Friday, December 19, 2014

Baby in Camp

Here is my annual Connecticut RenFaire post, only a few months late. I have been insanely busy over the past couple months. I don’t recommend having a baby, selling and buying a house, and managing 3 months of intense events at work while participating in reenactments every weekend. Now we’re a couple months later, this is what has stuck with me.

Every year that we’ve set up as Das Geld Fahnlein at the Connecticut Renaissance Faire has been an incredibly different experience. In 2009 we were just starting out: everyone had new outfits, we were teaching ourselves how to cook over the fire, and starting to gather the props and gear of a military camp. In 2010 I worked hard on cooking from historical recipes, and on how we spoke to and educated faire visitors. 2011 we got rid of a bunch of the camp items that had been “good enough” and I got rid of more plastic bins, instead storing our gear in baskets, chests and cloth bundles. That year we also got some new members who brought great energy to the group. In 2012 I was working as a role player at Strawbery Banke which meant less time at faire, and most of the other founding members took time off too, so the group was small and a little strange. It was the last year the faire was in Hebron, CT and a lot of our group was struggling with burn out and wondering if it was still fun. On a positive note it was the first year we had a baby in camp: Amanda and Tom brought their one-year-old, who proved just as popular with visitors as the dog and the cook fire. 2013 we were on a new site which was challenging but we were back on track: we laughed, learned, enjoyed each other and enjoyed history. I was feeling under the weather a lot during the run, turns out I was pregnant!

The challenge of this past year was welcoming the newest member of our family into the Fahnlein. Percy was 4 months old during CTRF, and we were all still learning how to be a family and participate in the things we love to do. Percy was totally adorable in his period clothes: he had all the outfits that Amanda had made for her daughter, plus another friend sewed him an outfit, which was good because I had no time to sew anything for him. We got our picture taken at lot. I also inevitably heard over and over: “that’s not a real baby” then got to listen to the squeals as Percy gurgled, waved his hands, snored or did something else that proved he was real, happy, and just doing his baby things. Percy made a lot of friends. There were faire folks outside our group that we had not interacted with that saw the baby then came back every day to visit, or Percy and I would leave camp to go around the faire and call on all the folks who thought interacting with a baby was pure joy.

Before the faire run I had hoped I would still be able to help with the cooking, monitor the weapons, attend the demos, maybe even march in the parade. I ended up doing none of those things. I had Percy adequately clothed for the weather, but at 4 months old he was still very vulnerable to the wind, bright sun, cold rain, all the things that nature throws at us during a New England fall. So he and I stayed in the big tent and talked to visitors from there. We nursed, napped, I sang him songs and made funny faces, we paced the rugs or lay on the bed. Meanwhile the rest of camp was busy at the cook fire, weapons display, medical demonstration and all the usual things. It was a bit isolating, being stuck in the tent, though people did come to visit me, and I passed the baby around in order to have a few minutes to tidy up, wash dishes,  eat some food. I had made a baby sling so I could wear him around while working, but the weather was just too variable for me to expose him to the elements for any length of time. I did get to interact with visitors when they came in to our tent: they would pet the dog and coo at the baby and I would try to impart a little history. Quite a few Sundays, Stephen told me to head home early.

Was our first camp experience with baby a success? Yes, I think it was. I just need to lower my expectations for myself while I make sure that Percy has a good time growing up.

Percy, Lilly, and I at the Connecticut Renaissance Faire. Photo by Amanda Sullivan

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Living History in Unlikely Places

One of the things I love to do with this blog is talk about the unlikely places I find living history. When I stumble upon them unexpectedly it is always a thrill. Last week my family went on vacation: Stephen, Percy and I went with my parents to Portland, Oregon. Since Stephen and my dad are both fans of beer, and Portland is well known for its small, specialized breweries, we spent most of our evening meals at pubs and breweries. I am not a fan of beer, but hearing the two of them go on and on about something they both enjoy was well worth it. I ate a lot of good soup. Our Wednesday night stop was to a brewery called Hair of the Dog. When we got there we found their normal offerings replaced, an author was signing his book, of historical brewing recipes! The list of what was on tap started with an offering created from an 1804 recipe, and continued on through the century ending with one from the 1930s.

While the guys oohed and ahhed about the changes to the recipe and flavors as the century progressed I was a bit sad that I really don’t like beer. I was still able to enjoy the fact that all these beer lovers were sipping a bit of history. They were participating in Living History, and making sure that the past was still relevant today. And I am always a fan of that.
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Monday, November 17, 2014

Bringing the streets to life

As Special Events Manager I get to make magic during all sorts of events. I think a large part of that magical atmosphere is created by people, specifically first-person role-players so I try to add as many into my events as possible. Even before I was hired to run SBM’s holiday event, Candlelight Stroll employed more role-players than the regular season, and more than the other events. We have 8 houses that are set up as our “Historic Houses” (i.e. furnished to a specific time period, telling a specific story, and not an exhibit or craft demonstration house) and during Stroll they all contain role-players. One house has only one person in costume, some of the other houses contain up to 8 people bringing holiday stories to life. Some of those folks are employed as role-players during the regular season, many of them are teenagers that participate in our Junior Role-player program, some we hire in specifically for the three weekends in December.

