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Events => History Heavy Events => Topic started by: hanktrent on September 22, 2013, 01:37:58 AM



Title: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: hanktrent on September 22, 2013, 01:37:58 AM
I know, the forum is "history heavy events." But hopefully this topic will fit, because I'm curious about a history heavy impression at mainstream events, and I know lots of folks here attend mainstream events because they're all that's close.

Long story short, I'm considering attending some local events next year, to have the fun of interpreting to the public. I visited a few this fall and talked to a couple different reenactors, and they said that if I wanted to do an independent civilian impression, I didn't need to join a unit. I could just register as an individual, as a stranger to everyone, set up a table/tent, and talk to the passing public, doing whatever living history portrayal I wanted. And indeed, that seems to be what I found--people in front of tents talking about period music, telegraphs, medicine, the USCT, women's life, etc. etc., each unconnected to the others and only loosely related to the battle reenactment.

Okay, good. Except...

The topic I'm interested in is slavery as it related to southern society. I think it's an important topic that doesn't get covered enough, or, worse yet, gets covered by neo-Confederate types who distort history for their own modern agenda. It's something I also have quite a bit of research on.

So how does a controversial impression work? Especially if you're new and a stranger to everyone?

Let's say, um, not hypothetically, I bring my hound and portray a slave catcher at an event where it would loosely fit--not actually doing anything, just talking to the public about my job and its larger context, like someone else might have a display and talk about working for the railroad or the telegraph office or being a newspaper reporter or a blacksmith or tinsmith, similar to the other portrayals I've seen.

I think I could avoid offending the public, because you can "read" them and ease off when they seem bothered. But what would other reenactors think? Reenactors also tend to be more easily confused by first person impressions than the public, in my experience.

FWIW, I was talking to a couple USCT reenactors about interpreting slavery, and one spontaneously suggested I could portray a slave owner, while another interrupted him and said I shouldn't do that. I respect both their opinions, but it shows such an impression would foster a variety of reactions.

If other reenactors decide they hate me/my persona and don't want my impression there, and I don't personally know anyone at an event to stick up for me, what might happen? Any experiences, good or bad? Advice on how to handle things?

Hank Trent
hanktrent@gmail.com


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: NoahBriggs on September 22, 2013, 05:15:34 AM
Bless you, sir for coming up with topics that really give folk pause and force them to think.  ;D

In answer to your question, I know you worked at Conner Prairie (known for its first person immersion interpretation).  I've never been there, so I don't know if they did what I might suggest, but it could be an approach towards the reenactors.  (And the public, but as you indicated, they are easier to read.) 

    • Perhaps, either indicate in advance to the organizers what you would like to do, so they can publish it on their event schedule or otherwise inform the other participants.

      Arrive early enough to inform other participants themselves your intentions before official event start time, and clarify that you're just there to interpret something they might see as unconventional, and invite them to drop by.

      Shanghai someone to be a discreet docent, to "speak" on your behalf, to head off misunderstandings from other participants.
Having seen your style of first person, you tend to invite more curiosity than controversy, especially with the public. Since the principal goal is to interact with the public, I suppose it's possible to "ignore" the participants who make a stink and focus on those who do get it.  I would love to hear any comments on what actually happens, as I would like to refine my attempts at first person at events and discuss things from the point of view of a slaveowner, or a doctor treating African Americans for drapetomania (a pseudo mental disorder where slaves had this bizarre desire to want to be free), and so on.



Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: E L Watkins-Morris on September 22, 2013, 05:38:29 AM
Note: posting same time as Noah. Now I really want to see what you come up with and really like the idea of having a 'docent' to help with navigation.

Hank,

Your are correct that this topic is ignored.

Personally, as a spectator I would welcome such an impression if you are willing to step out of first person to help me understand what is going on. Many visitors, my self included, get confused about first person unless it is an expected event such as at a lantern tour or a "scheduled reenactment of..." similar to those at Colonial Williamsburg.

Perhaps you could be placed on the event schedule as a first person speaker? Then you have a specific audience that is receptive to the topic. You may still have to field the narrow-minded (there is always one or two to make you crazy in the Q&A) but the effort may be more successful. One or two interested folks is better than a wall of people walking by confused by what's going on or distracting you from your purpose with politics.

Are you acquainted with Emmanuel Dabney? A park ranger at Petersburg that does a slave impression, he is very well researched and articulate and we have done several scenarios together at Appomattox Manor with Noah Briggs.  I've not had as much time as I'd like to pick his brain.

Tried not to ramble,
Liz W.

Why I am interested in your success:
1. I have found it is often whites who are embarrassed or indignant about slavery and don't want to hear it.
2. In the course of multiple "set up and discuss" events at local historic sites, I am meeting more and more African-Americans who are interested in learning about the realities of slavery and I am very embarrassed to not be able to answer their questions or direct them to good sources. In resolving that, I found several books which totally blasted my STILL very romanticized notions of slavery and I look forward to doing more research.  



Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: Elizabeth on September 22, 2013, 06:30:28 AM
Great topic, Mr Trent!

I, personally, see it as "just another occupational" set-up; I think if you're willing to adjust (as I know you are) to the audience, it can be done without distress, even with first person (because you can briefly break if someone really isn't getting it.)

Honestly, my biggest worry is for the hound: some spectators won't have good dog-meeting manners, and the poor thing might be overwhelmed by those who don't respect canine personal space, or by the noise/concussion of any battle reenactments. Given a dog comfortable in such intense social settings, it can work... even the warning, "Don't pet, ma'am... he's a working dog, not a pet. He tracks for me. We don't need him getting your scent stuck in his nose. He'll need to be fresh for working." can serve as an intro to talking about the work the dog does.


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: hanktrent on September 22, 2013, 08:35:30 AM
Thanks to everyone! Great answers and lots to think about. Keep 'em coming. :)

Yes, I'd love to do it as just another occupational portrayal, and what Noah said is what I'd like to do: "you tend to invite more curiosity than controversy, especially with the public." I think it's actually educational to seem like a nice guy when doing an otherwise negative impression, because it shows that good and evil don't come with handy identifying labels in society.

As far as being on the program or otherwise officially part of the event--my feeling is that since I know no one locally, no event would be willing to endorse me that way until they saw my impression and decided I was okay. So it's a Catch-22: I need to do it to show I can do it well (maybe, hopefully, if I can!), in order to be allowed to do it. That's why I figure I'll be alone, a stranger, with no support at the start, walking into the lion's den.

For what it's worth, I've not encountered much confusion from the public when portraying a role--at least not that I can't set right in a few sentences. I find that the least likely to comprehend are those who are reenactors, reenactor family, reenactors being spectators, etc., because they already think they know what reenactors are supposed to do. The general public seems to expect a person in a costume portraying a role, because that's all they ever see people in costumes do on TV, movies, etc.

Was portraying a Louisiana cotton plantation owner a couple weeks ago at a first-person event (7 hour drive, which is why I'm wanting events closer!). Picture of me at the "store."  (http://littlepupebay.homestead.com/milliken_s_bend.jpg) The event had brochures, third-person docents, the whole nine yards, explaining all about first person and 19th century political incorrectness to spectators, and I had some wonderful long conversations and debates with them.

The only spectator who absolutely could not get it and that I had to dismiss at last with a snarky remark was one who finally said in a patronizing tone, after a long hopeless exchange of cluelessness, "It's okay, I reenact the 1800s too, so I understand." I said, "I'm afraid you don't," and she gave up.

So all the preparation in the world doesn't work with reenactor/spectators sometimes. For those people, I just figure no form of interpretation works for everyone. If a spectator really isn't into it, they can just walk away without engaging, while reenactors are nearby all day, but hopefully it's live-and-let-live. Noah's suggestion of trying to talk to a few ahead of time while setting up is a good one.

I've reenacted with Emmanuel Dabney, also with Marvin Greer, Mia McKee and Anita Henderson, though I don't think at any pure public interpretation events, so unfortunately haven't seen their interpretation to the public.

As far as poor Venus the Plotthound, yes, her mental health is one of my concerns. She seems to be naturally people-oriented and good with kids, and I've been working with her in crowded social situations, and also camped out with her in the back yard staked in front of a period dog tent (no pun intended!). I'm taking her as a spectator to a local reenactment in about a month, but so far she's handled non-reenacting crowds well, including fireworks and other weird stuff like mechanics' noisy air-powered lug wrenches in a garage when we had a flat tire. And of course I'd only take her to events where dogs are welcome.

Hank Trent
hanktrent@gmail.com


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: Elizabeth on September 22, 2013, 10:11:34 AM
I had to go google plotthounds... oh my goodness, what pretty dogs! How old is Venus?

I think you have a good workable plan, honestly. I love seeing accurate presentations where I can ask loads of questions, and letting people get curious and find out more about all aspects (pleasant and unpleasant) is a great way to break beyond "presentism" and assumptions about the past.


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: NoahBriggs on September 22, 2013, 10:41:37 AM
Slightly off topic but related:

It's a double-whammy sometimes, especially for specialty impressions, like blacksmithing, shoemaking, tailoring, medicine, surveying, and so on, because not only are you in first person, you also need to be able to clarify technical terminology, especially if they used words back then that they use today, but with a different definition ("Bulimic" as a quick example.)  I don't know if slave catching has specific terminology which would need clarification, that was just a general thought.

The key seems to be good communication in advance to head off misunderstandings before they occur.  Unfortunately you can lead all your horses to water, but only they will decide when or how much to drink.  Some reenactors don't get it no matter how hard one tries, and you just have to find a way to cut the losses and move on.

Hank raised a great point, and it was something I tried to do when I portrayed Dr. Richard Eppes with Liz Watkins-Morris as my "wife" - to portray the controversial person as a regular person, whose controversial job or attitude is just part of who he is.  Eppes was a slaveowner and also a family man who gave cash bonuses to his slaves at Christmas.  I tried to portray him as a general businessman and all around okay fellow, and slaveowner second, because slave owning was just par for the course in his life as far as he was concerned, and he lived in an area where it was not necessary to defend his socio-economic choices.  Turns out the public got it, and questions were very thoughtful and insightful when it became clear I was not going to stand on a pro-slavery soapbox in the parlor and rant cheap, Hollywood style lectures that would paint Eppes like Justin LaMotte from North and South.

I've been looking for opportunities to portray people who subvert their stereotype, like slaveowners, or a Know-Nothing, or anti-Irish, just to rattle reenactors out of their comfort zones.  (And this, coming from a fellow who is a textbook poltroon).


