Starting an Acting Troupe in the SCA

Hirsch von Henford, Founder of the Golden Stag Players
Updated: October, 2003

Starting an acting troupe in the SCA takes a lot of work. Let's just get this statement out of the way: There is no "easy" way to get an acting troupe started.

For what it's worth, here's a summary of what happened to get the Golden Stag Players started:

Now, that's how we got started ... What I didn't count on was the fact that the actors wanted to continue working after we had gotten a few plays under our belts ... I did this as a lark. I didn't expect that 12+(!!) years later I would still be doing it ...

Actors

To be blunt, I was extremely lucky in finding the people I found for my core group of actors. My serious core group of folk who have been with me since the beginning include my (former) apprentices and a few others. Everyone else has come and gone ...

By "lucky", what I mean is that the folk who started with the GSP and are still with us are interested in putting on a good performance, working with others to do so, and they all enjoy each other's company. There is always concern about "ego" problems in an acting troupe. Amazingly enough, we have seldom had any problems at all, and the few we have had ended up going away either by peer pressure within the troupe (the people may still be in the troupe, but the problems have gone away), or by attrition (people left). These folk support each other, and through peer-pressure have gotten the best out of each other when we get to performances, in ways one could never have expected ...

What I have ended up with is a really good group of dedicated, hard-working, funny, talented actors. You can't ask for more, but even so, to add to it all, we're all good friends. For the most part, we didn't know each other, or most of us didn't know each other all that well, when we started.

When it comes down to it, part of what I mean by being "lucky" in this is that if I had tried to find these folk, and tried to put together an acting troupe with the qualities that I have now, I probably would have failed miserably.

Scripts

The first thing to do is to find some good scripts. The Golden Stag Player website, which is where you are reading this, is a starting place. (Look for the menu option "Scripts".)

One important thing to note about scripts -- after doing this for twelve years, the GSP have determined that comedy works best for SCA events. Yes, it would be great to be able to do that wonderful period drama ... however, most SCA audiences are not too likely to sit still for it, especially if it's lengthy. If it's funny, they'll sit through it ... and if it's really good, they'll come back for more.

If you want to do plays that are period, you may want to consider looking at the plays we did for our "Golden Stag Player Whirled Tour". These were five plays, four are period, one was written based on the works of a period author. Another helpful thing about this set of scripts is that they are small cast plays ... the largest has five actors in it. If you look at the list of scripts we have done you will find some other period pieces as well.

If you want to do plays that are about the SCA, see the "Our Kind" plays by Goldwyn (these are the ones that got me started), or see our own "Peermalion" or "A Tale of Two Squires". A warning note on the latter two -- while funny, they both have some serious points to make ...

You may also want to consider trying what we're doing now (well, in between other projects), which is to take a commedia scenario and build your own script from that. This is not easy, and you may want to wait for a bit to build your troupe up ... (for details see the section on the "Twin Captains" which includes a director's diary, which discusses pretty much everything we did for that show). Of course, you could also decide from the outset that you want to be a Commedia troupe (see the 'Other SCA Troupes' menu option -- i Sebastiani in the East Kingdom only does Commedia as far as we know, and they're very good at it).

Rehearsals

Rehearsals have to be fun. If they are not, your actors will not return.

To help have a "party atmosphere", make sure food and munchies are provided for each rehearsal (at least for starters -- eventually people will feed themselves). It doesn't have to be much, and it doesn't have to be period munchies. Just chips, dips, candy, soda ... keep it simple. You'll find that after a couple of these that other folk will start bringing munchies as well to augment what you are providing.

Scheduling your rehearsals can be ... interesting. For several years the GSP rehearsed on Wednesday evenings, because that was when everyone could get together. The problem is that folk were coming to rehearsal from as far away as 75 miles or more. This meant that they were getting home at 11 or later at night, and going to work the next day was rough.

When we moved our rehearsals to Sunday afternoons we ended up with happier actors, because rehearsals are usually done by 5, and if we run over, it is not going to affect someone's sleep schedule ...

