Monday, May 14, 2012

The Road Thus Far

Okay, so the title sounds like something from the "since last season" opening of some adventure show. In a way, that's kind of what this is.

A long time ago, in a galaxy kingdom far away... No, that's not exactly right either. The "kingdom" in question was right here, sort of. I spend many years, before college, doing all kinds of geeky things like reading fantasy novels, watching science fiction movies and TV shows, and playing RPGs (role playing games to the uninitiated); and I spent a lot of time with the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism). But I had never been a "tourist" in the Middle Ages until I attended the Maryland Renaissance Faire back in 2003. The whole interacting with an audience, many of whom were in street clothes, was a little weird to me because the SCA doesn't have that. Yes, my friends and I went in garb (meaning medieval clothing/costume). Yes, many people mistook me/us for those people working there. Yes, we just sort of played along because that's how the "game" becomes fun. I went twice that season--the second time because there was a pirate group performing. You knew it would become about pirates sooner than later.

A couple years later, I attended the Connecticut renfaire with some of my siblings. It was interesting to note the difference in how people interacted based on who was or was not in garb.

Then, I went to college. I studied sociology. And I started dragging my college friends with me to renfaires. Although a few of them needed less dragging, but more on that later.

By mid-afternoon of the first day at this latest faire, I was forming hypotheses and research ideas. I met a man who is what we in the sociology biz call a "bridge" in the social network context, meaning he was connected. The guy seemed to know just about everyone! So I made friends, and over the next year of occasional online communication, I got him to agree to being a guide of sorts for some research I began doing into the renaissance faire subculture. I was introduced to LOTS of people--booth workers, cast members, "playtrons" (meaning patrons who play along and come in character/garb).

I wrote a paper and gave a presentation about renfaires and medieval re-enactors/re-creationists for a class in Deviant Subcultures. I think by that point I was considered a junior at Shawnee State University. (I did finish that bachelor's degree in three years, so it was the year in the middle.) That was what really set me on this path. I found myself asking so many questions about renfaires, the people, the relationships, the "rules," the customs. I could spend years researching this and never run out of things to study, which is probably a good thing since it's what I'm writing my master's thesis on.

By the next year's faire season, several of my friends and I had formed our own "pirate crew" as we had seen with my afore-mentioned cultural guide. Watching the process of creating personas, getting costumes together, choosing names, and creating a collective group identity with the crew has been interesting in itself, especially when my crew teamed up with some other renfaire pirates to form an "armada" of sorts. (All in good fun, I assure you. No actually pillaging has occurred.)

In participating, while observing, I have gotten to know people and built raport that would not have been possible for a researcher walking in wearing "mundane" (non-medieval/renaissance) clothes carrying a clipboard and asking a lot of questions that lead participants to feel like they're being examined under glass and poked with a stick. But that is a tale for another day...

Disclaimer: BTW, this blog has no affiliation with the SCA or SSU (except that the latter did give me a BA in Sociology). Stuff I write here should not reflect on them, in case they decide it matters. 

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