Wallowing in the past can be a messy affair

The Society for Creative Anachronism brings to life bygone customs at a Shakespeare festival.

Published February 19, 2007

NEW PORT RICHEY - In this world, purists don't wear deodorant.

Or use toothpaste.

Or shave.

That goes for women.

"It's disgusting," said Heather Harris, a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, an international, nonprofit, educational organization that celebrates pre-17th century life. Harris wrinkled her nose. She's 36 and has been a dedicated member of SCA since she was a teen. But she, like many, picks and chooses what aspects of Medieval life she'll live by.

"I leave all that plague and pestilence out of it," she said.

The SCA group was on hand for the Shakespeare by the River festival in New Port Richey this weekend. The event included plays, movie screenings, lectures and other things tied to the time period of William Shakespeare, who lived from 1564 to 1616.

Like all groups, SCA members vary from extreme to moderate. Some people, when they're role-playing at an event which usually spans several days of camping and re-enactments in areas across the country they are their chosen character. Others are more loose - they'll hide their Coke cans in period-proper leather cups and use toilet paper when camping.

"I still say 'rock on' and 'dude,' " said Serena Wolf, a 28-year-old SCA member from Safety Harbor, as she strapped on her fighting armor. She was introduced to the group by a friend a few years ago and fell in love with it.

"The people are what keep you in it," she said.

Saturday afternoon at Sims Park, Harris and other SCA members geared up and fought with swords - which are made of rattan and duct tape and really hurt when you get a good shot. Bruises are common in this group. The fights might not look like it to an outsider, but they are very competitive. Who rules as king or queen is chosen by sword fighting.

"It's serious," said Greg Harris, who is married to Heather. They met each other around a campfire at an event near Orlando a dozen years ago. Heather and Greg had been on the battlefield all day. They were dirty and sweaty and sore. It was love.

"If you like somebody that much when he's smelly, you're sure to like him when he's clean," Heather said.

The image most people have of SCA members - oddities clanking around in battle armor at festivals such as this weekend's - isn't the sum of the group.

"People probably look at us like we're a bunch of weirdos," Greg said. "This isn't for everybody. And if it's not for you, that's okay."

Fighting is just one aspect. Some get into SCA because they love history. Everyone seems to have a skill: Brewing period-authentic beer or making mead. There's archery, heraldry, falconry, calligraphy. Equestrian events. Weaving, spinning, needlepoint. Blacksmithing, leatherwork, beadwork. Some people delve into the music and dances. Others devote themselves to cooking - using only ingredients and tools that were in vogue back then - and providing feasts for everyone.

"If it was done before 1600, there's a person in SCA who knows how to do it," said Scott Buckley, 31, of New Port Richey, who joined in 1997. He hauls concrete blocks for a living.

"It's such a diverse group," he said. "We've got people who flip burgers. Lawyers. Doctors. A cardiovascular surgeon."

Greg Harris owns his own glass company in Tampa. Heather is a graphic artist. They have two little girls, who come with them to events. Heather loves the escapism part of SCA.

"It's good for mental health," she said.

Sometimes events will last a week or more - days of leaving reality, entering this alternate world. Parking the car far away with the cell phone turned off in it. Here, Heather's known as Maisie of Dunbarton. She's an eighth-century Scottish noblewoman who fights men thrice her size and drinks and talks around a campfire at night, listening to people play music from a time long dead that, for at least a few weeks a year, feels as real to her as the flickering flames.

Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4609.

Fast Facts:

On the Web

The Society for Creative Anachronism is an international, nonprofit, educational society celebrating pre-17th century history. Here are some informational Web sites:

- sca.org - the national site, with links to find local chapters

- http://scademo.com/index.php - a site explaining the society for newcomers

- http://trimaris.org/ - site for members of the Kingdom of Trimaris, which covers most of Florida. There are links to calendars and contacts. On this site, Kim Suarez (otherwise known as Hon. Lady Raynagh Binnech ingen Griffyn) is listed as the contact. Number is (352) 687-0809.

Shakespeare by the River

So you couldn't make it out there this year? Or you did, and you want to volunteer next year?

For more information on the event, which is presented by the New Port Richey Library and Richey Suncoast Theatre, go to http://www.shakespearebytheriver.com.

You also can contact Ann Scott at the New Port Richey Library at ascottfl@gmail.com or (727) 853-1265.