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: Miss Ruth on September 22, 2013, 11:24:59 AM
Mr. Trent,

So far, I am only a spectator at events!  :D I have never actually participated. Slave owners and Slave catchers, I've always thought, was a kind of interesting subject. I don't know how most people feel, but our pastor mentioned slavery in church to make a point once, and no one seemed to mind. I think your impression is a very interesting one! I'd be glad to listen, I know that!  :D I agree with Mr. Briggs, make a friend that will help you out! Friends are always good!  :D I think if you touch the topic delicately, like not ranting for one side or another (forgive me if that sounded insulting, I've never seen you!), I think people wouldn't mind very much. It's a fact of history that there were slaves, and the Civil War era can't be interpreted correctly without mentioning it. People seem to get offended one way or the other when someone obviously has convictions toward one side of an argument. I've always wondered about slavery impressions etc. as well!

O my goodness your dog's breed is beautiful! I googled it, too!  :) I love dogs.

Just a side question, is Mia McKee the girl that did Charity at Westville?  ;D


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: hanktrent on September 22, 2013, 12:07:46 PM
I had to go google plotthounds... oh my goodness, what pretty dogs! How old is Venus?

We adopted her when she was abandoned, so it's just a guess, but we're figuring about a year, which means she should only get more mature and less puppyish.

I don't know if slave catching has specific terminology which would need clarification, that was just a general thought.

Yep! At that recent event I mentioned, one visitor stayed and asked all kinds of good questions, and he finally got around to slave-catching dogs. I explained there were two kinds, regular hunting hounds and Cuban bloodhounds, and they worked best together, because the regular hounds could follow a scent but wouldn't attack as well, and the bloodhounds couldn't follow a scent as well but were better at catching once you were close to the slave.

He kept acting confused, repeating it back to me backwards. Then it hit me. "Bloodhounds" to him meant, well, bloodhounds, but to me it meant this: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/26500/26500-h/images/bloodhounds.jpg So that's a challenge.

Quote
Eppes was a slaveowner and also a family man who gave cash bonuses to his slaves at Christmas.  I tried to portray him as a general businessman and all around okay fellow, and slaveowner second, because slave owning was just par for the course in his life as far as he was concerned, and he lived in an area where it was not necessary to defend his socio-economic choices.  Turns out the public got it, and questions were very thoughtful and insightful when it became clear I was not going to stand on a pro-slavery soapbox in the parlor and rant cheap,


Exactly.

Quote from: Miss Ruth
is Mia McKee the girl that did Charity at Westville

Yes, that's her. She does an excellent impression! It broke my heart as poor clueless abolitionist Charles Stearns that I kept making her life worse instead of better at Westville, whenever I tried to help her.

Hank Trent
hanktrent@gmail.com


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: anne foster on September 22, 2013, 05:49:41 PM
Just came back from a full day workshop on first person interpretation by Ride into History (Drs. Joyce Thierer and Anne Birney). Both strongly recommend a 1st/3rd combination--either docent and interpreter or, more preferably, one person who makes an obvious change from one to the other (i.e. removing a hat or stepping outside of a tent or house) to help people understand. Also, to make sure the scholar is able to contribute to the conversation, when necessary, to let people know about your strong research and/or gaps in the research.

There's also a book--Telling History

Anne Foster


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: hanktrent on September 22, 2013, 07:42:20 PM
Just came back from a full day workshop on first person interpretation by Ride into History (Drs. Joyce Thierer and Anne Birney). ...

Actually, I'm fairly comfortable interpreting to the public, who show up generally interested and eager to learn. My concern is more about other reenactors, who often don't want to be interpreted to, so no interpretive technique works.

I'm more familiar with events where all those in attendence need to get approval and coordinate their impressions beforehand and reenact together.

Years ago at mainstream events, I used to expect to find like-minded people, but didn't have much luck. In fact, I've had a few distinctly bad experiences. Now I'm at least going into this with lower expectations and am mostly looking forward to the public interaction, which I've always found to be loads of fun and the best part of local events.

For example, I was awakened and threatened by drunken reenactors in the middle of the night at one event years ago, and they only backed off when they realized they knew the guy I was with. Their excuse? "You didn't look like reenactors. We thought you were local homeless guys." At another event, when some little item went missing--a pair of scissors or something--I was immediately suspected because I was just a guest, but fortunately they found it. A creepy reenactor years ago thought I was actually who I was portraying and started rumors accusing me of crimes in real life and weird stuff.

But that was years ago, when you had to be a member or guest of a unit and there was suspicion about unattached people--even though I was nominally a member or guest in each case.

I guess what I'm wondering is, if a reenactor registers as an individual, does okay with the public, and is polite but distant the rest of the time rather than taking part in all the farby socializing, is that okay or at most considered a little stand-offish, or is that a major faux pas at mainstream events that'll put a target on my back?

Hank Trent
hanktrent@gmail.com


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: NoahBriggs on September 23, 2013, 02:43:15 AM
I guess what I'm wondering is, if a reenactor registers as an individual, does okay with the public, and is polite but distant the rest of the time rather than taking part in all the farby socializing, is that okay or at most considered a little stand-offish, or is that a major faux pas at mainstream events that'll put a target on my back?

Given that we have agreed, based on your prior experiences, that reenactors have a harder time handling your personas, I believe the answer to your question above will be "It will vary from person to person and event to event."  I really do believe that if you let either an event organizer know what you are doing on-site, or maybe read a reenactor who seems open to the idea, you have at least one fallback or "safety valve" if others don't understand what you're about and start to get hostile or their clue meter drops below zero.

I think another (ideal) defuser of tense situations would be to have a companion with you.  Venus is fine, since she will always be in perfect hunter character no matter what :D but human-wise, having someone with you to play off of will fill in that whole "you gotta show me what the heck you mean" mentality Americans have.  Some people might understand what your interpretation is better, and take positive cues from your behavior if they see there is a second interpreter who is also in first person.  It also gives the second interpreter chances to clarify what you are saying in a way the reenactor might understand, without either of you breaking character.

It seems to be luck - as you have mentioned, it depends on the reenactor picking up the cues or not.  At most mainstream events, I believe the idea of being somewhat distant from the farby socializing will paint a target on your back, mostly because the other participants don't know how to deal with you and wonder why you are even there if you are not going to sit around the campfire and talk about the finer points of Soviet versus German tanks at Normandy or who hates whom on Facebook.  The smaller living histories may be a better bet - less people, and you get the majority of your satisfaction working the public.


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: hanktrent on September 23, 2013, 05:10:20 AM
I believe the answer to your question above will be "It will vary from person to person and event to event."  I really do believe that if you let either an event organizer know what you are doing on-site, or maybe read a reenactor who seems open to the idea, you have at least one fallback or "safety valve" if others don't understand what you're about and start to get hostile or their clue meter drops below zero.

Agreed. I guess I'm just wondering if the worst-case possibilities are still as bad as they used to be, and of course, the accurate answer I don't want to hear is, yes, people haven't changed. So it's just going to be the risk of mainstream events.

I don't mind being an outsider who's criticized for his reenacting style or socially shunned--heck, that's what a slave catcher persona would be in the 19th century too, which is another reason I considered picking it rather than portraying, say, the local plantation owner that everyone knew and liked, like I did a few weeks ago--but I do mind threats of real physical violence or deliberate false accusationa or other kinds of escalated attempts at "revenge" beyond hobby disagreements about reenacting style.

But I guess that's just the risk one has to accept.

Quote
I think another (ideal) defuser of tense situations would be to have a companion with you.

I'd love to, but the problem is that I don't know of any and can't count on finding any. Linda (my wife for those who don't know) might come with me sometimes--she's actually been interested in setting up a table for an abolitionist society, which would make an interesting combination--but there simply isn't anyone I can count on 100% for every nearby event. In the past, when I've tried, what usually happens (not always) is that the person says they'll do it, but then sees their friends and goes off to hang out with them and it's no different than attending alone. Heck, even Venus would run off if she saw a rabbit, if she wasn't on-leash, LOL!

Quote
At most mainstream events, I believe the idea of being somewhat distant from the farby socializing will paint a target on your back, mostly because the other participants don't know how to deal with you and wonder why you are even there if you are not going to sit around the campfire and talk about the finer points of Soviet versus German tanks at Normandy or who hates whom on Facebook.  The smaller living histories may be a better bet - less people, and you get the majority of your satisfaction working the public.

I think you're absolutely right. It's ironic that when I was talking to a reenactor at a local event about how to get involved, he said, "And do your research. You want to be accurate. I'm a stickler for that." But what people mean is, be accurate but not too accurate.

Thanks for the reality-check. I think you nailed it.

I'm wondering if the safer option, at least to start, is attend in the daytime only when I'll be busy with the public anyway, and stay off-site or go home--heck, I'd only be a couple hours away sometimes--when the public leaves. Then gradually get a feel for how I'll fit with the other reenactors.

Hank Trent
hanktrent@gmail.com


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: Elaine Kessinger on September 23, 2013, 06:42:24 AM
One way I handle re-enactments with fellow participants who don't play the same way is to have my own "refuge" at every event and portray a person who might seek that refuge when things get beyond endurance. A few minutes to myself to mentally scream, blow off the idiot comments, and regain my cool composure does wonders.

The better immersion re-enactments include a place for those who can't handle the intensity of immersion and need a break. Don't feel bad about using your tent or a patch of woods (or a long walk to another part of the event) at a mainstream re-enactment for a similar purpose.

Having chosen a portrayal that would be socially isolated from fellow participants is an excellent start. Choosing a portrayal that would likely take off at dusk for his occupation is logical... and a logical cover for why you leave overnight and return in the morning. Your targets are active and vulnerable at night... so your work begins. During the day, you and Venus are resting when your targets are under cover too.

I think as you open up a bit to your fellow participants, you will begin to draw the friends who play your way close to you. Friends who know you from immersion events will find you, introduce themselves to your portrayal and introduce your portrayal to their friends. Soon you will have created a group who will play your way. This is not an immediate gratification situation. Some will flub up and try to catch up with buddy Hank. You are experienced enough with first person to bring the conversation back around. If you keep at events, the "right sort" will get a clue and come stay. The rest will get a clue when you wander off.

You are not alone in these concerns. :-)


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: NoahBriggs on September 23, 2013, 09:34:21 AM
I'm wondering if the safer option, at least to start, is attend in the daytime only when I'll be busy with the public anyway, and stay off-site or go home--heck, I'd only be a couple hours away sometimes--when the public leaves. Then gradually get a feel for how I'll fit with the other reenactors.

