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What is a Demo?

What a demonstration or a demo is, first and foremost, is a performance. We are there to entertain, inform and educate the public. We as a group also get a number of benefits out of doing a demo and these include

  • Recruiting new members (essential if we are to survive and flourish),
  • Raising the profile of the SCA and its purpose,
  • Educating the public about medieval lifestyle, and
  • Possibly raising money for the group or nominated charity.

This last point, making a profit, while definitely preferable, is not always an outcome of a demo. There are many reasons why we sometimes do not make a profit, this includes when the demo supports a charity or worthy event, for example such as supporting a school or something which continues to promote interest in medieval study/research or re-enactment.

Running a demo from an SCA point of view is very much like running an event, there needs to be approval given for insurance purposes, an event form signed and waivers need to be signed. Unlike events there needs to be special thought given to how we present ourselves, how we perform so as to entertain the public as well as public safety.

Presentation

The SCA, unlike a lot of other medieval re-enactment groups, is not a performance group, which basically means that we do not come together solely for the purpose of performing to people outside of the group. We are a re-enactment group for the purposes of research and education.

This has both advantages and disadvantages; one advantage is that we are free to follow our interests and are not railroaded into a certain time or place, for example London, 2pm Thursday 24th February 1066. OK I am exaggerating here (a little bit :-)), but a lot of other re-enactment groups are very specific about time and place which gives them a consistency of look that we lack. Did you know that for many of the other groups before you are allowed to make an outfit that you have to get the design, pattern and fabric approved by a panel of senior members?

The benefits of the SCA approach is that we are much more accepting of what people’s interests are, as a result we have built up a wide body of high level research about everything from roman dress to Venetian glass blowing. Our entry level tolerance is a lot lower than what other groups would tolerate but we are also one of the biggest world-wide re-enactment groups and have a large number of active groups throughout Australia. In addition we have access to a huge body of research from across the world to draw from. Therefore if I feel like dabbling in Viking embroidery today and renaissance shoe making tomorrow then it is not a problem.

The downside of this freedom is that if we are viewed as a group by someone who does not understand the difference between us and other groups as we tend to look a lot motlier than others. We have 10 century Vikings standing side by side with someone in 16 century Tudor outfits talking about 14 century glass work. It is confusing for a bystander.

When we do demos we have to take special care in how we present ourselves so that people can understand the difference between our group and others. We want to put our best foot forward.

One of the ways we can do this is to quality check what is going into the event – this includes everything from what we are wearing to what we are presenting. We need to make a special effort to ensure that everything from outfits, down to shoes and accessories are consistent for the time period we are presenting. We need to take special efforts to hide or minimise mundanities which we may tolerate at events.

We are there to promote medieval research and lifestyles so the more accurate we are and the better care we take of our appearance and our behaviour then the more that people will see us as committed re-enactors rather than people off to a costume party.

Performance

Groups invite us to an event because they expect us to add atmosphere and entertain as well as educate. We are on display, something that a lot of us are not used to as we normally do what we do because we enjoy it rather than as a performance. So you need to change your mind set a bit at a demo and think of yourself as a performer. If you were coming along to a medieval demo what would you like to see the performers doing?

A good performer needs to engage with their audience, this can be as simple as talking to the audience, explaining what we are doing, etc. Remember we were all new once, what drew you into doing what you are now doing? Know something interesting or entertaining about what you are doing that you can share with your audience (you are going to have to repeat this a lot so have a few facts up your sleeve). The people that you are talking too are also not just passive observers, they are interested enough to come up and look at what you are doing, so ask them questions - what are they interested in? You never know, the next person that you talk to could be a new member of the group.

Safety

When you are working with the general public then you need to ensure that they are kept as safe as possible as well as keeping yourself and the things you own safe. It is a sad reality, individual people may be intelligent but crowds are dumb and sometimes untrustworthy. The bigger the crowd the more likely someone will do something stupid like try to walk onto the eric while fighting is happening or want to play with a sharp knife. The other problem is that there will likely be someone in the crowd who will want to steal something. To quote Mad-eye Moody "constant vigilance" is needed when doing a demo.

If you have valuables (a wallet etc) then these need to be stored safely. If you have something on display then there needs to be people watching these things at all times and if you are doing a fighting display then you need to do a risk assessment of dangers. How far do you need to keep the crowd back and how are you going to do it? Is all the safety equipment on the armour (lanyards etc) in good condition? Etc.

If you take into consideration all these points then the demo will be a success not just for the group who invited you but also for the SCA. While demos are not the central reason for the existence of the SCA and do take a big amount of work, they do have a number of benefits for us and are essential if we are to grow and flourish as a group.