When working as an interpreter at Strawbery Banke Museum I had a lot of memorable and moving experiences, but one of the most emotional, was working on Mother’s Day when the costumed rolepayer who was playing Mrs. Shapiro, the Jewish immigrant, came in to the interpreter’s lounge with a large bouquet of flowers. The grandson of the original Mrs. Shapiro, now a very old man, had come to visit the museum and had brought his “grandmother” flowers.
What a show of support and connection! As an interpreter of a historical person it is always a bit daunting, knowing you are representing someone else in a very real way. I’m sure that the interpreter playing Mrs. Shapiro was very different from his grandmother, but Mr. Shapiro was moved by the fact that she was not forgotten, that her memory was evoked in order to educate. Many of us who reenact do it to help others learn in tangible ways, and forgive our own inadequacies by justifying the outcome: if these people learn a little about our past and about the world that we live in, then it is worth my blunders.
It is even more daunting for those who reenact recent history, since the audience is much more knowledgeable and more likely to notice any slip-ups. But the emotional connection to our audience and to our subject is greatly expanded the closer in time your subject gets. The role player at the World War II general store at Strawbery Banke would pull out an old photograph and talk very movingly about her “son in the war”. The photo was her own. It was a photo of her father as a young man when he served and was wounded in the war. There was something about knowing the direct connection that really did it for me.
On the whole I prefer portraying long-ago sorts of history, Medieval Europe, Colonial America. Even history 100 years ago allows me to feel more open in my character interpretations, also that I am helping folks learn about stuff they might not get any other way. I may not ever get a bouquet of flowers on Mothers Day, but I will strive to build emotional connections to mothers, daughters, brothers, friends and family with each portrayal I take on.