Real Name: Chris Adler-France
SCA Name & title: Katja Davidova Orlova Khazarina, OP, OL, sixth baroness of Thescorre (retired). If a situation requires a title, I prefer Baroness over Mistress or Dame, but I mostly prefer to just be called Katja.
Years in the SCA: 35+.
How did you find out about the SCA? During my sophomore year in college, my journalism professor told me that she thought that I would really enjoy her hobby. I thought the SCA sounded extremely interesting – I’d enjoyed going to some Ren faires and it sounded similar — but I had a full course load and worked part-time at a newspaper, so I decided that I didn’t have the time for it at that point in my life.
A year later, a friend in my astronomy class also prodded me to check out the SCA, but the guys in carpet armor I saw bashing each other at the fight practice he drove me to didn’t grab my interest. After repeated nudges, he pointed out that there would be a fencing, fighting, and arts event in my hometown in a week. Being a mercenary student, I figured I’d combine checking out the society with getting paid; I successfully pitched the idea to my newspaper editor. I threw on what I thought was vaguely medieval (a long dress), grabbed my camera and a notepad, drove to the site… and saw fencers laughing as they danced around each other in a ring and used mugs and cloaks as parry weapons. It was so fluid and utterly different from the stiff, straight back-and-forth collegiate fencing I’d done, it immediately grabbed my attention. Unlike what little Ren faire fencing I’d seen, it was obviously not choreographed, and women were fencing, not just guys!! It looked real and authentic and absolutely fascinating.
As I investigated the event further, the display of arts was so much more varied than what I’d seen for sale at faires, plus people were eager to talk at length about how and why they made things. Many were even more eager to teach how to make them, they didn’t hoard their knowledge or skills. The people I interviewed for the story were from all backgrounds and knowledgeable about so many things, and everyone was so, so kind, unlike the rudeness so common in the “real world.”
I was completely, utterly hooked.
Where did you start, what was your first event? I lived in the Canton of Ravenhill, Barony Beyond the Mountain (East Kingdom) and initially played a lot in the nearby barony of Dragonship Haven. Although the Ravenhill Triple Threat in March 1988 was my first attended event, the first SCA event I went to as an actual participant was Pennsic War 17.
Yes, I am one of those SCAdians whose first event was Pennsic. One of the gentles I interviewed at the Ravenhill event managed to charm my phone number out of me, we started dating, and he convinced me to go to Pennsic with him four months later (and I married him a few years later).
Finishing college and working full-time at the newspaper took up most of my time in the beginning, so I attended only a handful of events (generally helping out in kitchens) plus Pennsic for six years until I moved to the barony of Thescorre. Besides Pennsic, the first event I attended in this kingdom was an Ice Dragon in either 1991 or 1992, when I drove up from the East to visit friends in the Buffalo area. The first event I attended as an Æthelmartian was Sergeants & Yeomen in 1994.
What is your persona? My name is Russian, I wear mostly 16th century Turkish garb, but my persona is actually 10th century Khazar. Since so far I’ve been unable to determine if women worked in kitchens in that time period and location, I couldn’t defend being a baker, so my persona is a noblewoman.
Why did you pick this persona? I wanted to explore my own genealogy a bit (I’m half Russian/Polish and half German), plus everyone I knew when starting out was mostly Celtic, Italian, or Japanese, and I wanted to do something different. I liked the name Katja, a nice herald who was an expert on Russian helped me select the patronymic Orlova, and I sort of pinned a dot on the 13th century and vaguely eastern Russia. Done!
Then … a few years later, I discovered that “Katja Orlova” was a character in a John Le Carre novel?! The College of Heralds doesn’t approve literary or real historical figure names, so my name was unintentionally illegal. Serendipitously, I’d gotten really interested at that point in researching the Jewish/Turkic country of Khazaria that existed between the Black and Caspian Seas from the 6th to 10th centuries, and I wanted to explore more of my Jewish heritage (my mundane father was Ashkenazi on both sides). So, I went to the heralds’ tent at Pennsic to amend my name to make it more Jewish than Russian, something like Katja bat David.
However, the Jewish herald expert was so incredibly unhelpful and condescending that I got up, returned to the nice herald who had helped me choose my Russian name, and with his guidance chose a second patronymic and a locative. So, rudeness and my own impatience is why I have this ridiculously long Russian name. To all the wonderful scribes who created gorgeous scrolls for me, I apologize.
