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Herald’s Guide to Surviving Court

A "survival guide" makes Court sound ominous, doesn’t it? Court Survival does not mean watching your back for plots and intrigues, although it would make life interesting! Court comes at the end of a long day of fighting, archery, dancing, socializing, etc. that is associated with an event. As a herald, it’s your job to make sure Court runs smoothly, which includes many things: setting the agenda, making sure people with presentations know when they will be called, and making sure people attending Court know what is going on! Much of what I will convey will appear to be common sense, but there are a lot of little things that you can do to make Court "survivable," and hopefully entertaining! Many of the things I will relate are "you must do," while others are "this would be really nice to do or have."

Setting up Court

Acoustics

Setting up for Court is one element of a successful Court. An open area with good acoustics is ideal. If you can’t get that, get as close to it as you can. Court should occur where there is a minimal amount of background noise. If people can’t hear you, they get bored, and that is a sign of a Bad CourtTM.

Seating

Arranging seating for Court is an important component. Straight rows of seating is OK, but arranging the populace in a semi-circle in front of the thrones is much better, as it allows your voice to reach the most number of people with the least effort. Court "in the round" is unusual, and folks behind the thrones are unlikely to be able to hear you or the Crowns well. The normal arrangement is to have the thrones at one end of the hall with the populace ranged down to the end. I completely disagree with this arrangement. While aesthetically pleasing, this is very bad for people in the back who are straining to hear the herald’s voice. My advice is to place the thrones in the middle of the longest wall and arrange the populace in a semi-circle outward from there. Make sure there is at least a central aisle for people to process towards the thrones or two aisles dividing the populace into thirds.

What happens if you have multiple Crowns who will sit in state? Answer: Kings and Queens in the middle -- the Sovereigns are center stage when in Their Kingdom. Then the Prince and Princess are seated to the right of the monarchs, and territorial Barons and Baronesses are seated to the left. For other Monarchs, they will be seated to the right and left of our Monarchs in order of Precedence (which Kingdom was founded first).

Behind the Thrones

For your own comfort and smooth running of Court, you will need to contend with whatever Honor Guard accompanies the Crowns. Based on personal experience, you need to be able to hand things to both Crowns, and on occasion, be able to step out before Them. Set the thrones far enough from the wall that the Honor Guard can stand behind the thrones and still allow you access (an aisle) to either side. Make sure they know to stand back! This is especially important if the Crowns have gifts and tokens to present because you will need a table to sit things on (I’ve never been able to hold my court agenda, ten scrolls, 6 gifts and successfully herald a Court!)

Speaking of scrolls and gifts, make sure all the scrolls you are to read and are to be presented are ready at least 15 minutes before Court, and any prizes and tokens to be awarded are on the table behind the thrones. If there is no way to get them there beforehand, you may ask the ladies-in-waiting or deputize one or two people to process them in behind the Crowns. It can add a bit of pomp to Court.

Scheduling

Part of setting up for Court is making sure there is adequate time to hold Court, time for people to prepare for Court, and time for people to prepare for feast after Court. Collar the autocrat and feastcrat to help you set the time and place Court is to occur! If the feastcrat plans to feed folks at six, plan for Court to end at 5:45 and work from there. This leads me to the next topic...

Court Agenda and Running Court

The populace of Atlantia seems to agree that a short court is a good court. Most people agree that one hour is as long a Court as they are willing to attend. A long court is usually a bad thing, and several factors can create a long court. I will address several topics in no particular order...

  • "Dead Air": Too many silences while the herald and Crown confer over the next item of business. By preparing your agenda with the Crowns prior to Court, you can avoid a lot of this. I advise calling for Court business an hour to an hour and a half prior to Court, leaving yourself with enough time prior to Court to confer with the Crowns about who is coming up and why. If you are constantly having to pause and confer with the Crowns during Court, that not only eats up your valuable Court time, it bores the populace.

  • Presentations: Presentations in Court, such as personal gifts to the Crowns or invitations to upcoming events, are not appropriate for Court business. Defer these until feast or have the Crowns sit in State for a time. I have learned that holding a few mini-Courts between removes of a feast work well to provide a forum for these presentations. In some cases, I have even announced the winners of the day’s competitions between removes (I don’t advise it, but you do what you can…...).

    A presentation from or to visiting Royalty, is good for Court. It adds a bit of entertainment and can hold the populace’s attention. Presentations of Regalia or items for the Kingdom treasury/treasure chest can be done either while the Crowns are sitting in State or in Court. You will need to decide based on time constraints.

  • Missing Links: Occasionally, you will call for a person who is not on site or otherwise indisposed. If you don’t see movement in the populace or you know the person is not present, you may call for a representative. The caveat here is that if a person is to receive an award (AoA, Pearl, Pelican), make sure they will be present in Court. If it is a token or prize for a tourney, or some other arrangement has been made, a representative will do.

