Sunday, August 30, 2009

Who are we educating?

We’ve started a new endeavor this year, an entire historical encampment at the Connecticut Renaissance Faire. While some faires have multitudes of well established encampments (places where groups of volunteers set up in the most historical way possible and cook food, often do military drills, show crafts, and generally try to be a bit more educational than the faire) CTRF has not had any historical encampments so this year we’re trying to inject a little more history into the faire. So while we will be having fun being historical our goal is also to educate patrons at the faire.

But also important for this year is educating ourselves. As a crew we’ve done school shows, home days, parades, commercial events, renfaire cast and indie acts, but we’ve never done a total history encampment. We’ve had it in mind for years, so we’ve done some of the research, gathered some of the props, but we’re still scrambling to cram enough historical knowledge into our brains and historical objects into our cars and trucks for the trip south this fall. While all this research and craft making is fun, even more rewarding is the chance to involve new folks.

When Autumn Tree Productions ran the cast of the Connecticut Faire, one of the parts that I looked forward to the most at the beginning of the season was seeing the new faces that would be joining the group, especially the teenagers. While we’d be teaching them history and acting skills throughout the summer and fall, what we were really giving them was a creative outlet, a community composed of different age groups and abilities, and a chance to learn some social skills in a relatively safe and contained setting.

There are some pretty big geeks and nerds who like history enough to do this sort of thing, and those types of folks (myself included) do not have the highest levels of social interaction skills. But as teachers of the cast it was our job to make sure that all cast members felt comfortable enough to get in funny clothes with funny accents and go out to interact will all the different sorts of folks that came through the gates on the faire day. We had to teach people to read their audiences, to have safe sorts of interactions, and make sure everyone had fun. One of the best compliments I think we got was a cast member coming back to us when the year was over and telling us he was better at his normal job, because he had put his new skills to work in the workplace (though without the clothes and the funny accent.)

This year is a bit different, we’ve left some of the acting lessons behind. But we’ve still got new folks involved, new folks who now have a safe community where they will learn history, getting along in a group setting, public speaking, even how to sew! So if we do not reach a single audience member at the faire (which I doubt) I think the endeavor will still have been worth while as an educational pursuit.

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