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BetsyConnolly
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« on: December 10, 2010, 05:53:58 AM »

Hey everyone,

I'm attending my first immersion event in April (the Rise of the First Volunteers - lucky enough that it's basically in my backyard!). I'm very excited, but slightly nervous, as I want to do it right. So I'm looking for advice from the seasoned veterans. What do you wish you had known before your first immersion event? What advice do you have for preparing? What is the most important thing to remember? Any special hints or tricks or ideas?

Thanks in advance!
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Betsy Connolly
Living History Society of Minnesota
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Joanna Jones
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« Reply #1 on: December 10, 2010, 06:03:56 AM »

Me too!  (same event, same questions)

thanks,
Joanna
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hanktrent
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« Reply #2 on: December 10, 2010, 07:17:18 AM »

I'll be there too.

Here's the one thing I wish somebody had told me, before I started attending "immersion" events. It's based on a wide variety of such events I've been to all around the country, so it's not meant to reflect negatively on this event at all, just speaking in general...

If you want the "immersion" experience, you'll have to work for it. There will be people blowing off the whole period thing, and if you hang out with them, it won't seem any different than a mainstream social meet-and-greet, for hours at a time.

So if you want a period experience, you can't worry about potentially hurting other people's feelings by not doing what they want or not chatting with them. Walk away. Find someone else to be around. Or interrupt them to get them back in period, if you're brave enough.

Before events, I prepare with the attitude that I'm the only one from the 21st century, who's going back into the real past to try to fit in as best I can. So I try to study the things I'd definitely know, and get a mental picture of what the real situation would have been like, not even considering the usual norms of a reenactment.

When I'm at events, I attend with the attitude that I'm the only one from the 19th century, who's in a strange world, trying to fit in as best I can. Therefore, it would be impossible for me to join in a conversation about some other reenactment, posts on the internet, or anything that I'd know nothing about, and I'd naturally try to seek out people I could relate to, who were talking about things I could understand. Sometimes it's effortless, and it really feels like everyone else is from the 19th century too--and that's what the fun of immersion events is all about. Other times, the sensation is more like being the only sane person in a madhouse, while everyone else chatters away about things that make no sense.

Hank Trent
hanktrent@gmail.com
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Paula
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« Reply #3 on: December 10, 2010, 08:41:57 AM »

Hank -- I'm not attending any immersion events in the foreseeable future but your description was a "light bulb" moment for me.  Thanks for insight
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Maggie Koenig
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« Reply #4 on: December 10, 2010, 10:01:58 AM »

"There will be people blowing off the whole period thing, and if you hang out with them, it won't seem any different than a mainstream social meet-and-greet, for hours at a time."

    This also applies to people who only vaguely disguise modern terms in their conversation.  Here are some that I've heard over the years so you get an idea of what I'm talking about.
   Mr. Walton's Mercantile= Walmart
  Mr. Target's Mercantile (said in a slightly french way)= Target
  I'll send you a telegraph = e-mail
  Mrs. Lee made this= Sarah lee baked goods
  The fabric shop on (Blank) street=  The location of a joanns where they got that fabric
  Gutta percha= the plastic item they didn't bother to hide
 
  You get the idea.  There are also those "old timey" words that people can use in historical settings that they think make them sound historical but they really sound like a bad western from the 60's.

  Personally, I also get annoyed by people who will exclaim and make a bid deal, in first person, when they see spectators holding modern cameras, see airplanes, comment on the modern dress of the spectators and have a spectator ask them modern questions ("what do you have on under that", where are the bathrooms").  In those situations it is best to "suspend disbelief"  and ignore the modern items and differences and find a period way to answer those questions.  The one you get the most, "what do you have under your skirt?" you could lift your skirt a bit a talk about the new style of crinoline you just bought and you are happy you don't have to deal with all those petticoats like your mother did when she was young.
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Maggie Koenig
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Joanna Jones
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« Reply #5 on: December 10, 2010, 10:14:55 AM »

Hank - and anyone else who has been there/done that -

I have been studying, will be studying - but my knowledge will not be as expansive as yours by April, that's for sure!  When a subject is brought up that I do not know much about but I would like to know more about (i.e. an aspect of politics; an event in the past; a particular religious view), does it take away from your experience to discuss it in a period way, even though I would probably have known about it had I been living then?  Or is that an opportunity for us to sit back, pick up our knitting, and spend a pleasant hour listening to you discourse on the subject?

