DEVELOPING A PERSONA
Swashbucklers is about having
fun, The only rule right now is “there are no rules.” So here
are some ideas we pirated from a very successful group, if you
choose to use them they may help.
There are several steps to developing a persona
and carrying that persona through at an event. The best
personae do not spring fully realized from your brain. They
are generally little sparks or funny ideas that pop out at the
oddest moments and are then developed over long periods of
time, like children who are born, then grow and learn. As your
character develops, you will find yourself staying more in
character at events and you will purchase clothes and props
for the character. (My character even goes shopping with me.)
I start here with the development of a
character from idea to real person and show you some of the
steps and exercises used in theater and writing to develop a
WHO AM I?
First, we start with some basic questions and
you should write down the answers to these. You may not have
all the answers, they will come later, but any answers you
already have will help you organize your thoughts. Also, as
you continue your research and read about pirates and piracy,
your characterization will grow. Remember you can change
anything at a later time - you don't have to be the same
What are my physical characteristics?
Am I tall or short, ugly or beautiful, fat or
Do I have any physical handicaps (this is fun
to play with later)?
Do I have a facial tic?
Is my hair long or short?
Do I have bad teeth that hurt all the time
and make me grouchy?
Was I hit by a cannonball so that I drag my
Do I squint?
Where am I from?
What time period do I live in?
In which country was I born?
Am I from the city or the country?
Do I have any siblings?
Where are my parents and did I have a good
Did my father beat me?
Do I come from a family of thieves?
Who are my relatives? I suggest you stay away
from having amnesia or being a bastard son of the King of
England since these are much harder to portray. It is more
fun to come from a dysfunctional family that the audience
can identify with.
Do I have a religion?
What was my education?
Can I read and write?
What is my name? While this is useful, it is
not urgent (one pirate I know hasn't picked a name in five
years). Try to pick a name that your friends will be glad to
use (not "Bitch of the Seas"). Look at the names of some
famous pirates: Mary Read, Anne Bonney, "Calico" Jack
Rackham, Henry Morgan, Blackbeard. Simple is better and
easier to remember: Blackdog, Agnes the Red, Jamaica Rose.
Now is the time to add some personality to the
mix. It is easier if you use your own personality, but you are
acting so anything goes.
Am I bossy or silent?
Am I a bully or a pushover?
Do I present one face to the world, but am I
secretly the opposite?
Am I brash and harsh?
Am I loud?
Am I a drunken lout?
Do I love being a pirate or hate it?
You don't have to psychoanalyze your character,
but looking at cause and effect will give you some help
staying in character. All of this will give you an idea about
where you might fit in with a crew or on land.
Which brings us to:
Where do I live and what do I do for a
Do I live on a ship?
What is its name?
What do I do besides being a pirate/sailor?
Am I the ship's surgeon or the cabin boy
(remember, we can't all be the captain)?
Was I an English sailor whose vessel was
taken by pirates or was I on my way to slave labor in the
What is my shipboard job?
Do I like it?
What do I dream of retiring to?
Do I live in
Port Royal ,
Do I serve the privateers rather than sail
with them? (Mother Rackett runs the local brothel and serves
as an informant to the Swashbucklers.)
By now you should be getting an idea of where
you might fit in with a mangy flea-bitten pirate crew. There
is one more important ingredient. How do I look? What do I
wear? If you have enough money for a silk brocade jacket and
$1,000 jack boots, you could be a captain; however, if you are
like most of us, you will have to start at the bottom and work
up. You are best off with a shirt and pants or skirt, hat and
maybe rope sandals. Most pirates started as poor sailors and
became pirates because it was a fast way to make money. Also,
when you are onboard ship, you don't wear your finery, you
wear your work clothes.
All this background may seem tedious to you,
but it is necessary because the easiest way to stay in
character is to tell the character's life stories. The
audience wants to know all about your character. The best
story is always: "How I became a pirate." You can tell your
own story at an encampment or you and a friend can play off
each other (like the Corsican Sisters do) or you can try to
tell your story while the crew stands behind you and makes
rude remarks about you ("I am the Duchess of Luxemborg." "Yea,
and if ye gives her a quarter, she'll be the queen!"). If you
are very shy, you can have someone tell your story for you.
Read the stories of real pirates and change them or use parts
of them to enhance your own story. Your stories can also be
about the girl you left behind, how you murdered your father
who beat you once too often, how all you ever dreamed about
was getting rich or the other characters you have met in your
travels. You can also get your shipmates to help you with your
STAYING IN CHARACTER
The hardest part of designing a character and
building a life story is staying in character when nothing is
really going on. This becomes easier when you choose a
personality close to your own or one you would like to be. You
must concentrate on where you are, what your character would
do in this situation, and how you are reacting as the
character. Learning sea chanteys will also give you something
to do at events. You can also learn a skill that you can
demonstrate (mending sails, tying knots).
You need to give your character space to grow.
Be slightly mysterious at the start. Lots of sailors and
pirates were wanted by the law and didn't want anyone knowing
In developing a persona you must create a
physical and psychological profile of your character. You
should read about pirates, sailors, privateers, buccaneers,
etc. Then, you can build stories about your character and
concentrate on your persona. My final word of advice is to
practice, practice, practice. Be your character as much as