Welcome back! For this entry in The Empress Theatre's Spamalot blog series, I interview cast member, and medieval battle re-enactor, Rod Hansen, who plays the French Taunter. Rod has been a valuable resource for the cast and crew of Spamalot as we’ve tried to connect with the spirit of the middle ages (even if we are using coconuts!). Rod is a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA for short). What exactly does that mean? I’ll let Rod explain it.
But first, we applaud our Spamalot cast and crew who opened last weekend to positive reviews and sold-out shows! If you haven't ordered your tickets yet, do it now before they're all gone! And now for our interview...
Rod, What is the Society for Creative Anachronism?
The SCA is a world wide reenactment organization that is over 50 years old. It is a non profit entity that focuses on teaching about various aspects of medieval life. We attempt to recreate good things from the middle ages, such as music, art, dancing, feasting, brewing, games, clothing, archery, thrown weapons, armor, courtly graces, and sword fighting.
Members are encouraged to create a persona of a fictional person who lived before 1600, including authentic name, location, and back story. (I am Vincenzo Del'Aquila, from fifteenth century Italy.)
We conduct a tournament twice a year to determine who will serve as King and Queen, and other ranks, such as Knight can be earned.
We often like to fight each other, but hopefully with no one getting hurt. And afterwards we feast, and drink, and sing together.
How were you able to use your SCA skills and experience to help with the show?
In the SCA we attempt to be as accurate as possible but never at the expense of having fun. That is the most important thing. Spamalot obviously has a very distinctive and humorous style so most of the costumes were designed and made by the talented Empress staff with that in mind. There are some great costumers in the SCA, but I am not one of them.
I love sword fighting, not that I am the best, but I did assist in choreographing some of the sword fighting scenes, but we went with humor over historical accuracy.
I did bring in a few props that were useful, like the lute, and French helmets.
On a personal note, I often perform as a bard in the SCA, with singing, guitar playing, acting, poetry, and juggling. This has given me ample opportunity to learn some performance skills and confidence in front of an audience.
What can you tell me about the French helmets?
The three helmets were made by my son Jake who is an accomplished armorer.
They are hand hammered 14 gauge steel. They are patterned after genuine bascinets which were used in many European countries including England and France. But they were actually used several centuries later than our show is set. (We obviously aren't overly concerned with historical accuracy. There was no plate mail armor in the tenth century either, and Disco was a bit later still!)
These helmets are actually ones that Jake never finished because they were not quite good enough. Thus they were available for our use. I did help shine them up a bit.
If you would like to see some of his better work, then check out his facebook. The finished helmets are not only beautiful, but must be strong enough to withstand heavy blows to protect us while fighting. Our fighters can hit very hard!
I read that Monty Python actually did a lot of historical research for their Holy Grail film and that the taunting and catapulting of livestock during the French taunter scene are based on actual medieval battle practices. Are they actual medieval practices (or did the internet lead me astray)?
I have read of using catapults to fling dead animals over castle walls to spread disease in the enemy ranks. Using healthy living animals would not be very logical as they are critical resources.
Does the SCA engage in any of these practices during their re-enactments?
I don't recall seeing any animals catapulted during our SCA battles, but in some of the larger scenarios (some wars involve thousands of participants) we do use siege engines such as catapults to fire projectiles at the opposing team.
But, do you taunt each other during your battles?
Good question! In our tournaments and battles there may be some good natured joking, but we strive to uphold the romantic ideals of chivalry. We are courteous, polite, and fair during our fights. Although there are officials monitoring for safety, all blows are called as good or not by the one who is hit. It is all based on honor which is more important than martial skill. We would never use the base tactics that the French Taunters used. As Galahad pointed out in the show, "they haven't an ounce of chivalry!"
When and where can we see one of your medieval battle re-enactments?
Some fun upcoming events include Defenders Tournament in Salt Lake on March 9, and Melee Madness in Provo in June. Or, if you really want to be impressed and see battles with hundreds of fighters, go to Estrella in Arizona in February, or Pensic in Pennsylvania in July and August.
Does the SCA have any other public events happening soon?
There are various activities often. There is a local fighter practice every Tuesday at which the public is welcome to observe or participate.
Larger more formal events usually take place on weekends throughout the Kingdom. Everyone is welcome to attend, but unlike a renaissance faire, some participation is expected. Everyone is expected to make an attempt at medieval attire, and avoid messing with your electronic devices as much as possible to encourage the illusion.
Thank you, Rod, for sharing your wealth of medieval knowledge with us, and for introducing us to a fun new way to appreciate the middle ages. We linked to the SCA websites earlier in the blog post, but in case you missed them here they are again.
And, while you’re exploring all the SCA has to offer, be sure you meet us at The Empress for some creative anachronism of our own as we present Spamalot now through February 2nd. Our knights will make you “smile and laugh and dance and sing”! You only have two weekends left to see this show, so buy your tickets online today!