Thanks,
Joanna
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Heidi Hollister
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« Reply #6 on: December 10, 2010, 01:41:51 PM »

I agree heartily with Maggie.  Don't try to acknowledge modern things in a period way...  I do not know how to do first person right, but I am very experienced it doing it wrong.  When I was young and full of more enthusiasm than knowledge, I tried to do a first person talk with a bunch of kids, based on the first-person interpretations I'd seen and loved from Colonial Williamsburg and Heritage Park (Canada).

I tried to turn a computer into a bird cage and a lightbulb into a chandelier... it was a disaster.  I'm sure you would not be that ill informed when you go, so take comfort.

Another thing to not try is portraying a real person without substantial knowledge on the person.  (Yes, another young Heidi disaster)  I portrayed Laura Ingalls Wilder thinking I'd talk about pioneer life... and instead of talking, I opened the floor for questions and all they asked me were quizzes on the books they'd all read (and I only had fuzzy memories of), instead of questions about what life was like in Pioneer days.

Yet another horrible disaster.

You two will NOT be that kind of walking catastrophe, so take heart and don't let things fluster you.  If you get in a sticky situation, invent an excuse to leave so you can re-group and return fresh.
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hanktrent
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« Reply #7 on: December 10, 2010, 02:54:07 PM »

Hank - and anyone else who has been there/done that -

I have been studying, will be studying - but my knowledge will not be as expansive as yours by April, that's for sure!  When a subject is brought up that I do not know much about but I would like to know more about (i.e. an aspect of politics; an event in the past; a particular religious view), does it take away from your experience to discuss it in a period way, even though I would probably have known about it had I been living then?  Or is that an opportunity for us to sit back, pick up our knitting, and spend a pleasant hour listening to you discourse on the subject?

If there were any chance that you'd not know about it in the period, I'd say just ask. For example, today I don't follow sports, even though demographically I ought to. So if someone was talking about football, I'd have to ask ridiculously beginner questions, yet still, I'm a 21st century person.

Of course, if it's something that there's absolutely no logical reason for the person you're portraying not to know, the simplest course is often to just keep quiet. Being an out-of-stater who's never been to Minnesota before, and portraying a Minnesotan, I expect I'll need to do that a lot!

Hank Trent
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Joanna Jones
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« Reply #8 on: December 10, 2010, 03:18:34 PM »

Thanks!

As an aside, I have spent today reading Governor Ramsey's "State-of-the-State" report from Jan. 1861.  I have learned a lot about the newly organized school system, "roving Indians" , a debate over the reading of the Bible in schools, the fugitive slave law, the governor's anti-slavery views, and the fact that ginsing was the 4th or 5th most exported product after wheat, corn, and potatoes  (ginsing???).  I'll be ready to play Minnesota Trivial Pursuit, the 1861 version.   Grin
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NoahBriggs
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« Reply #9 on: December 10, 2010, 03:32:31 PM »

all they asked me were quizzes on the books they'd all read (and I only had fuzzy memories of), instead of questions about what life was like in Pioneer days.

Yet another horrible disaster.


Not quite.  At least they had read the books enough to quiz you.  On such small stones are large castles built.

And yes, when dealing with the public you have to put on the farb-filter specs and ignore modern stuff.  More importantly develop ahead of time stock answers to the FAQs they will fling on you. (IE, "isn't that corset uncomfortable?  What's under your dress?" "Me," if you want to be technical) and so on.  Rehearse your answers so they come out naturally.  Practice with a friend and ask for feedback.