This year I’m hiring folks to perform a few roles inside the historic houses, and I’m also hiring folks to perform on the streets of our neighborhood to extend the atmosphere (and to entertain those people who are stuck waiting in lines.) I did a little of this last year, I hired two of my friends from the Renaissance Faire to interact on the streets and they did a great job. They’ve perfected their craft of interactive improvisational theatre over years of working Faires, and the two I picked are also history buffs. I got great feedback about those two, and permission to hire a bunch more. But I only know so many folks who are close enough to the coast of NH who would want to perform on the streets in December. I’m looking at possibly hiring people I have not worked with before which is exciting, but daunting too.
Junior Roleplayers head on to the grounds during Candlelight Stroll 2013

The challenge will be ensuring a certain level of quality among the role players when we bring on extra people who do not have all year to perfect their craft. Visitors will not be able to tell by looking who is a year-round role-player, who is a RenFaire performer, and who is an actor hired just for this event. I am planning to do a day of training to get a basic starting point for all the different costumed people, We’ll see how much it is possible to do in just one day.
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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Not That Rich

I recently read a blog post by one of my favorite bloggers Kitty Calash in which she mentioned a conversation discussing if the rich folks living Providence, RI in the late 18th Century could afford curtains. I won’t wade in to that conversation, but it brought up a discussion I had last year with a roleplayer that I was training about the vagaries of defining a historical person as "rich". I had to explain that although the Goodwins might have been a little rich they really were not super rich. Today we can talk about the super-rich, the 1%, those that drive a Lexus versus a Toyota, versus a Honda, versus a Lamborghini. When we have conversations about those living a long time ago, subtleties like exactly how rich someone is can be lost.

Here on the grounds of Strawbery Banke we have a house we call the Governor’s Mansion. It is actually a very modest house. The family that lived there had five kids, two of which lived in the house as adults. So in the year 1870 there were three generations in the house: Mr. and Mrs. Goodwin, two grown daughters, at least two grandchildren (maybe three), plus four servants. By my count there are 4 small bedrooms on the second floor; the servants and children would be stuck in the third floor attic space. On days when everyone was home it would have been a very crowded house! So that means they must not have been very rich.

And yet … They took vacations and expensive train trips every summer. Mr. Goodwin’s investments did well enough that he could fund a campaign for Governor, and had enough clout to get all his banking friends to fund the first New Hampshire troops sent off to fight the Civil War. The females got their wardrobes from the dress makers in Boston and New York. They had four servants. So they were rich.

But of those servants, only one was male, and he was the coachman. They did not have a butler. Their servants were all younger (the oldest being 25) and mostly immigrants, so they were not the expensive class of servants. Mr. Goodwin did not own hotels, plantations, or factories (other folks in town did,) but he did own shares in railroads and bridges. So not that rich.

I ended up explaining it to my trainee this way: if the Goodwins lived today, they could not afford their own private jet, but would fly first class. Yes they had money, but they were not part of the 1%. See there were gradations back then too.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Fall Museum Plans

Even though it is still summer by most American calendars, fall and winter planning are well underway at Strawbery Banke. The two events that started off my career as Manager of Special Events are coming around again and I am super excited to add a little of my own creativity into them this year.

Ghosts on the Banke: last year I had only just started less than a month before our Halloween event, so mostly I was carrying out the vision of the last person in my position. "Ghosts" is a safe trick-or-treat that last for two hours per evening on Friday and Saturday the weekend before Halloween. It is a small budget event, and most of that budget is spent on candy so over the years it has gotten away from being a history event, though it is still about community. This year I'm going to try to bring a little history back, by enlisting the help of local theater groups: improv troupes, high school clubs, anyone I can find, to tell "ghost stories" or historical themed skits and scenes on the grounds during the event. I'm going to have to put in some miles tracking down groups to participate  but hopefully this will add a new level of community involvement, more history, and lot more life to the event.

Our holiday event: Candlelight Stroll is also on my mind. To this one I need to add more outdoor activity. This is not that easy to do in December in New England, but that is what I am hoping to do. I am trying to increase the number of caroling groups, or at least spread them out more evenly over the three weekends; I am hoping to work with local Boy Scout and Girl Scout troupes to get them involved, and I have been given the okay to hire more costumed role players!

The last one is the one closest to my heart, I've done so much historical interpretation, acting, role playing, whatever you want to call it, myself. I think it is a great way to bring history to life, and Renaissance Faires have taught me that it is also a great way to keep a crowd entertained. Since we have houses ranging in date from 1690 to 1950 I am looking forward to hiring people to portray all sorts of townsfolk from all sorts of eras. I've already written up the casting call even though I will not put it out until September. The next step as far as putting more costumed role players on site is to start in on the research, also tons of fun, and something I have missed doing! Read this entry on entry page