When you first posted, I was under the impression this was your initial plan.  This sounds like the best option.  As you get to know other folks at events, you might be able to "work" them and find ways that you can stay over without having to withstand almost total isolation from farby talk.


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: Chip on September 24, 2013, 03:21:01 AM

So how does a controversial impression work? Especially if you're new and a stranger to everyone?

I think I could avoid offending the public, because you can "read" them and ease off when they seem bothered. But what would other reenactors think? Reenactors also tend to be more easily confused by first person impressions than the public, in my experience.

If other reenactors decide they hate me/my persona and don't want my impression there, and I don't personally know anyone at an event to stick up for me, what might happen? Any experiences, good or bad? Advice on how to handle things?

Hank Trent
hanktrent@gmail.com

I've looked at this thread for a few days now and thought that I would sleep on it before responding.
I have an extensive research background on the topic and have studied it in depth.

While I think it is a very important topic to discuss, there are some very strong obstacles to overcome.

First, the public in general has been fed a modern media version of what slavery was and what slavery now stands for.
In other words, most folks that you encounter are likely to look at slavery with a perspective strongly attached to 21st century values.

Second, from my experiences, the Black population is really not interested in digging up the 19th century realities of the fact that slavery was not a one size fits all institution.

Third, I've found that the re-enactment community, overall, has very little accurate information about the topic because most folks have a high school textbook orientation to the topic in the first place that in most cases represents a total distortion of the realities of what was really going on.





Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: hanktrent on September 24, 2013, 04:53:46 AM
While I think it is a very important topic to discuss, there are some very strong obstacles to overcome...

Those are all excellent points, and although they're hindrances to the impression, I think they also point out why the impression would fill a useful gap in knowledge.

I'd plan to tailor it to the situation, depending on where the event is supposedly set, because obviously the situation would be different around a local reenactment of Vicksburg, for example, than a local reenactment of Perryville. There would be times I'd be virtually a full-time tracker; other times I'd be a local farmer who has some dogs who does it once in a while; other times I'd be across the Ohio River and mostly have paperwork and a dog along for personal protection from rescuers or to sniff closet and attic doors.

But I'm curious--what is the average person's high school textbook orientation? What are the most stubborn cliches? That would really help me prepare. Unfortunately, I've been among well-researched reenactors or researchers so long that I've lost all perspective on what the topic seems like to someone on the outside. For example, Venus got her name from the dog in this slave narrative (http://lsupress.org/books/detail/narrative-of-james-williams-an-american-slave/).  ;)

Hank Trent
hanktrent@gmail.com


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: NoahBriggs on September 24, 2013, 10:32:05 AM
To get an average textbook orientation just cruise to the history section of Yahoo answers and read some of the questions kids post in hopes someone will either help them with their topic or answer their homework for them.  Cringe.  (For a while I hung out on Answers, hoping to bust myths and all that, then realized what an exercise in futility it was to provide evidence based answers that brought a grey area to what were supposedly black and white questions.)

Google "American slavery", "Underground Railroad", "Harriet Tubman" or similar key words, and read the first results that turn up, to reflect a typical American citizen's lazy search method of reading the top results, rather than going through the list to seek out more relevant information.

Go to a used book store and see if anyone sold off high school or college era American history textbooks, and flip through the sections that discuss slavery and its impact on American politics and the social scene.  Odds are good these books will be at least ten to twenty years out of date and will reflect the teaching that most people will have had when they were in school.  (I still have mine, actually.)

Likewise, go to a local public library and head to the American history section.  Note what they have.  If a kid has been forced to go to a brick and mortar archives like this, the books you are looking at will be the first stop on his/her list, assuming s/he knows how Dewey rocked the library shelves.


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: Chip on September 25, 2013, 03:22:43 AM
While I think it is a very important topic to discuss, there are some very strong obstacles to overcome...

Those are all excellent points, and although they're hindrances to the impression, I think they also point out why the impression would fill a useful gap in knowledge.

But I'm curious--what is the average person's high school textbook orientation? What are the most stubborn cliches? That would really help me prepare. Unfortunately, I've been among well-researched reenactors or researchers so long that I've lost all perspective on what the topic seems like to someone on the outside..."

The topic is simply much more complex than what is typically rendered.

And facets of the topic, like religious orientation to the concept of, "head of the household," are usually totally absent in the discourse.
Public textbooks are not going to venture into the religious mindset of 19th century southern society.

Photos and visualization typically depict images of brutality and  degradation.
In reality, we should all know better that the typical field slave was fairly well clothed and lived in housing often comparable to white yeoman farmers living down the road.

But I regress...   Plantation owners did not live on their working plantations. Southern women predominantly saw the servant class of slavery... etc...



Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: Stephanie Brennan on September 25, 2013, 06:09:36 AM
  As far as influence and how we perceive slavery I would say for those 35-50 years  old,  TV movies like Roots and Queen left a definite mark.


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: Anna Worden Bauersmith on September 25, 2013, 11:05:23 AM
In regards to your concerns about participant reactions -

Based on my experience and observations, I would be prepared for some level of defensive response/discussion. I find some people often respond to something new or different to them in a defensive way rather a curious way.

An example from a couple years back sticks with me. At a mainstream, historic setting event, a poor woman came begging into the front yard of my home where I had some guests. She was in character and impeccably "poorly" dressed. In character, I acted as I thought a benevolently minded woman should; offering her some food to take with her as well as some drink. Some of my guests were aghast and very upset. Sadly, this was not in character. I actually heard about it for quite some time after. This interaction was simply a recognition of the depths of poverty and acts of benevolence in the mid-century. Even this simple, rather short, scenario caused what I can only surmise to be uncomfortablity resulting in the defensive, negative reaction.

I've observed similar reactions by others to new people and new impressions since then. In my opinion, the emotion driven reaction is a combination of uncertainty, skepticism, and territorialism. This may be subdued by pre-event communication not only about your impression, but your intentions as well. You are not there to 'take over' or to change them; you are there to interact with visitors.



Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: Chip on September 25, 2013, 04:14:09 PM
Hank,

This is an example of what I am talking about...  Probably very similar to your discussion with the two USCT re-enactors.

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/09/24/a-slaves-service-in-the-confederate-army/?ref=opinion&_r=0

From the article:

The event prompted mixed reactions from descendants of Silas and Andrew. Silas's great-granddaughter, Myra Chandler Sampson, denounced the ceremony as, "an attempt to rewrite and sugar-coat the shameful truth about parts of our American history." She added that Silas, "was taken into a war for a cause he didn?t believe in. He was dressed up like a Confederate soldier for reasons that may never be known."

But Andrew Chandler Battaile, great-grandson of Andrew, met Myra's brother Bobbie Chandler at the ceremony. He saw the experience a bit differently. "It was truly as if we had been reunited with a missing part of our family."

Bobbie Chandler, for his part, accepts the role his great-grandfather played in the Confederate army. He observed, "History is history. You can't get by it."


You may very well run across people who know that slaves with closer and direct attachments with family members, and those slaves who's social standing within a community were fairly significant, often had reasons for being loyal and protective of their, "family responsibilities," and social position. And those same folks may also know that field slaves may have had very little reason to feel any loyalty whatsoever towards anyone, and especially little or no devotion towards their owners.

But more than likely, you will encounter many people, including many re-enactors, who don't have this prior frame of reference and may not react to you in a positive fashion.

Some literature and/or a bridge activity may be necessary to preempt your immersion into first person activities.





Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: Donna Rowan on September 26, 2013, 07:49:21 PM
Hank.Any event where I camp and you need a fire to hang around you are more then welcome to come hang around with me. But you may find your self in the company of other socixcaly unexceptabls[who arent spending the eveing getting puking drunk] but we do have some grand Irish sing alongs.And great conversations,that don't normally include facebook or WW2 tanks.We had a lady come to Zoar a few years back.She was doing a Harriet Tubman[I think] 1st person. Totally wonderfull impression. She was as far as I could gather with no group. Her only draw back was she was saddled with 2 teenage grand kids? with radios and headphones clamped firmly to there heads following her like they were forced to. Rolling there eyes when ever she spoke. We had a lady dressed as a poor person,and perhaps a bit "off kilter", at Gettysburg. She came around wanting to know if we had any shoes she could shine for  money.Thought that was cool too.


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: hanktrent on September 26, 2013, 08:00:16 PM
Donna,

I might just take you up on that! What are you planning to attend in the Ohio-WV area next year?

For what it's worth, I just saw a Harriet Tubman performer last weekend. Don't know if she was the same one, since of course as a spectator I only saw her doing a talk without anyone else with her, but she was excellent during her presentation.

Hank Trent
hanktrent@gmail.com


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: Jim_Ruley on October 03, 2013, 03:58:43 PM
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Let's say, um, not hypothetically, I bring my hound and portray a slave catcher at an event where it would loosely fit--not actually doing anything, just talking to the public about my job and its larger context, like someone else might have a display and talk about working for the railroad or the telegraph office or being a newspaper reporter or a blacksmith or tinsmith, similar to the other portrayals I've seen.


One of the reasons I've chosen to portray a tailor is that it gives me something to do.  I can always bring hand sewing, and if there is room I can set up a hand-crank sewing machine.  I can display my irons, and if there is a fire I can actually use them.  If the public is interested I can actually show them what I'm doing, which has led to some interesting conversations.  If they are not, I'm quite happy to continue with my work.  The down side (if there is one) is I sometimes get people bringing me buttons or chevrons to sew on; which is fine if I'm not busy with someone else.  Of course, I'm not really into "first person" so I don't have a philosophical problem switching back and forth from being a tailor, to talking about tailoring, to listening to an old lady from Eastern Europe telling me about her father working with similar tools when she was a girl.  Obviously this is a problem if you really want to stay "in character".

The biggest drawback I can see to your idea is that you're "not actually doing anything".  Some of the public may understand, but most probably won't really be interested.  Some, especially north of the river, may be offended or hostile.  Reenactors may react in a similar fashion, and the worst outcome from your point of view might be those who think they know something about first person drafting you as a "bit player" in some "bad reenacting theater".  Such as a "town marshal" showing up with a posse to arrest you, or a Union military detachment doing the same; or even worse, a Confederate officer asking you to find "his property" and expecting you and the dog to play along.  Knowing you "like first person" such people might be highly offended if you refused to go along with their amateur impromptu muddle.