For example, I am frequently asked when I portray a physician "do you sterilize your instruments?"  My answer is "my instruments are incapable of reproducing on their own; why would I render them sterile?"  I answered in what I hope sounded like a period manner without breaking character, or reverting to modern talk.  I have also dropped the hint that words with one definition today might have a different one back then.

There are two different styles of first person - there's the scenario-based (usually for the torchlight tour-style vignettes and similar amateur theater) and there is the character-based scenario, where everyone creates a character bio beforehand and posts it on a yahoo group.  Smart people will read said bios in advance, and then when you are onsite, it turns into a massive improvisational theater, the difference being that you are all literally on the same page, and you react to the others as you think your character would.

If you don't know a topic, either divert it from you, or politely let someone who does know to discourse on the topic.  It's probably one of the best ways to learn the period topics.

If someone accidentally lets slip with anachronistic dialogue (guys, hello, hi, okay, &c.) don't bring attention to it.  Let it slide and keep going.

It's also a good idea to have what one fellow called "portable first person" - stock, generic knowledge that fits any time, any era, any region.  Example - money.  How do you earn it, keep it, spend it, waste it?  Complain about rising prices or the insane fees (insert specialist here) charges, will hit a common note with anyone.  Talk about life at home.  Talk about transport.  Did you take a train to get here?  A lot of these are conversational gambits which can invite a visitor into the conversation.*  Sprinkle them like had grenades through your conversation.

Example:
Elaine Kessinger and I recently attended an event that simulated Thanksgiving, 1863 in Falls Church, Virginia.  She was a ward matron from a DC hospital; I was an assistant surgeon from a nearby fort.  The scenario was that the local families (made up of NY and Mass. "transplants") had invited a few soldiers into their home to thank them for all the hard work they had done.

From a first-person perspective, it was a disaster.  The people who ran this event instinctively fell back on their "first person with 21C visitor" training, and threw out a lot of dialogue on topics our characters would already know about.  The women had no problem discussing politics in public.  They also didn't let themselves be introduced properly.  Even though Elaine and I had sent our bios ahead of time, I think they were still surprised at my character's PTSD episode. (I was gazing off into space and remembering the hospitals around Fredericksburg while they blathered on about Gettysburg, and and I got startled back into the present.)  They also got surprised when they tried to explain to me how their stock and most of the food had been taken, and I asked if they had gotten the paperwork - receipts and vouchers.  In reality I don't think they would tell another soldier exactly what they have left, either.

A semi-good first person event was Hopewell.  Some people slipped out of character and had modern conversations but there were plenty of people nearby who were in character so you could bail on the farbs and retain your period moment.  We had bios beforehand, and a lot of us recycled our characters from last year.  We truly felt like we had a real community made up of real people, ranging from pleasant neighbors to some real rude folk. (Understand their characters were rude, not they in real life.)

On the up side, the really cool and successful immersionist events included running an inn for a weekend (Sept. 9-11, 1864/2005), and that was run by the Trents (or correct me if I'm wrong on that one, but they were there, among others who did a great job of it.)  Davis Run at McDowell, as we were refugees and Hank tried his custom fly reel.  Boy, that got a lot of troops' attention.  Not real effort at first-person there, either. "So, didja catch anything?" works well across most time periods.  Grin

Above all, relax and remember the quote in my signature line.  It also helps to have a debrief after the event to review what went right was well as improvements.


And Joanna, don't forget to read about the world beyond Minnesota, so poor Hank has something to talk about!   Wink




_____
*This is why I researched cancer in the period.   They had it back then; they have it today.  Some things don't change in a hundred fifty years.
« Last Edit: December 10, 2010, 03:37:18 PM by NoahBriggs » Logged
BetsyConnolly
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« Reply #10 on: December 10, 2010, 09:38:16 PM »

Thanks for all the advice and reassurance! I'm reading and reading (and planning to read way more before the even gets here) and working on my persona.