Another thing is that having rehearsals at a location that is far from the "middle" of where everyone is at, is going to be harder on the folk who have to travel the furthest. Take a good look at where you can rehearse. You may even be able to rotate your rehearsals around a bit, so that different people have to travel further from one rehearsal to the next (it makes it feel more fair to everyone). (One of the things i Sebastiani in the East Kingdom has going for it is that everyone lives about a half-hour drive from everyone else ... in the San Francisco Bay Area, half an hour won't get you very far ...)

Finally, remember that everyone is there to put on a show, but they don't want to feel like they're having to really "work". They have mundane jobs for that. This means that the director has to try to keep things light.

This leads to directing styles ...

Directing

Without going into everything that can be covered in a class or two in College on directing, a ton of text books, and/or a lot of experience:

What I have found, as the person who usually directs the GSP plays, is that you have to let the actors have fun. This means that as a director, I often end up not doing all that much -- a lot depends on the play and the players -- some plays, even with a good group of actors, will still require more from the director than others.

I let the actors give me a ton of input for what we're doing. This gives the director two advantages I can think of immediately:

Don't let the first item fool you, though -- there is still work. Part of it is realizing when to put the actors back on track, because they will go on weird tangents. Let them have their fun for a bit, and then remind them that the idea is to put on the play ... get them going, and rehearse ...

You also have to have a pretty good idea how you feel the play should look when it comes to staging, and be willing to step in and show people what you need them to do, what to emphasize, etc.

All of the above said, the first few rehearsals will always take a lot of work, because you have to get the blocking worked out. I've found that sometimes it just helps to be on "stage" with the actors for some of this, but again, you have to work it out in whatever way works for you and the troupe. Some folk need to visualize it from the audience's point of view, some from the actor's ... make sure you write your stage directions down (in pencil, as they're likely to change over rehearsal time), and if you have a Stage Manager and/or Assistant Director, they should be doing the same!

Costumes

Costumes can be daunting, but seriously, in most cases, you can get away with what people have in their own SCA closets, particularly when you are getting started.

If you go the Commedia route, then costumes and masks can get tricky. It takes a lot more time and money than most people have ... start simple.

Sets

Sets can be useful, but they can be expensive. A complex set can also detract from your play.

Most of the plays the GSP have done have had simple sets -- a couple of walls, a table, a couple of chairs, a bench ... most of this is stuff you probably already have. A play about the SCA has the advantage that you can recreate the scenes pretty easily ... over time our sets have gotten more complex, but we also have a wide variety of options that we can "mix and match" to do many different things (walls with windows, doors, curtains, etc.).

We started out with a couple of simple free-standing walls. These were simply a couple of two-by-twos with legs so that they stood up, a cross-piece, and basically a sheet (or sheet-like fabric) hanging down (tied to the side poles)... with two of these, and other bits of furniture and what-not as noted above, you can do a lot.

Try to think "minimal" for your sets, particularly when starting out. You don't want to spend $500 or more to create flats and other set pieces, only to find that your acting troupe has fallen apart after the first play, and all that money that was spent for flats is something you won't be re-using after all ...

Performances

Of course, this is what it's all about ...

Suggestions:

After It's Over

If you can, try to schedule a cast party, and include everyone who helped out (and their "significant others" - wives, husbands, boyfriends, girlfriends, etc.). This gives a chance to "post-mortem" the performance, watch the video, blow off steam, and if you are planning on another show, a chance to make plans ... it also adds to the cameraderie of the troupe.

The GSP always try to hold the cast party the weekend after the performance, since trying to do the party the same evening as a performance is usually not easy to schedule (most people, after an SCA event, want to just go home and crash ...).

Summary

To sum up, it's not easy. It takes a lot of work.

However, that said, putting on a play at an SCA event can be quite rewarding. There's a rush when the first joke gets a good laugh ... there's an even bigger rush when the play is over and the audience applauds ...

Is it worth it? I think so, or my acting troupe would not still be around after all this time ...

Questions?

Feel free to ask questions -- you can send email to any of the group who are active -- see the "The Troupe" option in the Main Menu to the left. The links for individual names is an email link.