Transmedia Storytelling in the Renaissance: From Theory to Implementation
The 3 Barons Renaissance Fair (3BF) is an annual event that is held in Anchorage, Alaska. Actors prepare for three months, sometimes more, to provide two full weekends of entertainment to patrons. The fair’s plot, in its simplest form, is that at one point every year, the baronies’ paths cross in a village called Hillshire. Every year, these barons compete for the fealty of the citizens therein. Each barony has a different concept. For example, the red barony encompasses the seven knightly virtues; green barony encompasses the seven deadly sins and the blue barony, the mysterious tricksters. Additionally, each barony represents a somewhat specific place and time, though, being a fantasy fair, those times and places need not make sense together. The green barony hails from Elizabethan England, and other countries nearby. Red barony comes from renaissance Italy, while blue barony claim to be Moors.
A Case for Need at the 3 Barons Fair
In order to be successful, 3BF must recruit and retain actors. The former is relatively easy; people are drawn to renaissance fairs because they like to participate in role-playing situations that would otherwise break social norms (Montola, 2007). However, when reality hits, and they must attend rehearsals, perform assigned tasks, learn a new language, and improvise using a set of given rules. The role-playing is less about breaking social norms, and more about the mundane tasks of everyday life. In order to retain actors, the benefits of the activity must outweigh the output, or effort, required.
Another need for success is fundraising. In order to support the actors, courts are responsible for providing food, water, and shade (in the form of tents and furniture), for the duration of the fair day. There are also decorations, costumes, stages, paints, and other materials to consider when preparing for the two weekend performance. The only alternative to fundraising, in the courts, is to require actors to donate money. As 3BF is a not for profit organization, recruiting volunteers is paramount. However, this becomes difficult when volunteers are required to put in not only time, but money as well.
Finally, in order to be successful, 3BF must have ever increasing attendance. Patrons who pay admission fees, purchase items from vendors (who pay vendor fees, and thereby provide financial gain for the organization), and participate in the shows and demonstrations, are not only the purpose of the fair, but the primary funding source for everything that is not funded by the courts (e.g., plot rental fees, permits, compensation to board members, etc.).
Currently, 3BF uses only theatrical storytelling. Staged fights in the form of a living chess game, peasant dancing which requires the participation of patrons, a tomato show, plays put on by each barony, as well as puppet shows and tavern sing-alongs are among the most noteworthy events at the fair. The most popular of these are the ones which require the participation of patrons (i.e., Tomato Show, peasant dancing, and the Naughty Bawdy Tavern Show). When people are given a role, immersed, or involved, they take more of a personal interest in the story being told (Montola, 2007). Additionally, escapism, or the opportunity to enter an alternative reality to their typical existence, offers a sense of enjoyment (Green, Brock, & Kaufman, 2004). Social interactions motivate people to participate, as does competition, and a sense of achievement (Yee, 2006).
Accommodating the needs of the 3BF presents a unique challenge. Several of the largest renaissance fairs in the US simply provide a website containing dates and times, performer profiles, and information about themes or storylines. Little is done to embellish the storyline using alternative media. Though, given the subject of the renaissance itself, this may seem an intuitive progression using available media, new avenues for problem solving must be considered if drastic improvement is to occur. Finally, it is worth mentioning, that poor communication between board members leads to independent problem solving for courts.
Presented in this paper are ideas for the implementation of the transmedia telling of the history and concept of the green court of the 3BF. This approach takes into consideration theories and media based methods of social change for the monetary and participatory advancement of the 3BF.
Transmedia storytelling is the telling of a story using a variety of media for the immersion of the audience into a richer, more comprehensive piece of fiction (Jenkins, 2007). A powerful example of transmedia storytelling is seen in games convergence (Freitas & Griffiths, 2008). Games are often used alongside movies, internet sites, and books, in order to provide a deeper world for consumers to become immersed in. The ever increasing complexity of expectations within entertainment necessitates these adaptations to less traditional media (Johnson, 2005).
In order to meet the needs of the green court (i.e., in court fundraising and recruitment), a website will be created from the point of view of the lady steward of the court (aka Lady Charisma). As Lady Charisma is the most trusted protector and spy of the green baron, head of household, and information procurer, a website works to push her story into a new era (by merging renaissance and current sensibilities). This website, which would solicit fan fiction (aka ‘gossip’), forum based role-playing, twitter feeds, and which encourages in-person participation (as advertised using email and text lists), would converge computer and mobile media, as well as literary and theatrical forms of entertainment.
Fan fiction is the writing of original fiction by fans. This fiction is based on existing characters, worlds, and stories. (Dictionary.com, 2011). Often, new characters are created and integrated with existing ones. Forum based role-playing games (RPGs) are immersive stories created by groups of people based on a specified set of rules (Wikipedia.com, 2011). Numerous people write narratives together, effectively creating a story; in this case, about the green court.
Encouraging these stories allows fans to imagine themselves, or their created characters, as members of the green barony. Immersion and escapism are among the primary motivations for playing massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) (Yee, 2006). Creating stories with other participants, specifically participants within one’s own community, allows for socialization and networking (Haythornthwaite & Kendall, 2010); motivations also found in MMORPG gaming (Cole & Griffiths, 2007). And, in answer to the needs of the 3BF, fan fiction writers and RPG players may be persuaded to become actors in the green court, based on the foot-in-the-door principle (Myers, 2010).
Using Twitter to relay character messages, and updates on the daily goings on in the green court, will allow for social networking and outreach both within, and outside the Anchorage community (Java, Song, Finin, & Tseng, 2007). Using Twitter to update participants, or prospective participants, takes advantage of the increasing dependency of mobile connectedness on socialization via Twitter apps (Chayko, 2007). Adding Twitter feeds to the website for green court, not only allows for another avenue of information dissemination, but also allows for a different type of information to be shared (Hoover, 2011).
Prospective actors, or those only interested in web based participation, would be invited, via email, voice or video calls, or SMS text, to take part in real life improvisational situations with established actors in the court. Creating a sense of urgency and need, allows those who are achievement driven to feel a sense of accomplishment, while still benefitting from socialization, immersion, and, to an extent, escapism (Yee, 2006). This addition to the website would allow for the advertisement of fundraising and recruitment efforts (e.g., allowing participants to purchase clothing which marks them as green court minions), and court activities (e.g., parties or rehearsals), while still taking advantage of convergence for the enjoyment of participants.
Transmedia storytelling is not only a way to provide richer fictional worlds and experiences; it can lead to social change (Jenkins, 2009). Taking advantage of all of the resources available, writers, producers, advertisers, directors, and anyone else with a story to share, encourages the participation of audiences, and may result in loyalty and support beyond expectation (Johnson, 2005).
In order to solve problems for the 3BF, a project has been proposed which would combine varying media (e.g., mobile apps, texting, web based fiction writing, gaming, etc.) in order to solicit support, participation, and additional funding sources. When participants are thus enthralled in the story of the green court, a venue is opened to current green court actors for additional rehearsal, recruiting, and social networking. Though taking advantage of 21st century technology is not a typical practice for the further telling of renaissance period stories by even the largest of the US’s festivals, a case has been made as to the possible benefits of such an implementation.
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