Monday, April 13, 2009

Aristotle at Darkstone

I was asked to teach a class on persona at an event created to introduce and encourage the bardic arts in the Shire of Darkstone. I should mention that Northshield interprets the word "bardic" very loosely, including all performance arts, but particularly those that recall and bring to life "the Dream".
I used Aristotle's Poetics to structure the class. I thought this fitting, since our word "persona" was lifted directly from ancient Greek/Roman theatre. Aristotle lists six elements of present in any tragedy: plot, characters, diction, thought, spectacle, and melody. I suggested ways in which each of these elements could be used to enhance the drama that we create as we enact the drama of our modern middle ages.
Spectacle is the only part of the drama. Participants are required to wear garb, though we use other visual means to "dress the set" such as banners, tools, and the hiding of modernity. Diction includes the words we speak, both the subjects and the words themselves. (I warned of the dangers of immersing oneself in Norse poetics and then going to work.) Under the melody rubric I encouraged the use of medieval music, but allowed that even in period drama the time barrier was crossed. Plot is crucual for Aristotle. For us, plot might come up in a war scenario or a coronation, but our "action" tends to be the creation of A&S projects, and perhaps our learning a skill. Character is the soul of persona. I encouraged immersion in a particular time/place as similar to an academic major; as an opportunity to specialize. I also encouraged backstory as a way to round out a persona. Unfortunately, I ended up making my real-life persona, who actually does the work of sewing, spading and cooking, into the servant of my period persona, who has People to do that. That was a scary thought. Digging into character more deeply reveals thought, Aristotle's last category. I challenged folks to think as their persona; to interpret the world in medieval categories.
In short, I suggested that persona development was a way to enter into our medieval drama more fully, and to bring the drama alive for others.