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Author Topic: What do we owe the event organizers and the public?  (Read 3975 times)
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Joanna Jones
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« on: November 11, 2011, 11:14:20 AM »

I had Noooo.... idea where to put this, so please move it, Elizabeth, if necessary

Disclaimer: This is NOT a discussion about if it's OK to be inauthentic.

I asked a question about the "value" of our research and expenses (not for a presentation, but in general) and Bevin made the comment " ... if sites had to pay every Jo Schmo for sitting in camp looking pretty, it's hard to justify that expense. "

Absolutely.  And getting paid will never happen.  So we go for at out own expense (minus some firewood, water, bathrooms, and hay bales, and food, if we are lucky).  Sometimes we even pay to be there. 

So what do we owe the organizers and the public?  If the event has clearly defined activities for participants to participate in, it's easier.  Specific scenarios give specific things to do.  But do we do those things for us, or for the public?  There are many things I could think of doing that would be accurate, but would not involve visitor interaction - the visitors may stand and watch, but talking to them would take me away from doing what am doing.  It's difficult, for instance, to really cut out a dress, pin it up, and sew it, while giving endless streams of visitors a thorough discussion of dressmaking life (I know - been there, done that, got nothing accomplished, BUT I was being paid to talk to visitors, not to get something sewed)

I'm going to an event this winter - same place I used to work, but I will be coming as part of a group I'm in, strictly as a volunteer, having been invited personally by the park to come.  We plan to show Christmas preparations during the Civil War (the site does many different decades from one end to the other).    My small table is set up facing the door.  I try to greet everyone who comes through, though I miss some and there are times I am too tired and need a break.  I get absolutely no work done (knitting, hand sewing, etc.).  I am there to entertain and educate the visitor, I believe.

Now is this different because we have been invited to be there, even though we are not being paid? 

What about events we have invited ourselves to (most events, I would think)?  Ones that may even include a fee we have to pay to be there?  Do we owe all of ourselves to visitor interpretation then?  Do we have the "right" to do things for ourselves i.e leave the house or camp, take walks away from the public, visit stores, have conversations- hopefully period- that do not include the visitor?  Do we need to explain what we are doing if not asked?  Do we need to pause in our work to talk? Is it OK to circle around the fire or the stove and sing songs but not invite the visitors watching to participate?

Who are we there for?

There are times when I have to admit - I have done all this work and spent all this money to be here; I'm not getting paid; I don't want to spend ALL my energy verbally educating as well.  I want to HAVE FUN.  But why am I there if NOT to teach? Sometimes I choose not to go to these events because I don't have the mental energy to talk all day, so me and my (hopefully) accurate impression stay home.  Others have no problems deciding they are there primarily to "play", not to educate.

This has gotten a lot longer than I meant it to  Smiley

Thoughts?

Joanna (who has too much time on her hands, apparently)
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Veronica Carey
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« Reply #1 on: November 11, 2011, 12:28:42 PM »

Great questions, Joanna!  I am going in Feb. to participate in my first "reenactment" at Olustee in FL.  (I have gleaned from comments on this board it is not very well thought of.  I have been invited by a dear friend, however, and wish to go "for fun".)
That said, I AM a living historian at the museums and sites I volunteer at here in GA, so I am prepared to do some first person work as a spinner in FL.  But I won't forgo the pleasure of strolling around a bit, taking rest breaks, etc. 
When I have visited a reenactment or 2 in the past, not dressed out, I have always thought it incredibly rude when costumed participants ignored me while they chatted with other costumed participants about 20th or 21st cent. matters--their boyfriends, kids behavior, shopping at Target, politics, whatever.  If they are there doing their 19th c. activity (cooking, mending, etc) I assume they are available for reasonable conversation or at least a smile and "Hello".
So, I don't plan to behave like THAT in Fl.  Otherwise, I suppose I will take my cue from others in the group that invited me.
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Beth Chamberlain
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« Reply #2 on: November 11, 2011, 02:51:19 PM »

I think much of this is something that the sponsoring museum or organization needs to articulate. From some of what I hear that seldom happens. But, having been on the museum side of this and having tried to articulate our needs I can see why it doesn't happen because the bashing I received for asking that they interact with visitors was incredible. My personal belief is that if you're in a museum you need to interact with the visitors. The museum exists for the visitors not reenactors.