  • Timing between Awards: This is a hard one to determine until you’ve had a bit of experience. It is also a matter of personal taste both for the Crowns and the herald. As soon as the "Vivats!" begin to die down, call the next person into Court. Waiting for complete silence equals "dead air".

  • "Mumble, Mumble": Being unable to hear what is going on is the number one complaint of Court attendees. They heard you call for Lord So-and-so. They see Lord So-and-so enter the Royal Presence, bow, kneel, and then all they hear is "mumble, mumble". The herald (maybe) reads out a scroll, and then leads everyone in "Vivats!" for Lord So-and-so. Joe Stick-jock in the back has no clue what just happened because he couldn’t hear anything, so he gets bored. How to get around this? I have two answers: listen to Lord So-and-so and the Crowns’ comments, then relay them to the populace if they aren’t too personal; or set the kneeling pads far enough from the Crowns that everyone has to speak up in order to be heard(a mean trick, and I do not recommend it).

    There is no audition for being Crown, and public speaking is generally accepted as people’s number one fear. If the Crown and awardees cannot be heard, it is your job to let everyone else know what is going on. From our prior example, the Crown confers with Lord So-and-so telling him that he did a great job preparing feast at Western Twelfth Night. You, as herald, relay to the populace "His Majesty has expressed his enjoyment of Lord So-and-so’s Feast at Western Twelfth Night!" You do not necessarily repeat verbatim the words spoken - a synopsis will do.

    I would also advise having an accomplice in the middle and back of Court who will signal youwhen they cannot hear what is going on. This may add a bit to the length of Court, but if people know what is happening, they are less likely to get bored. The last resort is to have a "relay herald" If you simply cannot make yourself heard, get someone else to pick up the slack by relaying your words to the back.

  • "Not Entertaining Enough": Of course too much "entertain- ment" drags Court out. The trick is to have enough to keep Court entertaining. Hopefully, you have the Crowns to help you out. For instance, if the Crowns are willing, you can call people into Court on all sorts of pretexts such as non-payment of their Royal Taxes, yet the actual reason is to award them with an AoA. Be careful with what you say or do, however. Inside jokes in a public forum will not only fall flat, you can encourage the wrath of whoever the joke is about!

    If the event calls for it, you can add a good bit of entertainment to Court. An example is a Nottinghill Coill Court, many years ago, in which a Gypsy was accused of stealing the Baronial dinnerware (someone had placed it in her feastgear). She was brought before His Excellency and a young man stepped forward as her legal counsel. He eloquently spoke in her defense and, as he concluded his defense, the Baronial flatware fell from his sleeves. The Gypsy was acquitted, and her legal counsel was dragged away by the Baronial Guard. This provided a good deal of entertainment for everyone! No awards were given, it was simply a performance piece.

  • Decorum: As a herald, you are considered to be the voice of the King and Queen, and you should act accordingly. Every award given in the SCA is important. You never know if the person coming before the Crowns will ever receive another award, so you must behave as if each award is all-important. This is their moment, and it should be special. Occasionally, the folks on the thrones may forget that as They tend to have enough awards that They’ve lost that special glow from being called into Court to receive praise. Before Court, politely remind them of that if you think there may be a problem...

    Crowns only hold the throne for six months in Atlantia. You will probably be a herald a lot longer! You may (will) need to guide the Crowns when preparing for Court. If you can provide a personal anecdote about why each person is coming into Court, not only will you make Their Majesties look good, you make the awardees feel that Their Majesties took a personal interest in them. It makes for a "magic" moment! Remember that if Their Majesties look good, you look good too. Nothing can ruin an award like a Crown telling someone receiving their Award of Arms "I have no idea why you are getting this." PREVENT THIS AT ALL COSTS!

  • Pontification: In Court, the only people allowed to pontificate are the Crowns. If a person coming into Court has a speech to give, make sure they clear it with you AND the Crowns before Court. My most dreaded memories of Court include people coming before Their Excellencies and asking, "May I address the populace?", then rambling on about something for 10 minutes. Their Excellencies RARELY will say "No," to requests because they are supposed to be gracious to Their populace.

  • "Herald, read the scroll": When you are forced to do an Atlantian Speed CourtTM, read the scroll as the recipient walks down the aisle.This saves A LOT of time, BUT it spoils their surprise. Check with the Crowns prior to Court if They plan to do this. There will be times that you will be forced to do this type of Court, but with proper planning, you can avoid it 98% of the time.

  • Order of Business: A good rule of thumb is to order the agenda thinking in terms of what the average Court attendee would like to see. Several awards of the same type all in a row is BORING! A suggestion I have been given is to place a high-ranking award first to capture attention, do a few "lesser" awards, a presentation, another award, and so on. However, end your Court on a high note! Place the highest ranking award (e.g. Pelican, Laurel, Knight) and/or most popular recipient at the end.

