[Cynnabar] Generalist Events vs. Niche Events or Opening the Can of Worms

Monique Rio mrio at umich.edu
Wed Sep 14 15:56:40 UTC 2011

The question of whether or not to comp/give a discount to volunteers
is actually part of a bigger issue: niche events vs. generalist
events. The issue is complicated, so I think it deserves a thought out
response. Below is the summary. Below that is is the justification.
There are headings to make this very TLDR email more digestable.

In general we like the idea of everyone chipping in to pay for the
space to participate in their hobby. This doesn’t work as well at
niche events since not everyone is able to do their thing. However,
there are many good reasons why we should do niche events even though
not everyone can fully participate. There are also good reasons why
teachers should get a discount and musicians should be comped at

I suggest we should comp/give discounts to volunteers at our niche
events, but not at generalist events. Who we comp at niche events
should be worked out ahead of time so that the everyone finds it fair.
Also, niche events are awesome and I’m so glad we do them.

>From what I gather the general SCA opinion on paying for events is
that everyone should except royalty and possibly “guests of honor.” We
all chip in to pay for the space to partake in our hobby. We all
volunteer so that the event is successful.

This works very well for generalist events like Twelfth Night,
Wassail, Val Day etc. At these events there’s something for everyone.
You’d come to the event anyway even if your services weren’t needed.
Generally volunteer positions aren’t too intense. It’s an hour or two
out of your day. There are still plenty more hours left to do what you

For niche events this model doesn’t work as well. One particular group
benefits a lot more than the others. Everyone not in that group is in
a support role. For many of the people in those support roles, the
main reason they come to a niche event is that they want to support
the barony and/or they have a job to do. If it weren’t for those
things they wouldn’t go. In my opinion, it’s asking a lot for
non-dancers at Terpsichore to pay to volunteer at gate or to pay to
work in the kitchen. At the very least they should get a discount and
probably should be fully comped. There’s a difference between helping
to make an event you’re enjoying successful and paying to volunteer. I
don’t think we should ask people to pay to volunteer. And honestly I
think there should be a discount for any non-dancer who attends.

I think a lot of us feel uncomfortable about niche events for a number
of reasons.

1) The structure is inherently unfair. One group is catered to but
everyone is called to help out.

2) They are the exception to the rule, especially at the Baronial
level. Most Baronial events in our kingdom look the same: fighting all
day, one track of classes on a wide variety of topics, court, and
feast.  Maybe some shopping. Maybe a ball. Niche events like Grand
Tourney and Terpsichore at the Baronial level are rare.

3) In the modern world, the generalist event fits the house party
model. At a house party there’s usually something for everyone there
to do, hosts and guests alike. The host takes on all the
administrative tasks and usually pays for food and drink. The
expectation is that eventually someone else will host a party and take
on the admin duties, but even if they don’t that’s OK, hosting is fun.
It makes sense that at this kind of event everyone pays including the
host. We like this model. It’s warm and fuzzy feeling.

If a niche event were a house party it’d look like this. Let’s say
there are two housemates. One housemate loves sports the other
housemate is ambivalent at best about sports. The housemates have
separate checking accounts. Sports-Lover wants to host a Superbowl
Party and expects Sports-Ambivalent to help out. Sports-Ambivalent
wants to promote social harmony so agrees to help out with party
management. But that isn’t enough. Sports-Lover also expects
Sports-Ambivalent to help out with party expenses from his personal
account. Time and money are expected from Sports-Ambivalent. This is
not a happy model. We do not like this.

Granted I know this is how lots of family parties look. Not only do
you not want to go, but you have to get a gift for the person(s) of
honor. I don’t think this is either good or healthy. I think it’s a
lot more respectful to everyone if we recognize who attends out of
obligation and who’s there because he wants to be. It’d be a lot nicer
if Sports-Lover said to Sports-Ambivalent, “I know you don’t really
want to be here. I appreciate your help, that’s payment enough.” That
gives Sports-Ambivalent a chance to be generous and chip in if he
feels so inclined.