Greeting every single visitor is, I think, pretty much impossible. At some point visitor experience needs to come from the whole group not each individual person. I think every interpreter has highs and lows through the day, I think they also let you rest your interpretation and not end up sounding like a broken record. But groups of reenactors talking and making themselves inaccessible  but visible to visitors I take a really big issue with.

If I have sewing with me I just assume that I will not get much done. Though, I've found certain things like drafting intrigue a number of people so much that they really rather just watch me with a little explanation than to do the usual eye contact tell a story stuff. Knitting is another story - I don't put that down to talk. That ends up a great conversation starter.

Beth
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netnet
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« Reply #3 on: November 11, 2011, 05:41:05 PM »

I think this should be broken into three different scenarios. 1. You are invited to assist in at a site, 2. You pay to be at the site, and 3. Your typical reenactment.

1. By accepting to assist for an event at the site you are obligated to interact with the visitors. That is why you were invited, one would assume. You are in essence a volunteer.

2. You have paid for the use of the site, you're needs should be priority. You have basically "rented" the site. This should be discussed and understood by the site at the time your agreement is reached.

3. This one gets tricky; one would hope that the site would have their own docents to interact with the public since you never know what you'll get with open registration events. One would also hope that there were some guidelines as to accepted impressions and public interaction so the mission and story of the site are maintained. In fact I would venture to state that it might be best not to try to interact with the public in relation to the site unless you are knowledgable of the site. In this situation I would say you can choose whether to interact with the public or not based on your wants, but keep in to your impression, not the site.
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Beth Chamberlain
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« Reply #4 on: November 12, 2011, 09:41:20 AM »

3. This one gets tricky; one would hope that the site would have their own docents to interact with the public since you never know what you'll get with open registration events. One would also hope that there were some guidelines as to accepted impressions and public interaction so the mission and story of the site are maintained. In fact I would venture to state that it might be best not to try to interact with the public in relation to the site unless you are knowledgable of the site. In this situation I would say you can choose whether to interact with the public or not based on your wants, but keep in to your impression, not the site.

But how do you make that happen? How is a visitor supposed to know who to ask which questions of? Where do you draw the lines? I tried to insist that the reenactors know restroom locations, lost and found location, most asked for site, and just one place to send people for museum related questions. Reenactors in a house needed to  know the most basic interpretation of the house (all third person). Is that too much to ask? (evidently it was) In my experience visitors see a costume and assume any all all questions are fair game, there is no way to effectively tell who is a reeanctor and who is museum staff. Complaints about rude or unhelpful people never distinguish between the two groups.

Beth
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netnet
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« Reply #5 on: November 12, 2011, 10:11:28 AM »

3. This one gets tricky; one would hope that the site would have their own docents to interact with the public since you never know what you'll get with open registration events. One would also hope that there were some guidelines as to accepted impressions and public interaction so the mission and story of the site are maintained. In fact I would venture to state that it might be best not to try to interact with the public in relation to the site unless you are knowledgable of the site. In this situation I would say you can choose whether to interact with the public or not based on your wants, but keep in to your impression, not the site.

But how do you make that happen? How is a visitor supposed to know who to ask which questions of? Where do you draw the lines? I tried to insist that the reenactors know restroom locations, lost and found location, most asked for site, and just one place to send people for museum related questions. Reenactors in a house needed to  know the most basic interpretation of the house (all third person). Is that too much to ask? (evidently it was) In my experience visitors see a costume and assume any all all questions are fair game, there is no way to effectively tell who is a reeanctor and who is museum staff. Complaints about rude or unhelpful people never distinguish between the two groups.