Vocal Survival

There is a lot to vocal survival! First and foremost, do not wear yourself out heralding the lists all day! You can deputize people to help you with this.

Prevent your throat from becoming dry. Keep plenty of liquid refreshment at hand, and avoid carbonated beverages, caffine, and the more acidic fruit juices. Don’t eat anything before Court(say ½ hour or so) as eating will tend to parch your throat to some extent. Keep to water if you can, and make sure you have a mug of water handy when behind the thrones. The Crowns’ ladies-in-waiting will usually make sure that the Crowns have beverages handy, and if you ask nicely, they may provide for you as well.

DO NOT SHOUT! This is the quickest way to strip your throat raw, and doom your Court! I have learned a couple of different things from heralds and voice majors since I started heralding Courts. The most common advice (and good) is to breathe from your diaphragm. Using a lower tone carries further than a high tone. If you can modulate your voice to a lower tone, you can project further. A recent tidbit that I picked up was to allow your sinuses to resonate—I tried it, and it felt odd at first, but it really works!

ENUNCIATE! I cannot stress this point enough. If you do not enunciate your words properly, those in the back row are never going to understand you. Also, speak clearly and somewhat slowly, otherwise if you speaksoquicklythatyourwordsallcomeoutinarush no one will understand you. Pace yourself!

Now to address the biggest fear of all: mispronunciation! All those Welsh names with no vowels, French names with all those accents, choppy, harsh-sounding German names! How does one cope? Normally people know how to pronounce their own names. Their close friends probably will as well. When you are going to call them into Court, make sure you have a phonetic spelling handy on your Court agenda, if at all possible. This won’t completely prevent you from making a mistake, but it minimizes the chances you will make one. If you butcher someone’s name (yes, you’ll either get a laugh or a glare), keep going, and apologize AFTER Court. If they correct you in Court, do your best, but DO NOT engage. Don’t forget, you ARE AMONG FRIENDS, and friends forgive one another!

The same principle applies when you are reading scrolls. If you mispronounce something, just forge ahead, don’t stop to correct a mistake unless it is something major that will garble the rest of the message. If you have a scroll in hand that is in a calligraphy style that you cannot read well, or one of those very period scrolls on which words simply stop at the end of a line and continue on the next, get a printed translation to keep in your notes. What happens if you don’t have a scroll for someone? I keep a couple of scroll texts handy in case I need to make one up on the fly. It’s just a matter of preparation.

Part of my Court agenda includes the litany for opening and closing Court. For example:

  1. "Oyez! Oyez! All rise for Their Excellencies, Chip and Dale, Baron and Baroness of Fern-Y-Tor!"
  2. Process in. Baron and Baroness are seated.
  3. Once seated, the Baron will signal and you say "Their Excellencies bid the populace to be seated!"
  4. "Here opens the Court of Chip and Dale, Baron and Baroness of Fern-Y-Tor!"
  5. Call items of business: ...
  6. Close Court with "Here closes the Court of Chip and Dale, Baron and Baroness of Fern-Y-Tor!"
  7. Populace rises and bows as Baron, Baroness & retinue process out.


Court Checklist

  1. When and where Court will occur.
    1. Talk to autocrat - where and when
    2. Talk to feastcrat - when
  2. Acoustics:
    1. Good acoustics; and/or
    2. PA system.
  3. Court business finalized at least ½ - ¾ hour prior to Court.
    1. Get winners of day’s tournaments and competitions;
    2. List of all Court business;
    3. Order of Court business;
    4. Phonetic written pronunciation of names;
    5. Typewritten or legible scroll texts;
    6. Write down litany (legibly) for Court just in case!
    7. Defer event announcements and personal gifts to sitting in State or other more appropriate time.
  4. Brief Crowns on Court business (½ hour prior to Court):
    1. Who is coming;
    2. If person isn’t there, if representative is present and acceptable;
    3. Why are they coming; and
    4. Personal anecdotes about people.
  5. Physics of Court:
    1. Set up for Court completed at least 15 minutes beforehand;
    2. Minimal distance between herald and "cheap seats";
    3. Thrones for ALL Royalty present;
    4. Table behind thrones to hold scrolls, water, gifts, etc.;
    5. HAVE scrolls, gifts, water, etc.
    6. Space behind thrones for herald and Royal retinue;
    7. Enough light to read scrolls by; and
    8. Kneeling pillows are far enough out.
  6. In Court:
    1. Avoid "dead air" such as conferring with Crowns;
    2. Avoid pontification;
    3. Enunciate; project; DO NOT SHOUT;
    4. Relay information to populace; have accomplices to signal you;
    5. Relax, you are among friends;
    6. Flex your knees—locking them will cause you to faint or get fatigued;
    7. EVERY award is IMPORTANT; and above all,
    8. KEEP IT MOVING and entertaining!

(by Eldred Ælfwald, Azure Dragon Herald)
(Get the Check List as an MS Word .doc file)