We were asked by the Caledonia Society to present HEMA. They saw us at the Highland Games and liked it so much- they said do it again. The audience were older people, and a slight majority of women.
That day, the SCA were also scheduled to present. How we each presented is telling. Please note.
We showed up early, and we helped set up and also staked out a table for ourselves. We introduced ourselves to the venue coordinator and just about anyone else who made eye contact. There were three of us, John P, Chris N, and myself. Anyone who showed the slightest interest was given a card.
The SCA showed up, said very little to those there, and set up shop as well as a portable court. They brought a large number of people. So much so, that the host was mildly aghast. There was just about as many SCA folk as there were Caledonian guests. The SCA did not show up early, and so the show was started later than intended.
The SCA went first. A herald explained who they are and what they do. Two of their hard-suit people came forward, introduced themselves and had at it. The winner stayed in and a new fighter was brought in, introduced himself and so on. Bang, bang, bang. Over and over and over. After about four bouts the audience no longer clapped and became a captive audience to what was their practice.
Then our turn. Its filmed below. The lighting on camera is not good, but you'll get the idea. I presented longsword, saber, rapier and single-stick with John in under 25 minutes. There are some key things I did that are the right way to deal with the public at large. The SCA did not say hello to us before the demonstration. They were very friendly after.
What we did.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O34F8QGc4rwhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0R9fHJVD3nA
1 - Sparring shows up at the end, and under 5 minutes of it. You'll run out of breath otherwise. Besides, HEMA types and the SCA like to watch sparring. The average person is 'so so' about it- especially since they often can't tell what is happening. Make it quick and go a bit slower and less competitively than normal. The audience can't see how fast you move otherwise. They aren't trained for it! I don't do choreographed routines because I think they look fake even to the untrained audience. (The Sienawski choreographed routines would be an exception.)
2 - I talk to the audience. They are the audience and want to be informed and entertained. I am funny. If you are not funny- that's ok. Be sure to talk to them though. The SCA talked at them. Do not worry about getting into the weeds and if you mispeak- just keep going. A HEMA audience and a general audience aren't the same.
3- John and I have a routine down that makes the show go smoothly. This comes from practice and understanding of techniques.
4 - We show some of the flashy stuff. In longsword, the grabbing of the sword and the close-plays are crowd-pleasers. Takedowns usually get applause as well.
When we were done, we turned it over to the SCA who brought on their rapier fighters. They again did a round-robin sparring practice in front of the audience. Later, the hard-suit fellows came out again and with some 2 on 2, did more sparring. Meanwhile, John, Chris and I worked the crowd, sitting at tables and answering questions and just being friendly.
At the end of the event, the host was absolutely in love with us. The crowd loved us. And I made all manner of connections, including with an import store-owner, a furniture supply guy, and some lovely elderly ladies educated in Scotland. We also were given free drinks by the sound manager. The SCA shuffled off and the host was less than thrilled with them.
We were asked if we were available for other events, if we were willing to travel, and asked if we could present on certain aspects that they wanted. We said yes.
The SCA departed, and I hope some of them come see us for what we do. But what did they do wrong?
1 - They did not involve the audience. The audience were captive and forced to watch sparring. I love sparring! I do! But the average person cannot stand over an hour of it.
2 - Too loud. The SCA hard-suit fighting is noisy. Too noisy for the crowd to talk and do other things, which in over an hour of sparring on and off, you can't blame them. Also, the SCA hard-suit fighting is difficult to understand for laymen. I'm not sure if they can work around this or not.
3 - Little interaction between shows. The SCA kept to themselves and did not try and recruit, share, or in any way communicate with the audience. During the filming, you can see them bunched up together and watching. This is a shame. One of the SCA fellows was a guy with a salt-and-pepper beard, a charismatic personality, he fought well and would have been a great resource for the SCA to have him present, talk, or do just about anything with the audience. I felt he was a wasted talent. Not everyone is a good public speaker, but you can get by, and this guy would have been fine for them!
4 - Wrong goal. The SCA came and just did a fighter practice. That's a no-no when invited by a small audience. They should have found ways to recruit and they did not. They came, they fought, they left. Acceptable at perhaps large and all day venues, like the Highland Games, but not so hot for something more intimate with a crowd that want education and entertainment in a 2 to 3 hour stretch.
Part of OUR job is to spread the HEMA gospel and it helps to learn how to do this. Being a good fighter and knowledgeable isn't enough for a general audience. You need to find ways to transmit that information.
Good Luck all! And to all those who dare to publicly speak and present information, my hat is off to you. It can be nerve-wracking for most!