One idea occurs to me -- how about making the dog the star of the show?  If she's still young she could still be in training, and you could portray a breeder looking for a buyer.  The mildly curious (in either century) will probably just say "Oh what a pretty dog" and move on.  Others will want to know how old she is, what kind of hound she is -- and then you can bring up the slave catcher angle.  If people are offended by that, well, you're not the villain, you're just an honest businessman.  Might provide a "gentler" introduction to a difficult subject.


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: hanktrent on October 03, 2013, 06:33:58 PM
The biggest drawback I can see to your idea is that you're "not actually doing anything".  Some of the public may understand, but most probably won't really be interested.

As far as the public, I really don't anticipate a problem, the difference being they come already expecting to learn and/or meet somebody from the past.

For example, at the recent event where I was a plantation owner, I was even less interesting-looking--just a guy hanging out in town trying to get some news, not even a dog with me. But I'd strike up a conversation, and before long, with many of them at least, we were in long discussions about topics of mutual interest, maybe not even directly related to the Yankee occupation at hand. We covered everything from my father's tobacco plantation back in Virginia to politics to food to various religious denominations.

If they're not interested, they can just wander along of course, but if there are any visitors at all, I rarely find the public so uninterested that there's no one to talk with. With a first person impression, where you're portraying all facets of a whole person equally rather than mainly focussing on an occupation, there are so many potential topics that one can usually find something in common. In between, of course, I can always kill time playing with Venus.

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the worst outcome from your point of view might be those who think they know something about first person drafting you as a "bit player" in some "bad reenacting theater".

That's a good point, and I really don't want to go down that road. But I'm talking about events that are so... well... For example, at a recent one I attended as a spectator, Frederick Douglass was there all day and gave a couple of speeches, as were Abe Lincoln and General Grant.

I can't imagine anyone asking him, or General Grant, or the couple with the telegraph display, or the blacksmith, to participate in any sort of impromptu hokey "scenario," so I'm hoping I'd kinda fall in the same category, and even if asked, could just politely say no thanks.

Do people tend to ambush you without asking? If so, what are the unspoken rules?

At c/p/h events I know the norms and trust the participants and am glad to play rough if necessary, because that's all part of what makes life in the 19th century realistic, but at events where there's no realism anyway, I really don't trust random strangers to hold a gun or knife on me point-blank, put handcuffs on me, confiscate my stuff out of my sight, etc., simply because they want to. And I'd have no idea how much realism would be allowed in response vs. what would have them calling security.

Does that kind of thing go on without prior permission? What are the unwritten rules?

By the way, the impression would be functional if I ever did want to use it at c/p/h events--I'm doing tracking training now, and we're up to 100 yards with right-angle turns in the woods on a fresh track. Not sure how far her natural ability will take her as far as handling old tracks on difficult surfaces, but we'd at least look like we know what we're doing.

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One idea occurs to me -- how about making the dog the star of the show?  If she's still young she could still be in training, and you could portray a breeder looking for a buyer.  The mildly curious (in either century) will probably just say "Oh what a pretty dog" and move on.  Others will want to know how old she is, what kind of hound she is -- and then you can bring up the slave catcher angle.  If people are offended by that, well, you're not the villain, you're just an honest businessman.  Might provide a "gentler" introduction to a difficult subject.

Yes, I think that would definitely work! Without the dog, I think the impression would fall flat as far as public interpretation, but she would be a natural way to engage with strangers and also would help present the impression as a total person in the 19th century, rather than just an occupation.

Hank Trent
hanktrent@gmail.com


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: Jim_Ruley on October 04, 2013, 03:21:21 PM
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Do people tend to ambush you without asking? If so, what are the unspoken rules?



I really, really doubt that you'll be in any physical danger.



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But I'm talking about events that are so... well... ...where there's no realism anyway...



I must ask:  If you have such a low opinion of these events and the participants, are you sure you really want to do this?

There are a number of historical sites in the Ohio Valley region connected with slavery.  The Rankin and Parker houses and the Cincinnati Museum of the Underground Railroad come to mind, and I'm sure there are more.  Do you think their staffs might appreciate a well-researched impression of a slave catcher?  If so, wouldn't they be better venues for reaching the public than these events you have so little regard for?


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: hanktrent on October 04, 2013, 06:02:45 PM
I must ask:  If you have such a low opinion of these events and the participants, are you sure you really want to do this?

Wait, you were the one who brought up bad reenacting theater and the possibility that people would be highly offended if I didn't play along. That wasn't even something I'd considered, until it reminded me of things like this: http://gettysburgblog.com/?p=76

What I meant by this:
Quote
But I'm talking about events that are so... well... ...where there's no realism anyway...

was there's no realism overall, no interconnected participation. It's disjointed by design; each impression is meant to stand alone: Confederate and Union soldiers camping within sight, Lincoln and Lee and Grant and Frederick Douglas together, some reminiscing about the war, some being portrayed during the war. The officers don't come over and send messages on the telegraph display; the US and CS women don't shun each other. I didn't expect that civilians would be recruited to interact in a historic scenario, or if anyone tried, I didn't think anyone would be highly offended if someone declined, but I may be wrong.

What worries me is that I can't seem to understand the norms of these events the way everyone else apparently does easily, and therefore I can't judge what unwritten rules you can bend and what you should never break. Everyone emphasizes that you should have as accurate, well-researched impression as you can--I heard that several times when I asked how to get involved--but it's clearly not that simple, and I don't want to be facing "highly offended" reenactors again, because I've seen how bad it can get years ago.

If I could just have fun doing my own thing, it would be great, and that's what it looked like everyone was doing, and what I would hope to do.

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There are a number of historical sites in the Ohio Valley region connected with slavery.  The Rankin and Parker houses and the Cincinnati Museum of the Underground Railroad come to mind, and I'm sure there are more.  Do you think their staffs might appreciate a well-researched impression of a slave catcher?  If so, wouldn't they be better venues for reaching the public than these events you have so little regard for?

Those are great ideas and well worth pursuing, but as far as I know, it's really all the same people, or at least friends of friends of the same folks. The Frederick Douglass impersonator was absolutely amazing, and I can't imagine he doesn't go to those places also. They certainly should invite him. Same for the USCT soldiers, Harriet Tubman, etc.

Hank Trent
hanktrent@gmail.com


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: Jim_Ruley on October 04, 2013, 08:44:01 PM
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What I meant by this...was there's no realism overall, no interconnected participation.


Fair enough, now I see where you are coming from!

Quote
What worries me is that I can't seem to understand the norms of these events the way everyone else apparently does easily, and therefore I can't judge what unwritten rules you can bend and what you should never break.


Norms do vary by event, unit, and individual; but I think the essential concept is that "mainstream" reenactors generally view themselves as performers under contract.

The contract is simple.  They are obliged to deliver certain activities, the ones listed on the public schedule.  In return, they receive the customary amenities:  water, sanitary conveniences, camping space, and straw for bedding.  In some cases they may receive free meals, which may be period appropriate but generally aren't. 

Their "units" may levy additional requirements, such as drills, guard duty, and various meetings; but the rest of their time is their own.  Hence your confusion about what is being represented; it's all up to the individual and his group.  Some prefer to leave the event and eat modern food, or visit a nearby historical site.  Some visit "Sutler's Row", which isn't just shopping but often includes speakers and public presentations. Some will indulge in period pastimes, or sleep (correct in any period  :)) but "first person" is generally rare.

Most events have limited "public hours", and time after this is generally considered "down time".  Some people actually change out of period dress (presumably they find it uncomfortable) in order to relax.  Some will attend period entertainment if provided; others have their "campfire time".  First person interaction is rare to non-existent.

It's useful to remember that for many participants "the hobby" is also their prime field of social interaction (outside of work).  This is responsible for much of the "breaking character" as people meet and catch up with their friends.  Generally speaking, I'd say most "mainstreamers" see no reason to be "in character" in the absence of the public or if not "on duty".

As for civilians, the "mainstream" hobby does not know what to do with them.  Sometimes there are social activities directed towards women, but there is rarely if ever anything for men.  So you should be free to do as you like, as long as it's not seen as interfering with the publicly scheduled activities "under contract".

The "VIP" impersonators you met are generally hired by the event organizers, and probably aren't reenactors.  They may be paid to appear, and are really "under contract" to give their "two lectures or speeches per day".  The rest of their time is their own.  They might set up a booth on "Sutler Row", or just wander around; which is how you get Lincoln meeting General Lee, or debating Jefferson Davis.

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Those are great ideas and well worth pursuing, but as far as I know, it's really all the same people, or at least friends of friends of the same folks.


I don't know why that's an issue, because they would be different venues, with different expectations.  You would presumably be on the hook for some kind of presentation, but the rest of the time would be your own.  I think you might also encounter a different kind of spectator at such places than at the typical "battle" reenactment.



Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: hanktrent on October 04, 2013, 09:56:13 PM
Norms do vary by event, unit, and individual; but I think the essential concept is that "mainstream" reenactors generally view themselves as performers under contract.

Thank you! That makes a lot of sense and explains it extremely well. In other words, they don't want to do any more "performing" than the minimum their contract requires, and maybe even want to actively stop anyone who is "working too hard," the way old hands will discourage an enthusiastic new co-worker from putting in free overtime even if they're not expected to.

Wow. I'm coming at it from a totally different direction. I'm doing the "performance" purely because it's fun, so more performing equals more fun. Because the only reward that I want is an appreciative audience, I try to offer that freely, assuming others want the same. But it doesn't seem to be a reward that others want, let alone want to give back--because as I see now, their rewards are other things, including not having to perform at all.

The "contract" idea also explains why it seems like living history is something spectators enjoy for its own sake but reenactors grudgingly put up with, which of course is why I have more in common with spectators.

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Those are great ideas and well worth pursuing, but as far as I know, it's really all the same people, or at least friends of friends of the same folks.


I don't know why that's an issue, because they would be different venues, with different expectations.  You would presumably be on the hook for some kind of presentation, but the rest of the time would be your own.  I think you might also encounter a different kind of spectator at such places than at the typical "battle" reenactment.

My comment was mostly based on the misunderstanding that I didn't like the people/impressions at local mainstream events, so I meant that such places wouldn't be an alternative to them.

But when you say the rest of the time would be my own, do you mean to interpret to the public? I'm not sure they're used to that. I'd be afraid such venues would offer less interpretation time overall, because after my specific presentation, everyone would expect my "contract" would end and my "event" would simply be over, unlike a reenactment that at least expects 9-5 interpretation. It still might be worth looking into, though, after I try the impression out on random visitors and figure out what approach works best.

