornwall as my example. Charity is the daughter of a merchant. Master Binggleybottom went on pilgrimage and took everyone in the family with him because he loved them all so much. While on her travels Charity fell in love with a charming and roguish Gypsy lad who eloped with her to... Greece (because she likes to play the Gypsy fiddle while at events). But on the way their ship was attacked by pirates (her new boyfriend has a pirate persona), the captain instantly realized how valuable Charity would be as a harem slave and so saved her life. He then took her all the way to distant India (because she likes to wear saris when it’s hot) where he sold Charity to the evil Sultan. In the Sultan’s harem she learned to dance (she likes belly dancing on Friday nights) and performed at all his special functions... like the time the Japanese envoy came to dinner. One of the samurai fell in love with her instantly (she has a new boyfriend and he plays a samurai) and kidnapped her from the harem, thus dishonoring his lord. Together, they fled to the wilds of the steppes.... etc etc etc. How many lands did she travel through? How many different centuries? How likely do you think this would have been? How many of these stories have you heard?


Luckily, there are a couple of easy ways to solve The Improbable Persona Story problem.  

1.     Don’t have a persona story. After all real people don’t present their Life Stories until they are either famous or dead but usually both. Instead of a Grand Story have a collection of anecdotes, these can be based on real things that happened to you in the real world and then transformed to your persona’s time and place or they can be based on what your research shows your persona would do -- basic everyday things

2.     When confronted with a new SCA interest, take it in the same direction your persona research leads you. Many hobbies inside the Society are universal such as calligraphy, painting, fighting, poetry, spinning, weaving, music, storytelling, dance, woodworking etc etc. Even if you have to learn it in a specific style you can then expand into others more appropriate for your persona.

3.     When in Rome…. Since you find yourself living within an SCA kingdom (with all it’s unique and foreign traditions) then adopt the ways of this new land while there. You know that this is not what your persona would have done but since you are here and not there you follow local custom to be polite.

4.     Or just let incongruities slide; I used to be an Indian female heavy weapons fighter (they really did exist!) in an all Celtic and Viking household. We were all early period, and sure I could’ve met a Viking but none of us felt the need to construct some crazy tale of how I came to be one of the household. I just was.


IV. How to Share Your Persona

It is very hard to share one's persona. Some other person needs to initiate by taking interest in you, what you’re doing or what you’re wearing. This presents a perfect opportunity for persona play. When they ask, don’t feel like you have to perform for them just be yourself... your persona self.


Stay relaxed. If you don’t know a rock solid fact simply let it slide, don’t stress over not knowing it and don’t invent something if you know you don’t know it. Remember, most people in the past didn’t have great educations so fumbling over something you should know but forgot isn’t important. Relax and enjoy the fun of being someone else while sharing your love for your adopted culture. The more you love it, the more your interrogator will too!


VI. How to Find the Answers?

Research isn’t always easy, especially for early period or non-European personae. If you’re having a hard time finding answers, visit the main branch of your local library and ask the research librarian for help. You can explain the SCA if you want, or just tell them it’s for school (or even your kids’ school).


Primary sources are the best since they were written during the period you are researching, likely by or about someone similar to your persona. Secondary sources are fine, they are commentaries written after the period but not fiction. If a source you need isn’t available in your branch the librarians can help you with an inter-library loan, sometimes bringing in texts from other states or from academic libraries. Each library has different rules for ILL (inter-library loans) but most are willing to do them.


Remember, the Internet is the home of easy answers but NOT always the right answers! Look for academic or official sources with print equivalents such as periodicals, signed articles, footnotes, reputable publishers. Avoid Wikipedia, personal homepages, unsigned articles with no references, articles with poor spelling and grammar.