Rewriting the Rulebook – Section 2

Posted: November 4, 2015 in Uncategorized

On to Section 2 of the Rewriting the Rulebook project.

2. The National Slammaster is an elected position on the Spocan Board of Directors. The NSM will act as Slammaster for the National Slam Championship or appoint a proxy to act in their stead. This Slammaster will be responsible for scheduling the bouts and securing hosts
and support people for each bout, for selecting and properly charging judges before each competition, for conducting fair and impartial bout draws, and for acting as the final arbiter of any disputes during the competition. The Slammaster is prohibited from competing on a slam team at CFSW and from coaching their local slam team(s) entered into the national team slam championship for that year.

On the surface, this seems pretty straightforward. In just gives the responsibility of running the tournament to the National Slam Master or their representative.

(Side Note: in the three years that I have held the position of National Slam Master, I have yet to actually act as Slam Master at CFSW, as I was on a team all those years. 2013 was a transition year and the festival had already appointed someone, whom I supported. In 2014 I appointed Brad Morden. In 2015 I appointed Alyssa Ginsburg. I expect to act as Slam Master in 2016.

I was Slam Master in 2010, back when the festival filled the position, rather than Spoken Word Canada.)

There are some interesting things in here, however… things that are not spelled out anywhere else in the rules.

Scheduling bouts is done in concert with the Festival Organizers, and it should be. The NSM tells them the requirements, based on the number of teams etc., and the festival provides the space, supplies etc.

(For anyone who is interested, there needs to be an even number of teams. When there is an odd number, there is a Wild Card slam to make the final team. Then there are a number of prelim bouts scheduled equal to half the number of teams registered – including the Wild Card team if applicable.)

The draws will be discussed further in Section 3a. Disputes will be discussed further in section 3p.

But then there is the section on selecting judges. Judges are discussed later as well, but other than saying there are five of them and they are ‘randomly selected’, little else is said.

This is where we get into the ‘unwritten rules’ of slam.

What does ‘randomly selected’ actually mean?

As someone who really likes the vagaries of true random selection, I can say with some certainty that what we do is NOT random selection.

Somebody – the bout manager generally, but it could be someone tasked with this specific job at a local show – CHOOSES which audience members to offer the position of judge.

This is anything BUT random. As soon as someone is selecting, they are making observations and decisions, whether they are conscious or not.

So, having said THAT, how should judges be chosen?

Another of those ‘unwritten rules’ says that the judges should not be associated with any of the slammers in any way. Fair enough.

What else?

Now we are getting WELL into my opinion, but when I pick judges, I try to find a ‘demographic cross-section’ of the audience. That can mean any variety of things, but think of it as ‘don’t pick all women’ or ‘don’t pick all white people’. ‘Don’t pick all’ is always a valid thing to keep in mind when choosing judges. Also, not all ‘demographics’ are visible, so this needs to be a guideline, rather than an all-encompassing policy.

Don’t pick people that you KNOW have an axe to grind seems like a common sense rule, as well.

So, now that we have thrown out the idea that judges are random, what if we were to actually MAKE them random? I have heard of slams that give out numbers to audience members and then draw those to ensure the judging is random.

I am not a big fan of that, generally, because I believe that it takes away the sense of responsibility from the judges. They can react like ‘ha! I won the lottery and now you all have to put up with whatever I say!’

(Side note: I am not a fan of ‘introducing’ the judges for the same reason. The show shouldn’t be about them. They should represent the audience, not be something beyond the average attendee. I also don’t like ‘celebrity’ judges for the same reason… even though I have ‘been’ that in the past.)

Now, there needs to be a disclaimer here. Something happens at CFSW when it comes to picking judges that I really don’t like but is a necessary evil. Asking for volunteers. Getting on the mic and saying ‘does anybody want to judge?’ This really skews any element of ‘random selection’ that was left. However, there are times at the festival when the slam master is really stuck. Basically, you have a room full of poets and people out in support of the local team. Finding five people are not affiliated with a team or our specifically to support a team is really, really hard.

So sometimes practicality overwhelms the ideal.

