For the East Kingdom 50th Year event, Duchess Avelina wanted a Town Center where people could gather. The concept was a success despite the oppressive heat, and we want to encourage autocrats to try variations of it at their own events. This is a summary of what we learned creating the Town Center. EK 50 Year was a large camping event, but the ideas are adaptable to any event that has space.
Look for a location that will be crossed by people on their way to and from activities at an event. The space should be in an open area that is easily seen, so people can see the activities happening. The concept of a Town Center isn’t common in the East. People need to stumble into it. Depending on the activities, you may want access to other things like running water or electricity. Carefully consider traffic flow — you want people to be able to both congregate and travel through it easily.
While much of the Town Center is fairly passive, or has activity coordinators, the space benefits from having a point person present to monitor the flow, note any problems, and make changes on the fly. They can adjust timing if there’s an impromptu or delayed court. They can also shift around resources, like at East Kingdom 50th when a last minute slip-n-slide was made out of supplies on the spot to deal with the heat. This can be one person or several people as long as there is a way for them to easily share information.
Space should be available for both planned activities and impromptu gatherings. Define the areas with canopies, tents, or tables for all kinds of activities, planned or unplanned. Good things happen when people cross paths and have a place to talk. Post the planned activities’ locations with a schedule of events. Clearly label the locations, preferably from multiple angles, so people know what is reserved space and where to show up for the activities.
These items were the most useful at 50 Year.
· Chairs – Sounds obvious, but people don’t carry around chairs at events all the time.
· Tables – These can be for both scheduled activities and for general use.
· Shade – For outside events, create shade or protection from the rain.
· Baby/Toddler friendly space – Parents can talk to people more easily if their small children are contained. This could be a pop-up with boundaries or a large amount of baby fencing at an inside event.
· Room to store things – Space to leave baskets brings people back to the space and makes it easier to take a break there.
· Signs – To identify spaces and have a visible schedule.
Activities that create conversations, allow strangers to interact, or let people try something new had the most impact. Background activities that create atmosphere or let people watch without the pressure of staying for a whole performance were also popular.
· Trivia – This was easily the liveliest activity. You need a set of good questions and a host who can manage a crowd, plus a prize. 50 Year did East Kingdom trivia.
· A&S – Hands-on activities were offered. Glass bead making was a big hit.
· Refreshments – The simple offering of water, lemonade, and pretzels combined with a place to sit down and rest was provided a spot for people to chat.
· Games – Period board games were an easy way for people with free time or who like board games to sit, rest, and make new friends..
· Panels – Moderated Q&A panels created many interesting conversations among people who don’t normally ruminate on the nature of the SCA together. Themed panels included history, kingdom seneschals, each peerage, , former royalty, performing in the SCA, growing up in the SCA, the Webministry, and heraldry. The moderator had prepared questions, took questions from the audience, and was active in encouraging balance between the talkative and the reserved attendees.
· Meetings – These can be arranged meetings or drop-in hours for officers to take questions.
· Background Entertainment – Options include storytelling (historical), storytelling (bardic) , and music.
· Demos — Both martial and crafty demos draw spectators, who then have something to talk about. While tournaments are one option, 50 Year had a hurley game (despite the heat) which was loud. visible from a distance, and a good draw. Anyone willing to work on their art in the space can become a demo for passersby. Try to solicit demos from folks who are eager to display, rather than deciding on a demo topic and getting volunteers.
A NEW TRADITION
The best thing about the East Kingdom is the people. Getting them to spend some time mingling and trying new things will only improve our events. While the concept of a Town Center is relatively new to Eastern events, with a little effort it could become familiar as a place that people recognize and utilize. A Town Center won’t coalesce on its own; it does need a bit of planning and signage. It doesn’t have to be all things to all people at all events. We hope that with more practice and exposure, the Town Center will become a part of the Eastern experience.
The Town Center was created by many individuals from the planning committee to the staff that ran the activities. Questions about the Town Center can be directed to Mistress Catrin o’r Rhyd For, who was technically in charge of the area.