I had been in the SCA for about 4 years when I all of a sudden found myself at a rainy event, bored to tears. I was quickly discovering that Archery is not a spectator sport, I should've brought my heavy cloak, and there were no unattached men available to flirt with. I was about to throw in the towel on the SCA all together as too expensive for an underemployed liberal arts major to enjoy at all when I asked myself the critical question, "What would make the perfect event, anyway?" I thought of springtime images from Camelot's famous "Lusty Month of May" routine, and I was immediately inspired. Men and women chasing each other in the safe-flirting, romantic world of the SCA was exactly what I wanted to see at an event. Of course, I needed to keep this in a period setting, so I had to discover something about period social arts. I also had a nagging desire to spend the entire day dancing at an SCA event instead of just a few minutes here and there or after court. So, upon discovering the following 1) nearly all contact with the opposite gender in period happened at a ball on the dancefloor 2) There were only 2 other events in the Midrealm that were focused on dance 3) I knew of a dance hall I could get for free... The Ball was born.
The first year was indeed the most difficult. I had no guidance from anyone more experienced and no established form of event to copy. The best I'd had to go off of was Crystal Ball, which I'd only heard stories about at that time. I did, however, have plenty of support from dance enthusiasts all over the knigdom and two very special supporters here in town.
Lady Robyn Wilderkin was, and currently is, a professor at Butler University, and Lord Quinton St. James was a Senior there. They had established a university club called The Butler University Medieval Society, B.U.M.S. Through this club, they helped me arrange to have a large ball room at the University and some hallway space for the event at no charge to us. We scheduled it for June 30, the weekend after Crown Tourney. The Barony of Sternfeld voted to approve my proposal -- especially after they heard it would be free.
Issues that came up after that were inumerable. Everything from advertizing to measuring the hallway space for merchanting. We argued with the caterers on site about bringing in snacks for lunch and desserts, but we had to fall back and punt. Lady Moira Mathews belonged to a church nearby that would allow us to have our dessert revel there, thankfully, but we had to drop the idea of a feast. The sound system in the hall wouldn't be accessible to us without major red tape cutting, and the lady in the office had decided she didn't like our group. The Barony's boom box wouldn't fill the room with music, and no one had a better box to offer. Music stands for the dance band were nowhere to be found, and musicians were difficult to sign on in the first place.
There were a million things that went wrong, but one thing went very right -- marketing. At first, no one outside my circle of friends knew about this little event, and if it were to ever have a life of its own, it needed to have a good attendance. This, suprisingly enough, is where the "orange thing" came into play.
I'd gone through a number of possible titles for the event including "Feast of St. Joan", "Lusty Day In May" and others I can't remember. The one that stuck came from the cloved orange game we have in the SCA that facilitates flirting. I really liked that because I felt there was just not enough free floating affection being shared in our uptight little community. So, we called it The Cloved Orange Ball, and I went shopping. I found some cheap, 100% cotton, orange and white striped fabric on the clearance table at Jo-Anne's. I can't sew worth a darn, so I figured this would make a festive, cheap, easy to sew, drawstring skirt for me to wear at the event. I also made fliers on orange paper and had the web page background color in orange.
Just after the event, I presented what I'd been using as my personal token to Baron Erick as a token he could offer to his people in recognition of their participation and support of the social graces. That token is a long, orange strip of bright orange trigger cloth with a small circle of lace sewed on the end. Underneath the lace are a few whole cloves making this token a "Cloved Orange." Later Baron Erick continued to use the token as a baronial award for courtesy. The token was and still is used as a thank you token for the staff of the Cloved Orange Ball since they work very hard in supporting the social graces and courtesy.
So, the next thing you know, people are calling me "The Orange Lady" and giving me orange stuff. I swear it happened on it's own. I was given everything from bright orange canvas to junky orange napkin rings (which I still haven't found a use for). I quickly discovered that people had latched onto the orange idea as a connection to the ball, so I took advantage of it. I wanted nothing more than for the event to survive, so I turned myself into a walking advertizement for the Cloved Orange Ball. I started watching out for orange stuff when shopping and buying it if I had any excuse to use it. I collected lots of stuff, but the clincher was Palymar and Aislinn's Coronation...
A friend of mine, Megan De Grinstead, wanted to teach me a new pattern for a houpelond. She told me to find some cheap fabric I wouldn't mind loosing if I screwed up the dress the first time around. So, I brought out this bright orange cotton I'd used as decoration swags at the Ball. I actually made a rather nice dress out of it, so I decided to wear it to Coronation. Little did I know that people would notice as dramatically as they did, but from then on, The Orange Lady was a nickname stuck to me for good.
It worked well, because the second year of the Cloved Orange Ball was a great success. Quinton had graduated, so I couldn't use the Butler club anymore since there were no other members. Finding a new site was a *bitch*, but I finally came up with the Schull Rauch House. It's an old victorian mansion in downtown Indy. It's beautiful, affordable,had a big grassy lawn, and it's run by another non-profit agency. The weather was hot, and the air conditioning was old, so we did have a few complaints, but all in all, people just soaked up that site. Our problem was that it was just a little too small for the SCA, and we needed to move to a new site for the next year.
The following year was actually this spring. We had another extraordinary, tortuous, horrible time trying to find a decent site, and we found one that satisfied most requirements. The Indiana Convention Center had a set of three conference rooms with movable walls such that we could have three separate rooms during the day, and take away the walls for the huge ballroom at night! It was amazing. The only problem was a lack of easy parking, but frankly, the other advantages of the site outweighed that problem. There were huge bathrooms, handicapp accessability to everything, plenty of space, tables and chairs provided to us, and a million other wonderful perks. They provided a sound system with microphones for our live band, we had a huge amount of space for people to spread out and dance, and everyone had plenty of water and comfy chairs. I owe a lot of the success of this year's ball to a man who asked to co-autocrat with me, Lord Seannan O'Daire. He was a capable autocrat and made it possible for me to relax and have a little fun this year.
This event creates an atmostphere of romance that no other event in
the Midrealm achieves. Flirting is strongly encouraged, silliness
lurks around every corner, and there's always a game or dance available
for newbies and seasoned SCAdians alike. My favorite thing about
the SCA is the otherworldly atmosphere we create when we gather for events.
My mission in creating the Cloved Orange Ball was to give some space to
the lost arts of the social graces. I'm deeply pleased every time
a new member comes up to me and says, "The Cloved Orange Ball was my first
event!" It's another step in the growth of the SCA into creating
a more detailed and authentic experience for lovers of the Middle Ages.
I hope it lives forever.