Hank Trent
hanktrent@gmail.com


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: Jim_Ruley on October 05, 2013, 07:36:19 AM
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In other words, they don't want to do any more "performing" than the minimum their contract requires...


That's an assumption on your part.  The "rule" is that everyone does at least the minimum.  For many individuals and groups, that's enough; but others believe in staying "on duty" as long as the site is open, and a few from event start to finish.  I think if you got to know some of them, you'd find "typical mainstreamer" is just as illusory a concept as "typical hardcore".


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...and maybe even want to actively stop anyone who is "working too hard," the way old hands will discourage an enthusiastic new co-worker from putting in free overtime even if they're not expected to.


That may be an issue with some groups, but will not be with most.  Seeing you "working so hard" they might try to "help" you, such as offering you food and drink -- which might in modern containers, or inappropriate to the time and place portrayed.  And they might not understand why you refuse to accept.  But it's unlikely they'll actively try to stop you, unless your activities are perceived as interfering with theirs in some way.



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But when you say the rest of the time would be my own, do you mean to interpret to the public? I'm not sure they're used to that. I'd be afraid such venues would offer less interpretation time overall, because after my specific presentation, everyone would expect my "contract" would end and my "event" would simply be over...



That's obviously something you would need to work out with the site.  Once they got to know you, your interpretation might become your presentation.  For instance, the docent greets the visitors, gives them the house tour, then mentions "we have some period people on site you might like to talk to, including the slave catcher and his dog..."  After that it's up to them (and you).


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: hanktrent on October 05, 2013, 08:04:57 AM
That's an assumption on your part.  The "rule" is that everyone does at least the minimum.  For many individuals and groups, that's enough; but others believe in staying "on duty" as long as the site is open, and a few from event start to finish.  I think if you got to know some of them, you'd find "typical mainstreamer" is just as illusory a concept as "typical hardcore".

That's the problem. If everyone's goal was the same, I'd know what to do. But when the spectrum is so broad, and there's no right or wrong beyond doing the bare minimum, I can't figure out what anyone expects, without a lot of social mistakes. What's happened previously is I'll try to find others interested in still being "on duty," and be interacting with them as if it's 186x, and they'll suddenly start talking about modern things and expect me to also. There doesn't seem to be any cue for the change, but everyone behaves as if it's obvious they're right and anyone who wants to keep interacting in 186x is wrong. But I can't figure out what changed.

Same thing with the modern food, as you mentioned. Seems there's a catch-22, where one person wants you to accept modern food, while another will tease you for not being a "hardcore" anymore.

Others seem to intrinsically understand how all this works, but I just simply can't get it. That's why I think I'm better off being a loner, just because I'm so unable to "get" what everybody else obviously understands.

Hank Trent
hanktrent@gmail.com


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: Jim_Ruley on October 05, 2013, 09:20:32 AM
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Others seem to intrinsically understand how all this works, but I just simply can't get it. That's why I think I'm better off being a loner, just because I'm so unable to "get" what everybody else obviously understands.


I'm not sure they "get it" either, but they don't let it bother them (or not as much).  I think the reason has to do with motivation.  As we went over in another thread, most reenactors are there for belonging, competition, or learning.  You seem to be one of the few truly motivated by "becoming" -- the desire to truly experience another time period.


So, in the case of these "time warps for no apparent reason":

- The pure "belonger" doesn't care, because he is just trying to fit in with what everyone else is doing.  (Of course, because he feels pressured to go along, he'll watch the group "leaders" closely for subtle cues about what they're doing and try to fit in).

- The pure "competitor" doesn't care, because he's trying to be "the best" (or buy "the best").  He may want to come up with a "better" way to signal transitions (some people suggest removing one's hat, for example), but he's mostly concerned about doing the same things "better", rather than trying new things or "becoming" someone else.

- The pure "learner" doesn't care, because he's busy soaking up information about his narrow specialty.  Mentally he isn't even at the event; it's a place to get what he wants, not a destination in itself.

- The "becomer" is totally confused.  "Don't these people know what century they're supposed to be in?  Isn't that what we came here for?"




Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: hanktrent on October 05, 2013, 11:59:03 AM
Yep, I think you nailed it!

Hank Trent
hanktrent@gmail.com


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: E L Watkins-Morris on October 07, 2013, 01:13:35 PM
Jim commented about making the dog the star of the show. You may not have a choice and I overlooked the dog when I first responded.

Dog lovers (my self included) will run over people to meet your dog.

I brought my mutt to a recent "Lantern Tour" event and he stole the show to the point I had other participants ready to transfer scenarios so they could hang out with him for the evening and folks come back after the tour to meet him.* Just imagine the interest stirred by a great looking specimen of an unusual breed!

This small controlled environment was a great opportunity for socialization and training and he did very well. But I would never take him to a large mainstream event.

Your dog is young enough she'll truly benefit from the exposure.

Liz W.

* Buckley is not a "pretty" dog, is decidedly NOT receptive to strangers (unless you are in period clothing), is suspicious of little girls and if you startle him his barrroooo bark will blow your eardrums out.  By the end of the night he had clearly had enough of people, cornmeal jumbles and ham and slept for the next two days.


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: hanktrent on October 07, 2013, 05:02:31 PM
Dog lovers (my self included) will run over people to meet your dog.

It's funny you mention that, because we just took her as a spectator to a local Rev War event Saturday, to see how she'd do, and that was about what happened. At one point, she was kissing the face of one little girl, while another hung on her neck, another was holding her tail, while a little boy ran over shouting "Doggy!" She just stood there and soaked up the attention. In the camps, the strange clothes and funny smells and sounds didn't bother her and she let anyone who wanted to, pet her, and if they leaned over, she'd kiss their face.

There wasn't any battle, but one fellow demonstrated firing in camp and the sound made her a little worried, but she relaxed quickly. The little girl pile-on happened just a few minutes later and she was ready for it and loved it. So I think she's cut out for this. The only thing that got her barking and pulling was an Indian dancing with a huge set of feathers on his back that flapped up and down like wings when he hopped. Oddly, she didn't even notice the noice of the loud drums over to the side that he was dancing to.

There's a local Civil War event in about three weeks, and we'll try her as a spectator again there.

When I actually try this as a participant in the role next year, it will be a strange contrast. "Oh look at the cute doggy. Isn't that sweet. Wait a minute. You do what for a living?"  ;D

I figure her friendliness will lead into the topic of the difference between catch dogs and track hounds.
 
Hank Trent
hanktrent@gmail.com


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: Chip on October 11, 2013, 05:48:19 AM
Playing the role of a Louisiana planter will certainly include some not so typical conditions than what you would find in other areas of the antebellum South.


This is an interesting thesis on the subject:

http://etd.lsu.edu/docs/available/etd-04042005-172526/unrestricted/Pastor_thesis.pdf


The free black population enjoyed more rights and status than any other area of the South as well with the exceptions of Mobile and Pensacola.


Many of the free Black slave owners were quite wealthy and powerful.



 


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: hanktrent on October 11, 2013, 01:17:40 PM
Playing the role of a Louisiana planter will certainly include some not so typical conditions than what you would find in other areas of the antebellum South.

This is an interesting thesis on the subject:

http://etd.lsu.edu/docs/available/etd-04042005-172526/unrestricted/Pastor_thesis.pdf

The free black population enjoyed more rights and status than any other area of the South as well with the exceptions of Mobile and Pensacola.

Many of the free Black slave owners were quite wealthy and powerful.

Well, yes, but this kind of thing didn't go on as much either, outside of the really big deep-south plantations:
http://www.sjsu.edu/faculty/watkins/barrow.htm There was a reason slaves feared being sold down-river. Unfortunately, I couldn't bring that up much because it wasn't the kind of thing cultured white people talked about to guests, but I really wish we'd had some black reenactors to give their view of life.

Though sorta off topic for this specific thread, the French Catholic problem does bring up the difficulty of portraying the demographics of a specific area, when those demographics are unlike what reenactors are used to portraying. The county we were portraying was heavily French Catholic, but the only choice for me (and apparently all the other civilians) was to either do a really bad portrayal of a French Catholic, or a better impression of a non-French non-Catholic. I chose to portray a protestant originally from Virginia, the fictional brother of a real-life local man who had died a few years earlier, but because all the reenactors made similar choices, we had no French Catholics being portrayed.

I talked about the French Catholics in the area, and I could apply a lot of my pre-existing deep-south plantation research to any generic cotton plantation down there, and the real-life brother of the fictional man I was portraying had been the business-partner of a Virginian I'm currently writing a book about so I could talk in detail about how our family had made their money.

But one simply can't learn all the habits, phrases, etc. of Catholicism or being French, well enough to pull off a believable one-time portrayal, even if demographically that's what at least a few reenactors should be. The same is true for any other unusual historic setting. Not sure what the solution is.

Hank Trent
hanktrent@gmail.com


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: Elaine M on October 15, 2013, 08:18:34 PM
Hank,

You've brought up many things to think about!  Since most of the events near us (IL) are mainstream, let me give you my perspective.

1. Because our experiences tend to be local except for nationals or something special, I am beginning to realize how very different reenacting is in different areas of the country. Hence, I will speak to what I know around here.  In my area being an independent civilian is perfectly acceptable; in civilian camp you will find both civilian units and individuals.  You'll also find some military mixed in.  Normally we do not explain to the organizers what we plan to do unless they specifically ask it on the registration form. 

2.  You will need to check with each event organizer if dogs are allowed at their venue.  There is a local unit that prefers to camp with their dogs and they tell me that not every location allows dogs.

3.  Milliken's Bend was unusual as far as events go - the flyers at most events are simply schedules of the contract players, the fashion show, and the battle not explanations of what people should expect to see.  I have never seen a 3rd person docent at an event unless provided by the unit itself. 

4.  You mentioned not necessarily wanting to socialize with the others at events.  You might find life easier if you do - you don't have to sit and chat nor have tea nor sit around the campfire, but it is always good to introduce yourself to your neighbors (not to mention polite in both eras).  If you are regarded as standoffish or stuck up, other reenactors may tend to regard you unfavorably - that's when suspicions start.  You will have to do this in third person on Friday night or early Saturday morning (if you don't want to stay overnight).  Most reenactors do not consider the event to have started at those hours.    We tend to stay with our friends (eventually those with a like mind tend to find each other) but we always chat with others during set up and break down. 