So, I would like to add a section to the rules that says something like this:

Five judges will be chosen from the audience, with care to not select anyone who is affiliated with or has any personal connection with any of the competing poets or teams. The person selecting the judges will attempt to select a demographic cross-section of the audience.

The last point in this section says that the Slam Master can’t be on a team of coaching a team. Pretty much common sense, I would think, though it does not preclude talking strategy etc. AWAY from the festival. It is a long year and we are all involved in our local scenes as well, no?

What do you think?

  1. […] Launch Section 1 – Discussion: Rules on sending teams to the festival Section 2 – Discussion: Selecting […]

  2. Dan(AKA Dan Murray(AKA Dan)) says:

    What I find is interesting is the idea that at some point, we’ve started all over the place selecting judges who have “no affiliation with the poets”.

    This is something I encourage at a national event, but I find it a little strange when I see it at local slams for the following reasons:

    – Depending on the size of the slam, you might be stuck with your poets, and the people who came with those poets to see those poets perform, in which case – good luck getting unbiased judges. And yet I still see some scenes try to do this.

    – There is a very good reason we drop the high and low scores. Haters and lovers. “In case your mom or your ex-lover is in the room” – The score drops are intended to eliminate the bias that comes with affiliation, or at least to discourage it by showing how throwing tens up all the time for your partner isn’t gonna accomplish a thing.

    At a national event, yeah, more care should be taken. The points become somewhat more of “the point” when a team has spent thousands of dollars to get to this event, only to be trampled by a biased judging group.

    I feel like “random” is a word that was only ever used colloquially in this situation. They are selected to represent the average audience member. (I also like what you’ve said about introducing judges. I don’t mind it when I see it, but it certainly puts them in a special light).

    HOWEVER! I feel having at least a round of applause for the judges, and an acknowledgment that without them, the show doesn’t happen, is important. Part of the spectacle of the slam is the vitriol spewed at the judges, but for some, that’s really hard to take. If there’s no recognition, no reminder that “we don’t mean it when we tell you to read a book” – it can be overwhelming, and not only can it stop someone from judging ever again, but can stop someone from attending ever again.

    It sounds like what you’ve written out rule-wise for judge selection is pretty reasonable. It’s what we’ve been doing for quite a while. Though there still is fun in the “show” of it to be found in the use of the word “random”. So sure, re-write the actual ruling, but don’t discourage hosts from even poking fun at how not random it is. A.R.A.P. – As random as possible.

    As for the Slam Master – absolutely they should not be on or coaching a team. And discussing strategy outside of the slam? I don’t see what would be wrong with that. You do have an investment in your local scene, and let’s face it – strategy in slam is a loose-weave of a thing at best. The only strategy that is consistently effective is “have the 16 best poems”.

    Besides, it’s not like the Slam Master has any secret information (outside of experience) to share with any given team, anything a Slam Master could tell a team is the same thing a coach or a peer could tell them. So why not? Outside of the festival, go nuts. During the week of the festival, keep it neutral.

  3. rpriske says:

    Something to add!

    From the ‘unwritten rules’ file: The Slam Master can appoint a ‘Bout Manager’ to act in their stead during a bout.

    (In fact, due to simultaneous prelims, they have to.)

  4. Shawna Dimitry says:

    I’m not sure if this is the place for this/ it’s probably not, but:
    In choosing judges at my own slam, when I have the energy, I end up giving a long spiel to each judge about what “score creep” is, and what to expect in terms of the audience booing or cheering the judges. I explain score creep as damaging. I explain what scores will likely get what reactions. I’m wondering if there’s any way to implement something like that. Basically: can we implement a strategy to preemptively prevent score creep when choosing judges? Can we “institutionalize” this. I’ve found when I preemptively explain score creep, it’s not existent, or really slight. When someone else choses judges and I have nothing to do with is, the intensity of score creep resurfaces. Basically: we can prevent score creep if we speak to the judges before the slam starts. Can we institutionalize that in some way?

    • rpriske says:

      This is done… at least it is whenever I do it, and I think it is done with everyone else.

      One of the things I think is going to come out of this rewrite is a judge instruction ‘script’ that will definitely include instructions about scored creep.

      That doesn’t eliminate creep, but it can help minimize it.

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