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Author Topic: Advice? Controversial impressions at mainstream events  (Read 9566 times)
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E L Watkins-Morris
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« Reply #40 on: October 16, 2013, 09:43:02 AM »

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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.
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« Reply #41 on: October 16, 2013, 04:54:51 PM »

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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.
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hanktrent
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« Reply #42 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.  Sad

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.

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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!

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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.

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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?  Wink 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
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Chip
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« Reply #43 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 .

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MaryDee
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« Reply #44 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. 
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E L Watkins-Morris
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« Reply #45 on: October 17, 2013, 04:39:11 AM »

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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.
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« Reply #46 on: October 17, 2013, 05:08:14 AM »

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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.  Smiley

Hank Trent
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Elaine M
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« Reply #47 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.
« Last Edit: October 17, 2013, 02:44:23 PM by Elaine M » Logged
bevinmacrae
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« Reply #48 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.

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hanktrent
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« Reply #49 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.



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

Hank Trent
hanktrent@gmail.com

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MaryDee
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« Reply #50 on: November 20, 2013, 12:12:38 PM »

The tail looks a bit more blurry than the head!
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E L Watkins-Morris
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« Reply #51 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.
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« Reply #52 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.  Smiley

Hank Trent
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Veronica Carey
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« Reply #53 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.

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Jim_Ruley
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« Reply #54 on: November 26, 2013, 04:39:58 PM »

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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.

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« Reply #55 on: November 26, 2013, 05:53:06 PM »

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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.
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« Reply #56 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
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« Reply #57 on: November 27, 2013, 04:11:58 AM »

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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/
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« Reply #58 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.
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« Reply #59 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?"

« Last Edit: November 27, 2013, 10:02:58 AM by Chip » Logged
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