How to participate

So you’ve heard that there’s an “event” or other gathering of interest in a week or two, and you’d like to go and see what this group is like. There are several different ways SCA-folk get together:

Kinds of gatherings

Usually considered the central focus of the SCA. Usually held at a rented site (church, fraternal-order hall, community center, YMCA camp, etc.) or a public park. Most events are on Saturdays, from late morning to late evening, but some are on Sundays, some are just an afternoon or evening, many are a whole weekend, and a few last a week or longer.
An event often includes such activities as a “heavy-weapons” tournament (swords, spears, battle-axes, etc.), a fencing tournament, an archery tournament, musical or theatrical entertainment, dancing, classes, etc.

Local events
An event organized by a local group (Canton, Province, etc.) and intended for mostly local people, although if the event is announced in the Kingdom newsletter, anybody can attend. Usually under a hundred people.
Kingdom events
Typically larger events of several hundred people, who may have travelled hundreds of miles to get there. Some are tied to a time of year, e.g. Twelfth Night; some are focused around a particular tournament or ceremony, e.g. Coronation, Crown Tourney, Archery Champions, Fencing Champions, Bardic Champions, etc; and some are simply large events that traditionally draw people from all over the Kingdom.
Inter-kingdom events
The largest events, generally scheduled on a long holiday weekend or even a week or more, with thousands of people. The best-known and largest is the Pennsic Warevery August in western Pennsylvania.
“Schola” or “University” events
These may be organized at a local, Kingdom, or inter-Kingdom level. They’re distinct from other kinds of events in that the central focus is not a tournament or a ceremony, but rather a series of classes on various SCA-related subjects.
“In-persona” events
At most SCA events, people’s conversation is a mix of medieval and modern topics; you may hear a conversation switch in rapid succession from e-mail spam-blockers and car repair to who got what SCA “award” to how to build a 15th-century hat. Some events, for part of the day or part of the site, are “in-persona”: people are expected to confine their conversation to topics that a person in the Middle Ages or Renaissance could reasonably have discussed. This is not as difficult as you might think: what you’re having for dinner, the quality of the entertainment, and the remarkable beauty and/or wit of your dining companions are all things a medieval person could reasonably discuss.
Local SCA groups often arrange public demonstrations for school groups, museums, parks, fairs, etc. These differ from events in that there’s a clear performer/audience distinction; we are putting on a show for somebody else. Some demos are primarily educational: we’re there to show what various aspects of life were like in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Other demos are primarily about recruiting: we’re there to show off what the SCA does, with the hope that some of the audience will decide to try it themselves. A demo usually has a coordinator, who maintains communication with the site and organizes what’s supposed to happen when. Demos are not necessarily “open to all comers”; if you want to demonstrate something, talk to the coordinator well in advance.
In between formally-organized events and demos, there are lots of less-formal gatherings, typically at a member’s home, in a public park, or (in some cases) at a rented site, for which people are expected to chip in. The most common practices around here are fighter practice, fencing practice, archery practice, dance practice, music practice, brewing workshop, cooking workshop, calligraphy workshop, heraldry workshop, etc. For most of these gatherings, pre-1600 clothing is allowed but not required (especially if the gathering is on a weeknight after people get off work or school). Although each practice has a focus activity, there’s usually a good deal of socializing as well.
Business Meetings
The Crown Province has a business meeting once a month, and each Canton has its own business meeting, ranging from every three months to twice a month. At these meetings, people will discuss the organization of upcoming events, report on what happened at recent events, make announcements, and socialize with their friends. Medieval clothing not required, and most people attend in street clothes after work or school.