Also, most niche events look a lot like modern world workshops.
Terpsichore in particular looks like a dance workshop AACTMAD would
host. (AACTMAD = Ann Arbor Community for Traditional Music and Dance).
These workshops are financed by the participants. Volunteers either
get a discount or get their entry fee comped depending on how much
they volunteer. (Same model as Science Fiction Conventions.) Teachers
and Callers are paid. Musicians are paid. The main difference is
AACTMAD is a dance/music organization. You’re not going to have people
who neither dance nor play music volunteering. But that to me means
it’s even more silly to expect our volunteers who neither dance nor
play music to have to pay the full entrance fee at Terpsichore. Still,
we don’t like this model because it’s not the happy house party model.

So, if niche events are inherently unfair and don’t fit the good happy
house party model, should we even have them at all? I think we
absolutely should, and here’s why:

1) They bring prestige to the Barony. People will travel to a niche
event. They won’t travel to an event that looks like every other event
in their region.

2) They are where mastery is developed. It’s actually really hard to
develop mastery in a systematic way through the SCA. At any event with
a lot of classes, the vast vast majority of them will be entry level.
They have to be because you don’t know how many people in your field
will be at a given generalist event and everyone assumes they can drop
in on whatever class they want to. Kasha for instance taught a great
class at Wassail and Twelfth night last year on the music of the Notre
Dame School. At Wassail several people came to her class, most of
which were from the choir, some of which had very little music
experience. At Twelfth Night only Aaron and I showed up. This class
would have been well attended at Cecilia Day, but I think it didn’t
work at Twelfth Night because it was too deep.

The only generalist event I can think of where beyond entry level
classes work is Pennsic, and that’s because Pennsic is huge. And even
at Pennsic, you can’t go as in-depth as you could at a niche event.

Aside from Pennsic (and maybe RUM... I’ve never been there), if you
really want to learn your craft you need to go to a Known World
Symposium and/or find someone to apprentice to. Or if you want to
learn about dance you can go to Terpsichore. Niche events are where
it’s at.

3) They promote greater cohesiveness in the Barony. Generalist events
are more cliquish. Fighters hang out with fighters, dancers with
dancers, class goers with class goers. There’s no reason for these
groups to mingle. At Terpsichore people who don’t ordinarily dance
either try it out or help to make the dancing great. At Grand Tourney
non-fighters get a chance to actually see what this fighting thing is
all about since nothing else is competing for their attention. Also I
think niche events are where groups really get a chance to see how
much their Barony supports them.

We should give Terp teachers a discount because that’s how every other
dance organization in the country does it. If you teach at workshop
you get paid to do so. Outside of the SCA I’ve never heard of dance
teachers paying for the privilege of teaching. And the classes taught
at Terpsichore are not “lowest-common denominator classes”. Some are,
but many of the classes are based on new research. Also, as Alina
mentioned, the majority of our teachers aren’t from the Barony. Giving
them a discount is a way of saying “Thank you” for helping to make our
event great. This discount is appreciated. And one more thing,
teaching at Terpsichore is actually a bit of a sacrifice on the part
of the teacher. At Terpsichore the maximum number of classes someone
can attend is 5 (not counting Midair’s 9AM track). Every class you
teach is one you aren’t taking. Some of our teachers teach more than
one class.

For the musicians, again, this is how it works in every dance
organization in the country. Dancers chip in to pay for the band. The
band gets paid. Also, it’s my impression that Cynnabar has hired bands
to play for Terpsichore in the past. The main difference between
Ritornello and Ye Hired Band is that Ritornello is local and we
haven’t made any CDs yet. We practice ahead of time. We aren’t an open
pit. Etc. Etc. If we were an open pit, it’d be different. Also, the
Pittsfield Open Band, a local community band that plays for contra
dances and is very comparable to Ritornello gets /paid/ to play for
said contra dances. We’re not suggesting that Ritornello get paid, but
simply that if someone in the band is only coming to play for the
evening, that they shouldn’t have to pay to do that. If they go to
classes during the day then they should pay since they’re now a

To sum up, I think we should comp volunteers at our niche events. I
don’t think we should comp volunteers at generalist events. I think
who we comp at niche events should be worked out ahead of time so that
the everyone finds it fair. Also, niche events are awesome and I’m so
glad we do them.

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