Beth


I don't think it is possible, especially for open reeanctments where you have large groups of reenactors. If you have people "docenting" in a house, yes you should expect them to know information on the house, they have volunteered to be there. When I mean large open registration reenactments, I mean camping on the grounds, etc. I want to emphazise that I feel if a reenactor has agreed to be in a structure as a museum volunteer they should be informed of the structure history OR a site employee should be around to answer questions. For example, at one large open registration event I have been allowed to stay and interpret the structure. I become a volunteer for that event. The site also asigns a site docent to the structure to be there with me. I can discuss general 19th century information; however, all site specific questions are referred to the docent.

Another thing might be to have the site docents out of costume with name tags for the event, making a visual distintion between the docents and the volunteer reenactors, leaving the reenactors at "window dressing" (no insult meant).
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Stacey Nadeau
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« Reply #6 on: November 12, 2011, 10:46:44 AM »

At the site where we work, we have had to address this situation.  We had specially-invited, authentic reenactors interpreting the house and house environs during a large, open-registration, mainstream reenactment.  We began by giving them information on the family and home and asking them to interpret this to the public.  This met with mixed success.  For questions of general 19th century life, they were exceptional but for site specific info, they were sometimes overwhelmed.  We finally solved this by placing site-trained costumed volunteers in key positions to interpret the house while the invited reenactors handled the 19th century life related activities.  All were in period dress but the site volunteers were given period style cockades that identified them as people to ask questions of.

In answer to Joanna's initial question, the site volunteers were expected to work a regular shift and to be "on" during that time.  The invited volunteers were asked to engage the public but to what extent was left entirely up to them.   As for the other mainstream reenactors.  Their interactions were dictated solely by their personal preferences.

Just some thoughts from personal experience,
Stacey
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Elaine Kessinger
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« Reply #7 on: November 12, 2011, 12:21:41 PM »

In certain event structures, the docents are scattered too thin among a large complex of properties.

 At one national park where this is the case, a buddy and I generally interpret together one of two spaces, one in his specialty and one in mine. We've worked up a basic intro to the space and setting the space into context for the event scenario. The non-specialty person gives the orientation to the visitors freeing the specialist to handle the presentation and specialty questions. We are both cross-trained to give some basics about the other's specialty and the basics for the space for the times when one needs to step out. Because we interpret together so often, we've almost got the other's speech memorized verbatum.

There are also times when the docents may be present, but are giving too much mis-information that one needs to correct.

In many ways, docents and re-enactors are working at cross-purposes there and the public loses out. There may not be a good opportunity to pull the docent aside and discuss the mis-information. One also doesn't want to correct a docent in front of the public, because one doesn't want the public to mis-trust the rest of the docent's speech or come off looking like a ..."not so nice" person.

P.S.- Miz Stacey does a bully job with the event she's describing. The system works very well for that event. :-)
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raymondmom
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« Reply #8 on: November 12, 2011, 11:32:17 PM »

I am not a reenactor, but I am probably not a typical visitor.

When visiting living history sites and willingly suspending disbelief, I would never make eye contact or speak to a reenactor, except to respond to a generic greeting.

There has always been a clerk or map or docent available for answering questions.

Joanne
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Joanna Jones
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« Reply #9 on: November 13, 2011, 09:28:08 AM »

Joanne - can you tell us more about why you don't make eye contact or speak? 

Joanna
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Elizabeth
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« Reply #10 on: November 13, 2011, 03:02:26 PM »

I think this balancing out of living history and patron needs is going to be at the forefront of the changing living history hobby in the next decade, honestly. There are some good, core people who WANT to work with sites, and sites will have an increasing need for volunteers who bring a high level of skill and information to the plate... but balancing it all out will be a progressive thing, not instantaneous.

I tend to look at events with public attendance as "for them" events, primarily. I'm there for a reason: interact and interpret for the public patrons, with a side-dish of interact in a historically-appropriate way with my fellow reenactors. I'm happiest when there's been communication from the event/site hosts, with background on the site, the overarching goal of the event theme, and time to plan my portion of that (along with like-minded folks... bitty carpe eventum).

