Tuesday, January 31, 2012

How Many Personas is too Many?

A few years ago I was having a conversation with a friend about branching out into reenacting other time periods and she mentioned that she would have trouble keeping track of too many different personal portrayals. She mentioned that someone she knew got around that problem by being a German milk maid in all the different periods as a way to keep the character, but make different costumes. For me, that would never work because I’d rather have different personas so I can explore different aspects of each time.

Currently I have only a few well fleshed out personas:
Rose, the 12th Century Herb-Wife
Rose started when I flirted with making a 13th century renfaire character, but she found her base when I joined the Medieval Talk Show panel given every year at a middle school in CT. She will really come to life this spring in a new group of 12th century reenactors. Rose is a simple woman, somewhat shallow with a love of home-town gossip. Through Rose I get to investigate herbal medicine, agriculture, textile production, and the birth of the High Middle Ages.

Hanne, 16th Century Baron’s Wife and Camp Frau
Hanne came about when we were starting to form Das Geld Fahnlein. I needed a character that fit into the world of the Landsknecht and as the wife of a nobleman. Hanne is proud of her noble upbringing, and even more proud that she married a Hauptman since her father was a Hauptman. She does not mind getting dirty, and is thrilled to be on campaign and not locked up somewhere like a convent or relative’s castle. Through Hanne I get to research Renaissance Europe, specifically continental Europe, fashion styles and fancy cooking.

Bess Brown, 19th Century Irish Immigrant, Domestic Servant
Bess has been around the block. My first Irish immigrant character was in high school, the next in college, and while Bess only gets to come out and play a few times a year she is feisty, pragmatic, and incredibly fun. I have spent a ton of time researching life in the US in the first half of the nineteenth century, I also know a lot about Ireland in the 1800s as well as domestic relations, industrialization, sanitation and urban life. Of course there is always more to know…

I have a few personas that are less solid but I could still pull out at a moment’s notice:
18th Century middle-class female
At Strawbery Banke I did my first investigations of an 18th Century persona, and I’ve flirted with programs, reenactment events, and personas ever since. In the past few years I’ve found myself drawn towards a more urban and possibly loyalist portrayal, but have not had a real need for it, so this one is still very much up in the air.

Mid 19th Century activist/lecturer
Sometimes Bess is just not right for a particular situation, so I wanted to come up with another 19th century persona. I took a look at where most of my research has been done and it turns out I know a lot about the fringe social movements of the 19th century. For a one-time gig on Pioneer America I made up a persona of a traveling lecturer, a Jewish female who loved the trains and was enthusiastic about everything from women’s suffrage to temperance and beyond. Recently I’ve been reading up on Susan B Anthony, and thinking how her body type and mine are not all that different, I am hoping for a chance to try out Susan B. Anthony very soon.

Here are the ones that if I had my druthers I’d work on next:
17th century noblewoman/herbalist
I love gardening and herbs, and in the 17th century it was the noble women who did most of the tending and physicking among their villagers. I’d love to put more herb knowledge to use, maybe even do some distilling, the clothing is also of interest. I’d love to do more research on the 17th century.

19teens Suffragette
I also need a 20th century portrayal (though some may think need is the wrong word.) Just as I am drawn to Susan B Anthony and the women’s rights movement of the Nineteenth Century, I love the cultural changes taking place among women in the 19teens and 20s. I am fascinated by the urban culture as well as the leisure class. Maybe I should read up on the lives of a few adventuresses.

Anyone have any suggestions?


  1. All these different personas remind me of all the different characters I played in D&D, where not only did the 'class' change but so too did the underlying personalities. But, I've never changed personalities in re-enacting. (Which was something I'd never noticed before, so thank you for getting me thinking!)

    Anytime I've considered getting into another era (in particular Rev War) I automatically assumed I'd play the role of a blacksmith. I am one in real life, I enjoy doing it, it's not particularly common, it's useful, and I can gear up for it quickly. I guess, in short, it'd be easy. "Easy" is important for me, though, because any additional eras I'd be participating in would be secondary to the Iron Age Celts.

  2. At the moment I have around 16 impressions (all listed and photographed here: http://historicallyspeaking.driftingfocus.com/impression-inventory/) and the only way I'm able to do that is because I don't really have personas that go with most of them. Very few of the groups that I belong to are into first person or even just interpretive work at all, which means that most of my impressions are barely more than costumes and some knowledge to go along with them.