5.  None of the events near us are 1st person.  Once again, Milliken's Bend was a special event.  That doesn't mean you can't do 1st person.  It does mean that virtually no one around will understand what you are doing.  Part of the problem stems from event organization.  None of the events I attend specify a year or location - or if they do, we don't find out until we get there.  There is no coordination of civilians - you would need a person in charge and that would cause a huge amount of resentment and anger.  I was at one event were a woman came to me in 1st person - she was supposed to be in Virginia.  And I was supposed to be in Tennessee.     The event we will attend this weekend will be portraying Gettyburg on Saturday and Chickamauga on Sunday.  Most civilians near us change out when the spectators leave.  We simply keep to ourselves - our neighbors know that's what we like to do.  That's where having friendly relationships helps; - we don't go socialize after the spectators leave because we want to stay in the moment - they at least don't think we are mean or snobbish. 

6. I personally applaud the idea of a slave catcher - we as a community tend to cover over the topic, not wanting to ruffle feathers.  I won't even talk about the amount of disagreement, because I am sure you are aware it.  I don't think you need worry if it is something the public wants to know or not - I will be doing Ladies' Gymnastics this weekend - it is non-controversial, but the public has no idea it even existed.  I felt it would be a fun way to involve spectators.  But for your topic, well,this is where I may need to change my comments on #1 - you may need to run your impression by event organizers.  A gentleman whom I know was talking about running a slave auction - and another man who is on the board of a lot of the local events stated very emphatically that he would never allow something like that at an event he was part of.  Historic or not, it wouldn't matter.   I would suggest you approach the organizers with an advertising tactic - let them know the extent of your research,  & how you would enhance the event. 

With best regards,

Elaine M.


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: hanktrent on October 15, 2013, 09:54:48 PM
Hi Elaine!

What you describe sounds just like what I've seen as a spectator at local events, so that's very helpful!

4.  You mentioned not necessarily wanting to socialize with the others at events.  You might find life easier if you do - you don't have to sit and chat nor have tea nor sit around the campfire, but it is always good to introduce yourself to your neighbors (not to mention polite in both eras).  If you are regarded as standoffish or stuck up, other reenactors may tend to regard you unfavorably - that's when suspicions start.  You will have to do this in third person on Friday night or early Saturday morning (if you don't want to stay overnight).  Most reenactors do not consider the event to have started at those hours.    We tend to stay with our friends (eventually those with a like mind tend to find each other) but we always chat with others during set up and break down.  

5.  None of the events near us are 1st person.  Once again, Milliken's Bend was a special event.  That doesn't mean you can't do 1st person.  It does mean that virtually no one around will understand what you are doing.

The combination of #4 and #5 is what concerns me. As far as I can tell, the events never really "begin." In other words, let's say I'm talking as myself to others up until early Saturday morning. At that point, I begin reenacting and try my best to portray someone from the 1860s, but they won't make the same transition.

So how do I ever start reenacting, around them? I guess the following is the answer, and that's what I mean by not socializing:

Quote
Most civilians near us change out when the spectators leave.  We simply keep to ourselves - our neighbors know that's what we like to do.  That's where having friendly relationships helps; - we don't go socialize after the spectators leave because we want to stay in the moment - they at least don't think we are mean or snobbish.

Here's a question. How does one deal with using a different name, location, etc.? I'm thinking of using the name of a real man approximately my age who kept "negro dogs" in Kentucky in 1860, then adapting fictional/typical details to fit whatever the specific historic situation is.

Do I switch names and hometowns at a certain time Saturday and correct them politely? Are mainstream reenactors okay with that? Or is it simpler just to say from the start that I'm [Historic Name] from Kentucky, if anyone wants to know, and keep the conversation vague and generic?

Years ago, I sometimes found reenactors at mainstream events would get hostile if I didn't give them the "right" answers to their questions or politely corrected them, even with spectators around: "I thought they said your name was Hank." "They said you were from Ohio. Where are you really from?" That's what I mean about reenactors actively trying to stop you from reenacting.

Or are they more apt to get hostile if they discover much later that I've been "lying" to them about my name and location?

Is there an accepted, normal way of handling the use of a different name and hometown at mainstream events?

Quote
But for your topic, well,this is where I may need to change my comments on #1 - you may need to run your impression by event organizers.

I'd certainly feel more comfortable doing that. It just seems too strange to show up without checking with someone first.

Hank Trent
hanktrent@gmail.com


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: E L Watkins-Morris on October 16, 2013, 09:43:02 AM
Quote
Years ago, I sometimes found reenactors at mainstream events would get hostile if I didn't give them the "right" answers to their questions or politely corrected them, even with spectators around: "I thought they said your name was Hank." "They said you were from Ohio. Where are you really  from?" That's what I mean about reenactors actively trying to stop you from reenacting.

Or are they more apt to get hostile if they discover much later that I've been "lying" to them about my name and location?

Is there an accepted, normal way of handling the use of a different name and hometown at mainstream events?

All that means is they did not understand that you have a 1st person identity.  Hostility is likely an expression of their embarrassment or self consciousness at not being "in the know".

I understand you are trying to do this right (politely, quietly, accurately, etc.) and covering all bases but there comes a point when you are going to have to jump: Don't worry about how others will take it and enjoy your work. You will turn the light on for someone.

Liz W.


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: Jim_Ruley on October 16, 2013, 04:54:51 PM
Quote
Is there an accepted, normal way of handling the use of a different name and hometown at mainstream events?


You're asking if there is an "accepted, normal" way of doing something that practically no one does? 

I think you already know the answer.  So, it's up to you to make something up.


For emergency contact purposes, it's important that someone (an organizer or someone you've met previously) knows who you really are (in the present century) and where to find your contact information.  You may want to make a small pouch for your driver's license, medical insurance card and maybe a credit card and keep this in an inside pocket, or maybe hidden in your period wallet.


Otherwise, there is really no reason for people to know you by more than one name at the event; I doubt that "Frederick Douglass" or the various "Lincolns" routinely give out their 21st century details.  If you initially introduce yourself as "Hank" people are probably going to call you that all weekend.  So, I might suggest making the rounds of your immediate "neighbors" Friday evening and saying, "Hi.  I'm your neighbor this weekend, and I'll be portraying a slave catcher named (John Doe).  This is my dog, Venus; portraying her g-g-g-g-granddog."  Those people who catch your name will remember you as "John Doe", which is what you want them to call you tomorrow.


I'd suggest having some kind of "base" or spot which qualifies as "yours" to spend your time between conversations.  You probably don't bring a tent, so this could be a shade tree, a corner where two roads intersect or the booth of a friendly sutler.  This will give people who are looking for you a place to find you, and you aren't seen as intruding on other people's personal space by just going around from tent to tent.


If your impression "works" especially well with some people during the weekend, make a point of checking in with them when the event breaks up on Sunday.  Introduce yourself by your "real" name in case you want to make arrangements for future events.  You might even want to make up some business cards (John Doe, slavecatcher portrayed by Henry Trent) with your contact information that you can pass out.  Keep these in the pouch with your emergency contact information.


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: hanktrent on October 16, 2013, 06:12:19 PM
I understand you are trying to do this right (politely, quietly, accurately, etc.) and covering all bases but there comes a point when you are going to have to jump: Don't worry about how others will take it and enjoy your work. You will turn the light on for someone.

Yep, good advice. If I hadn't been burned really badly a few times in the past, I don't think I'd worry. I don't care if somebody calls me a farb, says I'm too hard-core, doesn't want me to do the impression at their event, etc., but when they go so far as to make up witnesses and false accusations and deliberately start gossip, it's scary and bizarre. I had no idea that some people had so much ego invested in what boils down to just dressing up and playing pretend for the fun of it.  :(

You're asking if there is an "accepted, normal" way of doing something that practically no one does? 
I think you already know the answer.

Long ago, I used to know a few people who used reenacting names within their unit, although they weren't actually "in character," so I wasn't sure how that worked.

Quote
Otherwise, there is really no reason for people to know you by more than one name at the event; I doubt that "Frederick Douglass" or the various "Lincolns" routinely give out their 21st century details.  If you initially introduce yourself as "Hank" people are probably going to call you that all weekend.  So, I might suggest making the rounds of your immediate "neighbors" Friday evening and saying, "Hi.  I'm your neighbor this weekend, and I'll be portraying a slave catcher named (John Doe).  This is my dog, Venus; portraying her g-g-g-g-granddog."  Those people who catch your name will remember you as "John Doe", which is what you want them to call you tomorrow.

Perfect advice.  I think that would work fine. Thanks!

Quote
I'd suggest having some kind of "base" or spot which qualifies as "yours" to spend your time between conversations.  You probably don't bring a tent, so this could be a shade tree, a corner where two roads intersect or the booth of a friendly sutler.  This will give people who are looking for you a place to find you, and you aren't seen as intruding on other people's personal space by just going around from tent to tent.

I was actually thinking of bring an, ahem, "dog tent"--actually an old wagon cover rather than a military tent--to give Venus a place to go lie if she needed some quiet time in a little shelter during the day, and I could use it too if we stayed overnight. So that would work well. It's kinda stretching the premise, but I think I'd be used to camping when hunting and it would at least fit a lower-class traveler better than, say, a local middle/upper class person.

Quote
If your impression "works" especially well with some people during the weekend, make a point of checking in with them when the event breaks up on Sunday.

Good advice too.

Thanks to everyone! I'm getting all the gear and research together over the winter, and will post an AAR after the first event next spring. Of course, I'm always open to more advice and ideas if it occurs to anyone between now and then.

Did you know if you pound Nutrish dog kibbles into powder and mix them with water, you can bake them into little hoecakes?  ;) Yay--I won't need to spend a couple weeks gradually changing Venus onto and off of a period diet for each event.   

Hank Trent
hanktrent@gmail.com


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: Chip on October 16, 2013, 07:22:15 PM

6. I personally applaud the idea of a slave catcher - we as a community tend to cover over the topic, not wanting to ruffle feathers.  I won't even talk about the amount of disagreement, because I am sure you are aware it. 

Elaine M.

There are certain venues where it is easier to attend to the subject of slavery.

For example:

http://www.gcsu.edu/mansion/events.htm

Look at this section:   "Labor Behind the Veil: The History of Slaves and Free Persons at Georgia's Old Governor's Mansion 1839 - 1868."


The secret is to be honest about the whole picture and keep the perspective focused on the social realities of the 19th century .



Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: MaryDee on October 16, 2013, 10:20:00 PM
Hank, your impression sounds fascinating, and I'm eager to hear how it works out!