Don't confuse lack of direct interaction with lack of interpretation/communication, though! Not every patron is comfortable inserting themselves in "live theater"... and they don't want to do it "wrong", so a great many patrons prefer to be a silent observer, watching the "movie" of living history. In that situation, the reenactors who are busily engaged in some domestic work, singing historic songs or discussing politics or family happenings or gossiping in a period-appropriate manner ARE doing a great job with educating, even if they do not directly address the patron-viewer.

It's easy enough, as an interpreter, to give the patron cues that you are interactive... position yourself toward "the street", closer to it; address them, invite them, etc. The simple distance of a closed gate, with "things happening" on the porch, will be a HUGE barrier to direct interaction, but be perfectly cozy and delightful to a person more comfortable with the patron-viewer mode rather than patron-interaction mode.

If an event or site can accommodate both of those styles, they're on a good track, but they really do need to communicate with event participants, and consider doing closed/invitational registration to gain a bigger core of people eager to support the site goals, rather than the "cattle call" events. (I do find it unreasonable for a site to dictate ONLY first person, or ONLY third person to visiting participants/volunteers... that eliminates the flexibility an interpreter needs to meet the needs of the patron!)

What do we owe the organizers?

Our willingness to read and research on the event's goals and history.

Our willingness to adapt existing impressions to meet the site/event needs.

Our willingness to maintain an impression throughout the "open" day (to meet the needs of the patrons), and after hours (to meet the needs of our fellow reenactors).

Our willingness to communicate (verbally and non-verbally) with patrons and fellow reenactors to enhance the ambiance of the event.

When sites realize they have some excellent "core" people to draw from, we reenactors are far more likely to gain unique access to sites (such as limited use of historic buildings, rather than being relegated to all tents, all the time)... but those relationships take practice and time.
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Joanna Jones
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« Reply #11 on: November 13, 2011, 03:59:58 PM »

It has been very interesting to read everyone's thoughts and ideas.  I often do events with a group of folks who are "carpe eventum" types and are usually first-person / stay in character-type people.  I am very aware, though, of how the setup of our furniture does and sometimes does not encourage interaction, and I am uncomfortable with any barrier between us and them, as I want to draw people in.

 The event we are going to at Christmas is one where I believe we have gained the trust of the site and I feel an obligation to offer as much of myself as possible, especially as they have many untrained volunteers and much outdated research and no costume standards, yet with a fantastic site.  They have never given us guidance as to the level of interaction we should have, but they keep asking us back, so I guess we must be doing OK.

I still wonder sometimes as I walk through a more mainstream event and see a circle of ladies with their backs to the street, chatting and laughing, what they are offering to the event?  Perhaps they are at least dressed well, but with no attempt at interaction with passersby, it seems that they are there for their own interests, not to share history. 
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netnet
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« Reply #12 on: November 13, 2011, 07:13:42 PM »

I still wonder sometimes as I walk through a more mainstream event and see a circle of ladies with their backs to the street, chatting and laughing, what they are offering to the event?  Perhaps they are at least dressed well, but with no attempt at interaction with passersby, it seems that they are there for their own interests, not to share history. 

That's why I like to see mainstream events offer "camp tours". It offers the opportunity for the public to be directed to those who are willing to interact and in a way releases those there for their own fun from the "obligation" of interaction if they don't want to. A lot of people who attend mainstream events are there for their own fun, nothing wrong with that, it is a hobby.
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Gillian
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« Reply #13 on: November 14, 2011, 09:14:55 AM »

I'm not a re-enactor either, and I tend not to feel comfortable interacting with people if they are in character. I never know how to respond....

So that's me in the back of the crowd, saying nothing and staring very hard at your clothes!! LOL!

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Joanna Jones
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« Reply #14 on: November 14, 2011, 11:19:41 AM »

Gillian (and Joanne)

I am always looking for ways to interact with people who want to interact but feel uncomfortable.

 Are there things we can do as reenactors to make you feel more comfortable?  Is there something we are doing that makes you uncomfortable?  You are just the kind of people I want to talk to - you are full of questions and I love that!