As for why my name is Russian but I wear Turkish: I wore a variety of European garb for my first 15 years in Society until I began researching the Khazars while I was simultaneously falling in love with belly dancing. It’s very hard to determine exactly what Khazars wore, since there is almost no existing artwork of them, but the predominant garb of that region was either side-closed coats (like Mongol dels) or front-closed coats (like Turkish kaftans). After wearing very not-historically accurate American Tribal Style for a few years, I settled on 1500s Ottoman simply because of the amount of historical artwork available and because it’s flattering to my figure and have pretty worn that for the past 20 years.
Do you have any group or household affiliations? I’ve collected households completely without intending to do so. I was welcomed into House Atai (Sir Yoshina’s household) due to my then-husband when I first began playing, but I participated more often with and was ribboned to Clann O’Choda while I still lived in Connecticut. After I moved to Thescorre and eventually started dating my upgrade husband (Master Eric Grenier de Labarre), I began camping with him at Sharc Pit, a household of fencers mostly from the East Kingdom. I’m also a member of House Robakovna due to my dearly missed Laurel, the late Mistress Michaele del Vaga, and a chum (friend) to Dark Horde Moritu due to my Pelican, Master Devon Adair Bartholomy.
Tell us a little bit about your life outside the SCA. I’ve been various flavors of editor for over three decades (newspapers, a regional magazine, legal books publisher). I was out of work for about five years due to recovery from successful breast cancer treatment and have been thrilled for the past three years to work for an academic publisher. I am the part-time assistant editor for US office of Boydell & Brewer and I totally love it –it has been my dream since college to work in academic publishing. The UK office of my company publishes lots of yummy books on medieval history.
Outside of work, I have always loved baking bread and cooking all sorts of cuisines. I have sporadically practiced yoga since I was a teenager; I have focused on Kundalini for the past nine years since it keeps my hip arthritis in remission and greatly eased me through cancer treatment. I still enjoy belly dancing when I can do so, as well as reading books, playing role-playing games weekly, and collecting comics. My husband and I are owned by several extremely spoiled cats.
What SCA activities do you or have you participated in? I love cooking. I’ve cooked in a lot of kitchens in various kingdoms for almost my entire SCA career (both helping others and being head cook) and I used to teach frequently about how to run a kitchen, balance menus, or redact period recipes, as well as specific hands-on skills like bread baking, pasta making, soft cheese making, and sausage making. I LOVE diving into food history and own about a thousand analytical texts and reprints of historic cookbooks, so I’ve welcomed friends to my home for research and redacting sessions. I’ve often been asked to bake bread for other cooks for their lunches or feasts. I really, really enjoy cooking with other people and watching a hall full of people stuffing their faces happily with good food.
Besides learning belly dance in the SCA (and teaching intro classes and practices as well as intro classes on Turkish garb), I also adored English country and basse dancing when I used to do it, especially doing so at public demos. I enjoy the challenge of target archery, even though I suck at it. I stumbled into retaining when Eric and I were at Gulf Wars (when he was on Dorinda’s guard) and I realized that there were very few Æthelmartians on site to retain for Her Majesty or then-Princess Meirwen. (They were so very kind and patient with my clueless first retainer attempts.) I make kumihimo cords for medallion largesse while sitting in meetings or at Troll. I LOVE attending classes and learning new things. I also value being asked to judge food entries and research papers for A&S competitions, getting to learn about the amazing things gentles create and being as kind and encouraging as possible in my commentary. My sewing skills bite, but I still occasionally try to make my own garb or Eric’s fencing armor; most of my really nice garb has been made by friends or purchased from Silvertree Souk.
Tell us a little bit about your SCA experience (jobs, offices, duties, etc.) I’m currently the chronicler of Thescorre’s quarterly newsletter, The Fewmet (http://thescorre.org/fewmet), as well as the barony’s Gold Key. I’m co-head of the Cauldron Bleu cooks guild with Mistress Sadira. (Before the pandemic, I held monthly vigil cookie baking/decorating parties and feast prep sessions at my home on the west side of Rochester while she ran skills classes at her home on the east side.) I support Baron Steffan, our barony’s steward, by maintaining the inventory of kitchen equipment in his basement and reorganizing stuff back into their proper boxes after an event. I’m also a dancer for the drum & dance troupe, Raven Raqs Beladi, when we return to normal practices after the Pandemic.
Sideways to official roles, I have been a rotating editor for the Æthelmearc Gazette since its inception six years ago. I edit and post stories every Monday.
