Tuesday, February 2, 2010

First-Person Networking Conference

Stephen, Tom, Amanda and I attended an interesting conference this weekend. The Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums has, as part of its membership, a lot of networking groups on various specific topics. There is a group that talks about first-person interpretation, also known as costumed characters, or historical role-players. This group held their own mini-conference this past weekend at Mystic Seaport in Mystic, CT. It was well attended by the folks at Plimoth Plantation, and the Mystic folks, and there were a number of small museums that sent one or two delegates. There were some independent folks there, and us representing Autumn Tree Productions, the Guild of Saint Morritz, and the Living History Podcast. We’ll be doing a podcast episode on the conference, and I don’t want to duplicate all of that, but there were some points I thought I’d mention here that may not make it into the podcast.

This entry will mostly be patting myself on the back; this is my blog after all. But if you’d rather not hear glowing reviews of myself and Stephen (from a definitely biased source) I will be putting up another entry soon on the best keynote speaker I think I’ve ever witnessed (and I have never met the guy before, so no pre-judgment on my part.)

For my own part, I felt like we made a really strong showing. As an “independent” and one for whom this sort of thing is not my main source of income I was worried about being surrounded by all of these professionals. But all of our training and hard work paid off; we were able to keep up in all the conversations about the industry, about living history topics, and about training tips and techniques. In one session the presenter asked for volunteers to do a bit in character. I volunteered was paired with another volunteer who got pretend to be a clueless member of the public. My partner had a chip on her shoulder. She got right in my face and asked me all of the stupid questions we all get bombarded with, why was I dressed like that, wasn’t I hot in that, who was I supposed to be. I answered every single one of her questions, and got across who I was and as many facts about where I was coming from as I possibly could. I did not let her phase me, I was totally cheerful and worked to keep the interaction moving in a positive direction. The other person who volunteered to show us their character got an easy partner, who was totally willing to be lead along, and he did not give her any information until he had been much prodded to do so. So kudos for me and ATP.

Stephen did even better when we got to show off our stuff at dinner that night. To set the scene, we’d been hearing talks all day on playing to the real, not being afraid of the darker emotions, or playing characters that are not likeable. After all the seminars on Saturday everyone gathered for a dinner, where we were encouraged to come in costume and in-character. There were some 14th century folks, and a scattering of various revolutionary war era people. The two largest groups were the pilgrims in 1627 and the Mystic folks in 1870s Victorian splendor. Stephen took a look at these two groups representing fairly repressive protestants and in his big German way announced that he was a baron (the highest ranking official there, though George Washington was close) and that we were Catholic. He said it as a challenge to the entire room, the effect was positively electric. In fact, no one dared sit with us at our table! We dealt with that problem by moving to join another table and we ended up having a lot of really good conversations, both in first-person, and then out. After all that talk about being real and not being over-the-top, it felt good to show that sometimes over-the-top is being real, and that not every age is repressive. I was worried that we might have gone a bit too far, but Stephen told me that as he was leaving the conference one of the organizers came up to him and told him to please continue to be big and German. Stephen answered that he didn’t think he could be any other way.

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