 Truly, if you do not want to talk, then I am not going to push myself.  But even when I am in character, I can say "Good day.  How are you?" or "it is a beautiful day today, isn't it?" which doesn't require any "period talking" and may open the door to questions.

Most of us here are reenactors, and few of us have trouble opening our mouths to ask questions  Wink so it is a treat to talk to folks who spend time on the outside looking in.  I really want to hear your opinions.
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Gillian
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« Reply #15 on: November 14, 2011, 01:10:35 PM »

Mostly for me, it's that I'm very shy with people I don't know, so it's more my problem than the interpreter's. I can handle a friendly "Good day, how are you", though, and say something polite in response. Wink I do enjoy soaking up the atmosphere and listening to what you might have to say to other visitors. Once in a great while I might hang back until the rest of the crowd has moved on and ask a question then.

I hope I find somebody knitting at something someday, I know I could talk to a knitter!
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Maggie Koenig
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« Reply #16 on: November 14, 2011, 01:33:08 PM »

I'm not a re-enactor either, and I tend not to feel comfortable interacting with people if they are in character. I never know how to respond....


    This is where we need to seriously look at how we handle first person.  If a person asks you a modern question about your clothing, such as what is supporting your skirts, and you exclaim about how rude they are and how you would never show a person your underclothing.  Well, it be a period appropriate response however, its not useful to the visitor that you've now just scared away and made to feel like an idiot for asking a simple question.  However, if you respond that its the newest from Douglas and Sherwood and you give them a discreet look you've just answered a question, also in a way appropriate for first person, but you've made the visitor feel comfortable and like they can ask more questions. 
   When men are in a tavern setting is it better to ask a question in general like "Sir, what do you think about Mr. Lincoln and this draft he's talking about" or "What do you think of Mr. Lincoln and his new law?"  The first gives the visitors the basic knowledge of what you are talking about, its a well known topic and leads the visitor into a response.  The 2nd stumps the visitor and makes them want to blend in with the wallpaper.
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Maggie Koenig
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« Reply #17 on: November 14, 2011, 07:15:02 PM »

After mulling this over for a few days....

I think you also need to consider the demographics and attitudes of the market the event is in. I live in one of the most demanding and in you face regions of the country. When I think about it, I realize my experiences here heavily color my perceptions. Here a cockade meant to "mark" people would mean nothing. I've worked events at a major historical society where staff is always in street clothes and a national park where rangers are always in uniform so we stick out way more than just a cockade. In both cases we were billed as being visitors for the event. At both venues I've repeatedly been asked very museum specific questions and they really expect me to know it all, right down to other events on the calendar.  Huh

So, like everything else, know your audience/market.

Beth
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« Reply #18 on: November 15, 2011, 07:23:26 AM »

 LOL  Hands Down #1 most popular question "Where are the bathrooms?"  Stephanie
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Chip
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« Reply #19 on: November 16, 2011, 05:34:52 PM »


So what do we owe the organizers and the public?  

What about events we have invited ourselves to (most events, I would think)?  Ones that may even include a fee we have to pay to be there?  Do we owe all of ourselves to visitor interpretation then?  Do we have the "right" to do things for ourselves i.e leave the house or camp, take walks away from the public, visit stores, have conversations- hopefully period- that do not include the visitor?

Who are we there for?

One of the components that seems to be missing in this discussion is what the event was intended to accomplish in the first place.

The reality is that many events are run by organizers who have little interest in historical accuracy. Attendance and the amount of money made off of the event are their priorities.
If the event is know to be a farce fest, then you have no one to blame but yourself for being disappointed. And hoping that a certain event will change or get better is not realistic either.

On the other hand, if the organizers are truly trying to run a pure historical event, you need to commit yourself to the level of authenticity they are requesting and stick to it.
The public is entitled to whatever the event organizers advertised the event to be.  
« Last Edit: November 23, 2011, 10:35:20 AM by Chip » Logged
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