I’ve held a bunch of offices over the years, including baronial seneschal and kingdom archivist/waiver secretary. I worked on staff for Pennsic Technical Services for about five years and was the Pennsic site book editor twice. I’ve baked lots of vigil cookies and donated food for queen’s teas and kingdom parties.
In recent years, due to lasting and frequent fatigue, concentration, and dehydration issues from cancer treatment, I’ve pivoted to volunteering at troll and Æ Royal hospitality because those are service that is sitting down and usually in the shade.
I have edited or proofread numerous SCA documents for those who know of my mundane expertise, ranging from local policies to the Big Red Book for scribes to friends’ Ice Dragon documentation. I’ve loved being head cook of feasts and lunches for decades, but my body gets really broken if I try to do that now, so I pivoted several years ago to mentoring other cooks to help them make successful, on-time, on-budget, yummy period meals.
When you started in the SCA what goals did you have? To have fun and escape the 20th century for a little while. Oh, and to make new friends and learn things.
What are your goals now? To have fun and help others have fun while escaping the 21st century for a little while. And to keep making new friends, try to keep in touch with existing friends, and learn things.
What was the most intimidating thing you encountered in the SCA? When Eric and I won the election to be landed baron & baroness, we started seeking advice from various gentles about how to hold our Courts. I’m fortunate that I almost never get stage fright, so that wasn’t what bothered me; my voice isn’t very loud, so I worried that while Eric can easily project across a stadium, I wouldn’t be heard unless I was shouting. We learned about how much the landed baronage support the Crown in creating pageantry and spectacle for the populace, about how important it is to ensure that gentles are valued and appreciated during their moment of recognition in Court, and I really didn’t want to screw that up by shrieking or having people not be able to hear our praises unless only Eric said them. Several very kind gentles gave me excellent advice on breath control and projecting my voice (notably Mistress Matilda and Countess Caryl), so I was fairly effective at being heard during our term.
After the unexpected shutdown ends, what is one thing you would like to accomplish in the SCA? I want to regularly attend archery practice, but it’s hard to find enough spoons on Sunday mornings. I’ve been seriously considering replacing my recurve with a crossbow because the couple of times I’ve shot one has been AWESOMESAUCE and I think that will be kinder to my upper body.
Maybe this will finally be the spring that I get off my rear and set up on our property the target that has languished in our garage rather than just thinking about how setting it up would be A Good Idea™.
If you could accomplish only one thing in the SCA in the next year, what would it be? I really need to resurrect my food research website so that it doesn’t look like it escaped from the 1990s.
A project I’ve started and want to get off the ground this year: The number of SCA friends who kindly and repeatedly provided encouragement and advice while I underwent cancer treatment was wonderful and humbling, and it definitely had an impact on my positive attitude towards treatment and recovery. Cancer centers often recommend patients join a support group, but I realized that it can be very scary for some people to talk to a group of strangers. In my past seven years of survival, I’ve personally talked to many friends or friends of friends who are facing cancer, and it struck me that it might be easier for people to join a group of people they already know or at least have heard of. So, I created the Facebook group AEthelmearc Cancer Support. Anyone who is a cancer patient or survivor/ally is welcome to join. It’s an unofficial group and won’t legally provide any medical advice, but survivors can share with patients what they went through and how they handled the process, and help patients not feel alone.
What advice would you give to a new person in the SCA? Try everything that appeals to you, enjoy the stuff you like, try other things if at some point you’re no longer able to do those things. Cherish the friends you make, whether you have them for decades or just a few years.
If you magically woke up with an SCA talent you do not already have, what would it be? Probably being competent at archery or thrown weapons—the communities are so welcoming, kind, and fun.
Don’t be modest, what award or honor would you like to receive above all else and why? That’s a weird question for me to contemplate. I’m a double peer who never sought or expected to receive accolades when I began playing because I was fringy and focused on making friends. Nearly every award I’ve received has been a very pleasant surprise. My personal goal is to stay on this side of the grass, as Devon often says, and keep enjoying life. But if gentles ever think I’ve done enough to merit a Jewel or an Augmentation, considering all the impressive gentles who have been recognized with those in the past, either of those are good benchmarks to be seek to be worthy of and either would probably make my head explode. Devon would be proud and the tiny, terrorizing Michaele I still bicker with in my brain might be pleased.
As the Twelfth Doctor said, “Run fast, laugh hard, be kind.”
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