In addition to giving you a "home," you will want something to provide shade for your dog on hot days, such as a tent fly.  As you probably know, dogs get heat stroke much easier than do humans, because they don't sweat and panting isn't as effective.  Water, of course, is also important.  If you use a dog tent, make sure it's really well ventilated--even an open tent can become an oven in the sun. 


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: E L Watkins-Morris on October 17, 2013, 04:39:11 AM
Quote
Did you know if you pound Nutrish dog kibbles into powder and mix them with water, you can bake them into little hoecakes?  Wink Yay--I won't need to spend a couple weeks gradually changing Venus onto and off of a period diet for each event. 


This is incredibly helpful! Buck will love these!

Liz W.


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: hanktrent on October 17, 2013, 05:08:14 AM
Quote
Did you know if you pound Nutrish dog kibbles into powder and mix them with water, you can bake them into little hoecakes?  Wink Yay--I won't need to spend a couple weeks gradually changing Venus onto and off of a period diet for each event. 


This is incredibly helpful! Buck will love these!

For what it's worth, I tried them both with and without egg as a binder and they held together about as well as hoecakes either way. It would surely work with almost any dogfood, as long as it didn't have dyes to give it a weird color, of course. For a dog that's used to homecooked food or table scraps everyday anyway, it wouldn't matter, but for a dog used to kibbles, I figured it was a simple way not to have to deal with a change of diet.

Her favorite chewtoys are old deer skulls and bones she drags up from the woods--our yard looks like it's decorated for Halloween every day--so bringing familiar toys from home won't be a problem.  :)

Hank Trent
hanktrent@gmail.com


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: Elaine M on October 17, 2013, 02:42:09 PM
[quoteOtherwise, there is really no reason for people to know you by more than one name at the event; I doubt that "Frederick Douglass" or the various "Lincolns" routinely give out their 21st century details.  If you initially introduce yourself as "Hank" people are probably going to call you that all weekend.  So, I might suggest making the rounds of your immediate "neighbors" Friday evening and saying, "Hi.  I'm your neighbor this weekend, and I'll be portraying a slave catcher named (John Doe).  This is my dog, Venus; portraying her g-g-g-g-granddog."  Those people who catch your name will remember you as "John Doe", which is what you want them to call you tomorrow.
][/quote]


I agree with Jim that if you introduce yourself as "Hank," other reenactors may tend to call you by your modern name.  On the other hand, most of us know the modern names of our contract people - we know who Abe, Mary, Harriet Tubman, and all the generals are.  I have tried to notice how others respond to them - when various persona are out in the public field, reenactors call them by their period name.  That doesn't mean that they are using period manners and reactions (for example, Harriet Tubman).  When those persona move to visit people in their tent, the assumption is that they are "off duty" and people now call them by their real names - except for Mr. Lincoln, who always seems to be "President or Mr. Lincoln." 

I tend to think of introducing yourself (real name) on Friday night with details of your persona as the equivalent of being on an event forum before an immersion.  Mainstream events don't have anything like that, which may explain why they are so fragmented and uncoordinated.  But those forums do give people the opportunity to know that Hank Trent is coming and this is what he will be doing.    Another idea would be to have a calling card printed with your modern name on the back, which you could hand to your neighbors.  Of course that is introducing a modern twist into a period item, but could be a way to get around introducing yourself as your modern self.  Of course that could lead to another whole raft of questions.  I'll admit that if we were neighbors at an event, I'd want to know who you are in real life so I could get hold of you in the future.

Elaine M.


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: bevinmacrae on November 11, 2013, 01:27:38 PM
I just wanted to say that I'm really enjoying this conversation!

As I work through developing and establishing an official First Person policy, mission, criteria, training, implementation, and evaluation for the historical site I work for, many of the same issues you are discussing have come up. I have been reading "Past into Present" by Stacy Roth, and she has some invaluable insights into the topic from not only her own experiences, but those of other museum professionals as well.  Though I'm only halfway through the book, she has already stated that there is never going to be a "one-fit" solution, that the particular talent of a First Person presenter is to find a way to educate the visitor despite the barriers of language, terminology, social status, and even accuracy. From the viewpoint of the person developing the training and policy, how do I decide what to teach and what not to teach, what to accept as a bridge to reach a visitor and what not to?

At the risk of adding yet one more piece of advice in a field in which I feel as though I have barely seen the tip of the iceberg after 10 years:

In reading this conversation, I think I agree that Hank, your primary interaction is with visitors. You have already learned that reenactors will either ignore you, or view you in a negative light, so I would say work with the event organizers as a lone educator. This impression is what you have to offer, this is how you will do it, these are your expectations of what the site will provide, this is what you will provide. Then do your thing once those details have been hashed out to mutual agreement. I would not worry or give a flying flip about other reenactors. Unless, that is, you are looking for like-minded companionship.

I believe Jim has described very succinctly how various "types" view the hobby and what they hope to achieve, and also what their obligations are or are not to an event. From that, I believe you fit in better with the specific impression category, like Abe, or Tubman. So, I would offer yourself, much as they do to the site, as a "performer" of a specific impression/character. While I know this may rub one the wrong way in terms of terminology, the word "reenactor" may mean something very different to a site than "period Performer" might and you may be better served by going the latter route. Photos, and even recordings (made at home with a neighbor or modern-dressed spouse acting as the visitor) can help give the site a real picture of what you plan to offer.

 It also covers your butt as you are portraying a potentially controversial persona-you have disclosed this to the site and now it's up to them to accept it or not. Right now, at our site, all controversial impressions such as this one are not allowed. We just haven't grown up enough to talk about such subjects in an appropriate manner, nor has most of our visitor population. I hope to change that through training and special programs, but right now, we'd say no to your impression. But that's not because we don't like you, your work, or your accuracy. It's just not something we want to offer, knowing our audience, at this time. Each site needs to decide that based on their own needs and visitors. It may be a perfect portrayal for the Atlanta History Center which regularly delves into slavery and surrounding topics, or possibly even for Williamsburg which has had slavery auctions to educate visitors.

I hope you can make this happen. It sounds way cool, and what a neat sociological experiment!

Bevin
So, from the event site's perspective, we'd view you and your impression as completely separate from the reenactors at the event, and we'd want to work with you one-on-one.



Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: hanktrent on November 12, 2013, 06:42:03 PM
Right now, at our site, all controversial impressions such as this one are not allowed. We just haven't grown up enough to talk about such subjects in an appropriate manner, nor has most of our visitor population. I hope to change that through training and special programs, but right now, we'd say no to your impression. But that's not because we don't like you, your work, or your accuracy. It's just not something we want to offer, knowing our audience, at this time. Each site needs to decide that based on their own needs and visitors.

Thanks for all your comments. Having an impression suggested or having it approved is what I'm used to, so it seems really odd where everyone does their own thing.

A weekend ago, I took Venus in modern clothes (actually, I was wearing the clothes, not her) to a local CW event, and was surprised to see a wetplate photographer there. Well, as Liz. W. said, at some point one needs to jump, so I decided to throw together what I had and come back Sunday for a photo. When I arrived the next day, I signed onto the waiting list and had to hang out a couple hours before my turn in line.

I wasn't registered and pets weren't actually allowed to register, so I was "just waiting to have my picture taken" if anyone asked. I didn't approach any spectators and if they approached me, only briefly answered their direct questions enough to avoid being rude, but I tried to do the best impression I could because I knew I looked like a reenactor even if I wasn't. A Union soldier was also having his dog photographed, so I did chat with him about dogs, along with the other reenactors waiting to get photographed. What I learned:

--People love to pet dogs.

--Casually mentioning your dog is good at tracking down negras will bring a conversation to dead silence for at least 15 seconds.

--After the silence passes, people will treat you just as nicely afterwards as before.

--People love to pet dogs.

--It really is difficult to learn history if you're in costume. Not having planned to reenact, I'd barely studied the historic situation and only knew it had something to do with Unionists coming into Confederate territory to recruit. I tried to ask a Federal soldier about it, but he mainly wanted to tell me about his modern reenacting-club efforts at recruiting, so I gave up.

--Did I mention people love to pet dogs?

The only trouble I had with Venus was when I turned toward the car to leave. I had to drag her down the empty sidewalk away from all her new friends.

So here I am with Venus the blurry-headed dog.

(http://littlepupebay.homestead.com/1venus.jpg)

Over the winter, I need to get better gear together and work out more of an interpretative plan.

Hank Trent
hanktrent@gmail.com



Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: MaryDee on November 20, 2013, 12:12:38 PM
The tail looks a bit more blurry than the head!


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: E L Watkins-Morris on November 20, 2013, 01:35:09 PM
Where's the marching band emoticon?

Love the image!
Sounds like a good trial run for you and Venus!
Liz W.


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: hanktrent on November 20, 2013, 04:23:16 PM
The tail looks a bit more blurry than the head!

She held her head still for two seconds, but moved during the last second. Trying to catch her without her tail wagging wasn't even a remote possibility.  :)

Hank Trent
hanktrent@gmail.com


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: Veronica Carey on November 26, 2013, 12:21:20 PM
Great picture.  The blurry tail makes it look very authentic, like you sometimes see blurry toddlers in real pictures.

Must say, I laughed out loud at this:
"--Casually mentioning your dog is good at tracking down negras will bring a conversation to dead silence for at least 15 seconds."

FWIW, I think your impression will be a significant contribution to various living history venues.



Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: Jim_Ruley on November 26, 2013, 04:39:58 PM
Quote
Though I'm only halfway through the book, she has already stated that there is never going to be a "one-fit" solution, that the particular talent of a First Person presenter is to find a way to educate the visitor despite the barriers of language, terminology, social status, and even accuracy. From the viewpoint of the person developing the training and policy, how do I decide what to teach and what not to teach, what to accept as a bridge to reach a visitor and what not to?

Why not take a leaf from Carl von Clausewitz (author of the military philosophy text, "On War") and be descriptive rather than prescriptive?

Too often reenactors are obsessed with the One Right Way, or ruling items or activities as "In" or "Out".  Instead, emphasize to your presenters that this is a very individual activity, and it's up to them to work out their own unique "bridge" to the audience.  Instead of saying, "here's what you can and can't do", pick some examples of "what works" (the descriptive part), and say (for example) "Here's how Hank does it."

Admittedly, you will probably have to have some constraints due to laws, policies and insurance stipulations.  Beyond that, you can work with presenters individually and ask them to be as creative as possible.



Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: Elisabeth M on November 26, 2013, 05:53:06 PM
Quote
Why not take a leaf from Carl von Clausewitz (author of the military philosophy text, "On War") and be descriptive rather than prescriptive?

More broadly than that, Clausewitz gives some specific and (personally) rather fascinating broad principles and philosophies - Mainly, how war is a necessary and logical extension of politics, and how war has two possible aims - limited and total.

So, when it comes to reenacting, our personas should are a logical extension of our historical interests and opinions. It's a way of carrying out education towards others (or even for ourselves) in an interactive format.

Secondly, what are our goals in reenacting/historical performance? To provide a total education? To provide a limited education? What is our target? What information do we want to bring across?

Discussing how our historic interests and opinions then interact with the interests and opinions of others may be a profitable discussion, as may be the interaction of our personas with the goals we have in mind in reenacting.



. . . I've spent WAY too much time this fall thinking about historical education and historical analysis. Ooops.


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: hanktrent on November 26, 2013, 07:11:10 PM
So, when it comes to reenacting, our personas should are a logical extension of our historical interests and opinions. It's a way of carrying out education towards others (or even for ourselves) in an interactive format.

Secondly, what are our goals in reenacting/historical performance? To provide a total education? To provide a limited education? What is our target? What information do we want to bring across?

Discussing how our historic interests and opinions then interact with the interests and opinions of others may be a profitable discussion, as may be the interaction of our personas with the goals we have in mind in reenacting.

That brings up a point that I've never been comfortable with. The standard idea seems to be that every spectator's needs must be met as much as possible--even those who clearly don't get and don't want what's being offered. For example, if there's a confused person who needs/wants the interpreter to break character, one should break character for that person, even if it spoils the illusion for those who are enjoying it or at least not complaining.

I dunno. I'm not really comfortable with the idea that the needs of the least appreciative members of the audience supercede the needs of the most appreciative. In any other venue, the advice would be to not let the hecklers take over. If someone in a comedy audience said, "Hey, I don't get your jokes, but that's a cool microphone. What brand is that?" the comedian's goal would not be to meet that person's needs by talking seriously about microphones, but to continue with the jokes for the people who did get them.

Obviously, there has to be some flexibility and "reading the audience," And in theory, one could do it in private, but in practice, what usually happens is that others wander by, hear the out-of-character interpretation, join in asking questions, and the illusion is difficult to recover.

I dunno, maybe I've just spent too much time as a spectator on the losing end, enjoying an interpreter doing a great job of transporting me to the past, only to have it ended too soon by some other clueless spectator demanding it stop.

I expect the standard advice comes from museums being part of the service industry, where the customer is always right, but still...

Hank Trent
hanktrent@gmail.com


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: Jim_Ruley on November 27, 2013, 04:11:58 AM
Quote
More broadly than that, Clausewitz gives some specific and (personally) rather fascinating broad principles and philosophies - Mainly, how war is a necessary and logical extension of politics, and how war has two possible aims - limited and total.


Clausewitz actually wrote,

"Der Krieg ist eine blosze Fortsetzung der Politik mit anderen Mitteln"

which literally translates as

"War is a mere setting forth of policy with an admixture of other means".

This quote is often taken out of context.  He wasn't referring to all wars, but one extreme case, the opposite of which is "absolute" war.  The unifying idea being that there are many kinds of war, and the military and political leadership had better understand the kind of war they are starting before becoming too deeply committed.
For those interested in the man and his ideas, here is a really good link:

http://www.clausewitz.com/ (http://www.clausewitz.com/)


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: Elisabeth M on November 27, 2013, 08:47:34 AM
Serves me right for struggling and drudging through a free and mostly terrible ca. 1875 translation instead of the widely touted new translation. It's just very expensive for a newlywed-recently-graduated part time history teacher. >.>

Clausewitz is perfectly fascinating, though, and I'd highly recommend reading him if you portray a deep thinker of the time. It sheds a lot of light on mid 19th century military thought and how the 19th century is clearly a transitionary period. Clausewitz deftly reveals a lot about human nature in war that is obvious when read yet you would have never considered it otherwise.

Aaaand back to your normally scheduled conversation.


Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: Chip on November 27, 2013, 09:36:01 AM
So, when it comes to reenacting, our personas should be a logical extension of our historical interests and opinions.

Discussing how our historic interests and opinions then interact with the interests and opinions of others may be a profitable discussion, as may be the interaction of our personas with the goals we have in mind in reenacting.

Obviously, there has to be some flexibility and "reading the audience," And in theory, one could do it in private, but in practice, what usually happens is that others wander by, hear the out-of-character interpretation, join in asking questions, and the illusion is difficult to recover.

Hank Trent
hanktrent@gmail.com

From an Aristotelian perspective, you are more likely to be convincing if you hold similar values to the persona that you are trying to portray.
And having a passion for a certain topic also provides you with the informational depth to adjust and moderate your interaction with other re-enactors and spectators.

One of the more challenging roles that I assumed at the most recent Westville, entailed having to appear before a Freedman's Bureau military court as a current small plantation owner, but also keeping in mind that I was one of the former overseers for Robert Toombs' working plantation, "Roanoke."

For those who know me well, I spend 95% of the time as a western federal mudsill, so assuming the role of a Democratic former slaveholder was about a 180 degree flip.
But therein lies an important aspect of portraying a 19th century Southerner. Being absolutely honest about historical accuracy and actual perspectives of the era.

Since I have been acquainted for many years with the group of black women who I would be going up against in court, my greatest challenge focused on making the situation as meaningful as possible for them rather than putting the spectators at the head of my list of folks I was trying to please. After all, many of their ancestors very likely worked under similar contracts. Since I've had many long discussions with Mary Fears over the years, I was fortunate that there was already a degree of trust in place to pull the scenario off without any significant barriers.

Rather than just totally focus on berating the,"workers," as being less productive in comparison to younger male field workers of the past, I also included props insinuating that there was work that was not completed. To start, I offered a paintbrush with no visible traces of paint that was supposed to have been used to paint a shed. Then, I presented a new black coat that had no buttonholes sewn into it.
I even added a hint of thievery when I produced some large chunks of coal that I had supposedly found in the woods near their quarters.

Alas, my attempts at trying to weasel my way out of paying them their full due compensation didn't pan out, and their efforts to thwart my accusations were rewarded by a judgement in their favor.

A few minutes later, a spectator came up to me and asked why I didn't just aggressively claim that they were trying to cheat me.
My impromptu response was this, "Can you appreciated the fact that I am appearing before military officers of whom I have no prior acquaintance? And with dozens of soldiers at their disposal, I was not going to offer up any excuse for them to transmit me to a jail cell not more that 100 feet from where I now stand!"

In essence, I don't think you have to be all things to all people, but you should try to be true to your persona and always be ready to adapt with the question, "what would the person do in this situation?"



Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: Jim_Ruley on November 27, 2013, 09:21:14 PM
Quote
Clausewitz is perfectly fascinating, though, and I'd highly recommend reading him if you portray a deep thinker of the time. It sheds a lot of light on mid 19th century military thought and how the 19th century is clearly a transitionary period. Clausewitz deftly reveals a lot about human nature in war that is obvious when read yet you would have never considered it otherwise.

Indeed.  And if the company will permit another digression, we could apply a "Clausewitzian framework" to reenacting.  It may be nothing more than a parody, but there might be some useful insights as well.

Clausewitz posits that there are many kinds of war, with the extreme cases being "absolute" war (all possible force concentrated and expended in an instant) and a "mere continuation of policy by other means".  In the same way, we can posit many different kinds of reenactments, with the extremes being:

- Absolute, total immersion, where we literally "become" people from an earlier period for the duration;

- A "mere continuation of historical instruction with the addition of other means".  Such as costumed docents at a historic site, or a uniformed reenactor giving a "blanket talk" in a high school classroom.


From his synthesis of the two extremes Clausewitz draws the following principle:

Quote
Now, the first, the grandest, and most decisive act of judgment which the statesman and general exercises is rightly to understand in this respect the war in which he engages, not to take it for something, or to wish to make of it something which, by the nature of its relations, it is impossible for it to be.

What is good for statesmen and generals is also good for reenactors.



Clausewitz also speaks of the nature of war as dependent upon a "wonderful trinity" of three forces or "tendencies", which he defines as:

- Violence, hatred, and animosity (mostly associated with the people);

- Probability and chance (mostly associated with generals and armies)

- Political instrumentality (mostly associated with governments)

In the same way, we could look at the nature of reenactment events as dependent upon the expectations and characteristics of three groups:

- The participants

- The spectators

- The event site and its hosts

I'll leave it as an exercise for the students to decide which of these should be associated with pure reason, probability and chance, and violence, hatred and animosity :).
 





Title: Re: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events
Post by: bevinmacrae on November 29, 2013, 12:18:58 PM
In regards to if you should break character in order to "orient" a person who is simply not getting it at an event, there's many schools of thought on that. Plymouth Plantation, a leader in First Person as it's only interpretive method, originally believed that even shocking or "negative" experiences with First Person interpreters was ok for guests, because it was "real" and they believed at that time that it was just as important as the visitor having a "positive" experience. They took the "provoke" part of Tildon quite literally.

They have since changed their view a bit. For instance, the 11 different English dialects practiced and spoken throughout the site are very foreign to most Americans, so, in order to continue to educate their guests, they do dilute their speech so that they can be understood. In other words, the main goal is education, and you can't do that without good communication, so that becomes the prime directive so to say. But for a native Englishman, they will go full on with the dialect because they know their audience in that case will understand and enjoy it, it will not hinder the education. Is it true to the character to adjust one's accent? No. But, if your audience can't understand you, how can you teach them?

Many First Person sites maintain that you don't need to break character or otherwise kill continuity for most of your audience in order to get one to catch up with the program. Take a look at Stacy Roth's "Past into Present" for alot of tips and tricks that expert First Person interpreters use to orient the visitor that just doesn't get it. It may be a simple as saying something like "Well, it's 1864 now, I'm voting for so and so because he's helping out my occupation is some such way. What do you think?" Ok, lousy example, but you get the idea. There are ways to get a guest to play with you without breaking character.

Likewise, you don't always have to be a "pleasant" persona. But there are ways not to scare off visitors if you choose to portray a person who is a little more rough around the edges.

Other great resources are some of the ALHFAM bulletins. Check around and see if any of the historical institutions in your area have the back issues from the 80s and 90s. Discussion was hot on this topic at that time.

Bevin