What to bring

In general, the SCA welcomes participants of all ages, but if you’re under 18 years old, don’t try to attend events or (most) practices or meetings without a parent; you’ll be turned away at the door. (And if you look like you might be under 18, bring proof of age.) An exception is practices held in public places, like dance practice in Central Park or fighter practice in Union Square, McCarren Park, etc.People under 18 (even with a parent) also aren’t allowed to fight in the “heavy list”, although many under-18’s have honed their skills in “youth combat” (lighter armor, softer weapons, fighting only other youths) and, as soon as they turned 18, been formidable opponents in standard SCA combat. Update: As of summer 2011, “heavy” combat may be open to 16 and 17 year olds, pending legal advice.
Almost all SCA events around here charge a “site fee” before you can get in the door. This pays for rental of the site, day-board (see Food, below), and incidental expenses related to running the event. If there’s a profit, it goes into a Canton, Provincial, or Kingdom bank account, generally to be used towards future events. You can make life much easier for the people running the event (and save yourself a few dollars) by reserving and paying in advance. Membership in the SCA, Inc. (see below) is not required in order to attend events, but most events have a “non-member surcharge” of a few dollars, so if you’re attending at least one event per month, it’ll probably save you money. Some events take donations instead of a set “site fee”; they may have a “suggested donation,” but people can donate less or more depending on their own income.Many events also have “merchants” who will be happy to sell you books, clothing, “feast gear” (see below), weapons and armor, and at larger events even furniture and tents; some can accept credit cards, most can accept checks, and all can accept cash.
Unless stated otherwise, period clothing is required at events — but the standards are “some attempt at pre-1600 clothing,” so if you don’t happen to have a highly authentic historical costume in your closet, you can either improvise or borrow something. If you want to borrow clothing, contact the Chatelaine a few days before the event. In any case, most events provide changing rooms where people can change from modern clothes (“mundanes”) to historical costume on arrival and change back before they leave.
Food and Feast Gear
Most indoor events include in the site fee a “day-board”, i.e. a buffet-style lunch. Dishes and silverware may be provided for this, but not always; see “feast gear” below.Many indoor events (and a few camping events) also have a more elaborate dinnertime “feast”, which is usually an optional add-on to the site fee. Bring your own “feast gear”, or dishes and silverware, for this: ideally a wooden, ceramic, or metal plate and soup-bowl, a wooden, horn, or metal spoon, a knife for cutting things up (the size of a modern steak-knife), some kind of cloth napkin, and possibly a fork (forks weren’t common in most of Europe until late in SCA period, but nobody will snark at you for using one.) Some people with Oriental personas use chopsticks. Many people bring candles and candle-holders to light their tables, but some sites don’t allow exposed flames so you’ll need something enclosed. After dinner, as people segue back into their 21st-century selves, there’s frequently a do-it-yourself dishwashing station, or you can just bring a plastic bag, throw your dirty dishes into it, and wash them when you get home.Some smaller events and less-formal gatherings — practices and business meetings — are on a pot-luck basis: bring one dish, in roughly the amount of food that you would eat, and share it with others. These dishes don’t have to be from medieval recipes, nor home-made, but if you’d like to try cooking some medieval recipes, there are plenty of skilled cooks in the Province who can advise you, and there are hundreds of medieval recipes available on the Web; see the Ostgardr cooking page to get started.

How to Join

You can attend SCA events as long as you wish without ever formally “joining” an organization; however, if you’re attending a lot of them, you may find it useful to become a paid member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc.. This will get you a membership card, a monthly Kingdom newsletter, and a discount getting into most events. While you’re reading about SCA membership, consider subscribing to the Society-wide quarterly magazine, Tournaments Illuminated; it’s a few dollars more, but it has a lot of interesting and useful articles.

You may also choose to subscribe to the Østgarðr monthly newsletter, the Seahorse; contact the Chronicler at seahorse at ostgardr dot org to request a free sample issue, and send $7 for a year’s subscription if you like it. Some of the Cantons also have their own newsletters, each with its own subscription policy. Again, newsletter subscription is optional.

Other info links

Start by visiting the SCA Newcomers’ Page, where there are a number of useful guides. In reading these, remember that some customs differ from Kingdom to Kingdom: for example, some Kingdoms (including the East) hold most of their events indoors, in rented buildings, and wouldn’t dream of holding a significant event without a feast, while other Kingdoms hold most of their events in public parks, and at dinnertime people take down their tents and go out to a restaurant.