Hank - I'll be looking forward to meeting you! Ironically, I'm from St. Paul (literally minutes from the fort) and considering playing an out-of-towner. And Joanna - did you find Gov. Ramsey's State of the State online? I'd love to read it.
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Betsy Connolly
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Joanna Jones
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« Reply #11 on: December 10, 2010, 09:45:39 PM »


 FAQs they will fling on you. (IE, "isn't that corset uncomfortable?What's under your dress?" "Me," )

For example, I am frequently asked when I portray a physician "do you sterilize your instruments?"  My answer is "my instruments are incapable of reproducing on their own; why would I render them sterile?"  I answered in what I hope sounded like a period manner without breaking character, or reverting to modern talk.  I have also dropped the hint that words with one definition today might have a different one back then.

Noah, I've been chewing on this, and I have to disagree with you.  If a member of the public asks what I am wearing under the dress, they are trying to fnd out information that interests them.  If I say "me" the conversation ends right there,  or else they have to rephrase the question to be more blunt ("no, I mean what kind of underwear") which most people are too embarrassed to do.  I know what they want to ask; why should I make them beg for it?

If I came into your office and asked the question about sterilizing, and you made that comment, I would feel embarrassed for asking and I would be afraid to ask any more questions.  I would not have learned anything, and I would leave right away, and I would probably be peeved because I would know you knew darn well what I was asking and chose to ignore it.

I am not new to 1st person; I have done it with the public for 20 years, and have always found a way to take a "stupid" question and turn it into a conversation that makes the person feel good for having sheepishly asked something they were uncertain about. I love those encounters.  Even in a reenactor-only event I hope I would take a question like "what do you have on underneath" and turn it into a discussion of the pattern for a broderie anglaise petticoat that I saw in last month's Godey's. I know that 1st person 24/7 will be different than 8 hrs with the public and I am looking forward to the challenge and hoping to have many good conversations and do lots of listening to those who have done it before.

On a lighter note, I am looking forward to "getting to know" everyone on the yahoo group when it gets going.  I can't promise my 19th century self will remember names any better than my 21st century self does, but since this is a gathering of people who wouldn't have necessarily known each other, I'm hoping that won't be a problem!

And Hank need not worry - my world will not be limited to conversation about Minnesota - after all, I moved there from Ohio.  Wink
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Joanna Jones
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« Reply #12 on: December 10, 2010, 09:50:03 PM »

Betsy - here you go:
http://books.google.com/books?id=yTNFAAAAYAAJ&pg=RA9-PA6&dq=ramsey+minnesota&hl=en&ei=PwIDTa74PI2nnwfYwZzlDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CDUQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=ramsey%20minnesota&f=false
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hanktrent
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« Reply #13 on: December 11, 2010, 06:52:50 AM »

I know what they want to ask; why should I make them beg for it?

I've got to agree. There's a huge difference between "first person interpretation," for the public, and "first person immersion." In first person interpretation, the goal really is to interpret the past, as if it were a foreign language.

Quote
I have done it with the public for 20 years, and have always found a way to take a "stupid" question and turn it into a conversation that makes the person feel good for having sheepishly asked something they were uncertain about. I love those encounters.

I agree. I'd think that what they're really asking, in the sterilization example, is something about the limits of 19th century medical knowledge, how a 19th century doctor thinks disease is spread, etc. Or maybe they're just setting the doctor up to look stupid by asking a question he (the 19th century he) won't understand. I'd take it more in the direction of talking briefly about instrument care (polishing so they won't tarnish, not wetting and drying the handles too much so they won't crack) and then switching to a non sequitur about washing down walls and floors of the sickroom with chloride of lime to prevent the spread of disease, miasma, etc., maybe go into the curiosity of animalculae that one can see through a microscope--assuming they still seemed interested of course. Somewhere in there I'd hope they'd find an answer, even if it was only that doctors maybe didn't know about sterilization but they still studied a lot.

Quote
Even in a reenactor-only event I hope I would take a question like "what do you have on underneath" and turn it into a discussion of the pattern for a broderie anglaise petticoat that I saw in last month's Godey's.

I think that's the difference between interpretation and immersion. Sure, if you sense a reenactor is new and awkward, one can use "interpretation" to help them along. But otherwise, one doesn't need to help others along. If a question like that came in the right context--a little child, a high-fashion woman in a private setting wanting to talk about the latest hoops and petticoats--sure, it would be an appropriate question and deserve either an explanation about hoops or a long talk about Godey's. But here's the real difference:

Interpretation:
Man asks, puzzled, "Tell me, how do you get your skirts to stand out like that?"
Response: "Everyone wears hoops these days. They're like a flexible wire cage, so you can move or sit easily. It makes one's waist look smaller, but it's so much more comfortable than all the starched petticoats we had to wear to be fashionable ten years ago." (or whatever)

Immersion:
Man asks, with a leer, "Tell me, how do you get your skirts to stand out like that?"
You hear it in 1861 as if he'd asked in 2010 "How do you get your boobs to stand up like that?" The answer is not, "Oh, it's a push-up bra. Cleavage is fashionable, you know, and with special underwires, everyone can achieve the big-busted look."
Response: slap! (assuming the rules of engagement allow physical contact)  Cheesy

Quote
And Hank need not worry - my world will not be limited to conversation about Minnesota - after all, I moved there from Ohio.  Wink

Never been there. I was almost born in Ohio, but when my father left Marietta, he decided to go to Detroit instead of another Ohio city, so I was born in Detroit and I've lived in the west ever since.  Smiley

Hank Trent
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Maggie Koenig
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« Reply #14 on: December 11, 2010, 08:11:49 AM »

For those of you looking for Minnesota info the Living history society of Minnesota used to put together a booklet every year that contained snippets from state Newspapers.  I know I have several from when I was with the group eons ago.  You may wish to contact someone and see if they can make their archives available.
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Maggie Koenig
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Joanna Jones
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« Reply #15 on: December 11, 2010, 08:41:58 AM »

LOL Hank -  I love your difference between interpretation and immersion!!

And yes, when I spoke of redirecting to a discussion of Godey's, I was thinking of someone who wasn't as fluent/comfortable with the immersion and who needed to be helped along.  I don't really plan on slapping anyone, unless it's someone who should know better!

Joanna
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BetsyConnolly
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« Reply #16 on: December 11, 2010, 09:47:32 AM »

For those of you looking for Minnesota info the Living history society of Minnesota used to put together a booklet every year that contained snippets from state Newspapers.  I know I have several from when I was with the group eons ago.  You may wish to contact someone and see if they can make their archives available.

I'm a bit ashamed to say I've been a member of the group for over 10 years, and have never heard of these. I could send out an APB and see if I can dig some up, but it's doubtful. For state newspapers, the Minnesota Historical Society has the largest collection of Minnesota newspapers, including a complete set of the Minnesota Pioneer, and the St. Paul Public Library also has a complete set of the St. Paul papers. The research librarians at both are very friendly and the microfilms are available for inter-library loan.

One of my plans is to go down to MHS over Christmas and get copies of the papers from the week. Maybe I can make copies and send them out to people if they like?
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Betsy Connolly
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« Reply #17 on: December 11, 2010, 11:09:39 AM »

Betsy,
  I have a couple from when I was still going to the Civil War weekend at Fort Snelling.  That was the event they were done for.  I'd have to dig for them but I know I saved them.  I'd be happy to send them on to you if you'd like.
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Maggie Koenig
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Joanna Jones
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« Reply #18 on: December 11, 2010, 11:25:51 AM »

Betsy, Maggie - pretty please??

We should find a way to get that info to anyone who is coming.

Should we move this discussion over to the actual event thread so it doesn't get lost?

thanks,
Joanna
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BetsyConnolly
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« Reply #19 on: December 11, 2010, 12:51:45 PM »

AH Maggie, now I know what you speak of. I have a few of those as well. I'll have to look and see if I have one from 1861. I'm not sure that LHS put those out, I think that might have either been collaborative from the 1st Minn and LHS, or Fort Snelling itself. I will have to look and see if I have one from 1861, I know I have one from 1865.

Joanna, I'll move this discussion over there.
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Betsy Connolly
Living History Society of Minnesota
In The Past Lane - my blog
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