Tuesday, May 22, 2012

hiding my gadgets

Though I play in history, I am also a bit of a techno-geek. I like my modern toys. At historical events I used to try to hide a camera and a novel in among my historical stuff, now I just need to hide my smart phone. At the muse, we are given tons of papers, I try to keep as many of them electronically as possible, but that also leads to needing the phone or my iPad.

Luckily there are other folks out there looking to hide their new-fangled toys, Twelve South http://twelvesouth.com/products/bookbook/ makes book-like covers for both the iPhone and iPad. The covers do not completely obscure the technology, the iPhone cover has holes along the top and bottom edges for plugs etc. and the iPad cover has a zipper, still, I have fooled more than one person who ask what is the nice looking book I have tucked under my arm, or that I am holding up to my face. I feel fairly secure with my devices in their nice leather covers in historical settings, and enjoy being able to unobtrusively tote around my techno-toys.

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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Something Old, Something New

I first came across the expression: "something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue" in the books of Laura Ingals Wilder. I remember Laura getting married so vividly, all about the blue dress she wore and how nervous she was! For my own wedding, which was fairly unconventional, I did not feel the need to adhere to the saying, though my shoes were blue.

As I've started a few new roles this spring I've found new meaning for the old phrase. When getting married means starting a new life it is comforting to find significance in the items that will accompany you. Starting in a new role can have a similar feeling.

Sitting in the kitchen of the little house on Jackson street where the Shapiro family lived out their lives nearly a century ago I was fairly anxious. I wanted to do justice to Mrs. Shapiro and the heritage that she represents. I was amazed by the level of comfort I took in the items that I had gathered to start me on this path: my trusty lace-up boots that carried me as Lizzy Sullivan when I was here 12 years ago, a new apron I stitched up this week, a bowl of horseradish made by my mother for Passover from roots my dad dug out of their garden, and a glass of tea wrapped in a blue tea towel in the old Russian way.

From now on I think all my new portrayals will start with something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue.

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Back at Strawbery Banke

Well my employment situation has been ironed out for a little while. The people who love me gave me permission to spend some time doing what I love. I am back at Strawbery Banke Museum.

I had a great interview, with someone who vaguely remembered me from my time there 12 years ago, and was willing to hire me back as a historic house interpreter, but also give me the opportunity to play in all the different playgrounds available at SBM. I had my first week last week, which I spent shadowing long-time employees to find out how things are done, and what has changed in the decade since I was last there. I got to shadow some museum teachers who were leading classrooms of 4th graders in an exploration of archaeology. I got to spend two days being an apprentice hearth cook and actually cook over a fire that is not located in the middle of the outdoors. I also got to spend some time in the 1919 house, which is staffed by a “Costumed Roleplayer” i.e. someone in costume in character doing a first-person impression of: Mrs. Shapiro, the Russian-Jewish immigrant. I have two more days of shadowing in Shapiro house before I put on the clothes myself!

I had mixed feelings about going back to a job that I held more than 12 years ago; haven’t I been climbing the non-profit ladder since then? I am taking a major pay cut earning half of the pay at my last job. I am trying to figure out how this is going to lead to more and better things. But after a week spent doing the things that I love to do I’m trying to stop questioning and just have a fabulous time.

I can’t wait to tell you all about cooking at SBM, and about making yet another character, but I’m going to save those for further blog posts. So stay tuned!

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Monday, May 7, 2012

Titanic Weekend

I love dancing. I don’t know why I don’t do it more except I guess I love history more. I also love art, and at the moment my favorite art museum is the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. So when I found out that the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers were holding a Titanic themed weekend with dancing and a trip to the Peabody Essex I HAD to attend. Stephen’s spring schedule was already booked up, but my friend Jess agreed to invest in an outfit from the 19teens and come out for the weekend.

I could not afford to do the whole weekend so Jess and I picked the Saturday evening dinner and dance plus the Sunday museum stroll at the Peabody Essex. We skipped the Friday dance, Saturday tea and Sunday concert, but all of that probably would have been too much anyways.

I had big plans to prepare 2 dresses, along with multiple accessories, hats, and “votes for women” sashes. I was going to attend every upcoming dance class, and practice hairdos in advance, but all that flew out the window when I had trouble with the first skirt pattern and my employment situation did not improve. So the week before the event I was looking at a half-done skirt and not much else. Time to finish the skirt then go to the closet! Years ago Mom bought me a pretty dress-up top. It is a thin striped cotton that is open in the front with short kimono sleeves. I dug it out of the drawer that contained my random 19th Century clothing bits, wore it with a lacy camisole underneath, and it was just about perfect. The top was whiter than my skirt material, but a sash would fix that, and a trip to Target supplied me with both a khaki olive colored lace scarf for a sash, and a couple of hats to decorate for Sunday. Voila, instant nineteen-teens outfit.
Since Jess was incredibly nervous about the dancing we agreed to meet up early on Saturday to attend the morning dance practice. Luckily Salem, MA is only about an hour from my house so the drive in was not too bad. I was so thankful for the ballroom dance classes Stephen and I had taken the winter before, and the quick ragtime lesson at Reenactorfest, I was not the most raw of beginners. We left Jess’ car in Salem after the lesson and went back to my house for a 12th Century meeting and then for primping.

Jess wore a Victorian corset under a Revival Clothing dress with a scarf in her hair. I managed to put my hair in a roll around my head. Much more 1890s than 1910s, but something I knew I could pull off. Neither of us had appropriate purses but I grabbed a little suitcase that I’d gotten to hold my dance shoes. We took some photos in front of the house where the shrubs were blooming then back in the car!

The main event of the evening took place at Rockafellas. There were tables ready for dinner, cheese and crackers set up and a balcony with “retiring rooms”, the bar and a painted Titanic backdrop for photos. We even ran into some familiar faces, our friends Clint and Dede and their family were all gussied up and looking fabulous. We all grabbed seats together, got drinks from the bar, then ogled all the amazing clothing. There were a ton of gauzy evening dresses, a few very rag-timey get ups, a lovely Turkish inspired outfit, and so many tuxedos! There were a few cringe worthy dresses, but no absolute monstrosities. Everyone was chatty and friendly and the time before dinner just flew by.

As part of registration we were given packets that included reproduction titanic tickets with our deck and berth numbers, Starline luggage stickers, fancy menus and on the tables: Starline tins of mints. The whole thing was charming. Dinner was very good, we sat at a table with some other folks who also turned out to be from New Hampshire. We had some fun conversations that revolved around the talk about “this amazing unsinkable ship” and how “the captain was powering up the last engines this evening” and everyone expecting that “we will arrive in New York 2 days early!” It was a little bit of first person play made hilarious by our knowledge of the Titanic’s watery fate.

At the end of dinner we all went upstairs for a photo and some tea while the main floor was prepared. The turnover from dinner tables to dance floor was incredibly fast. For the first couple of dances Jess and I stayed on the balcony and watched all the amazing couples swirl below us. Then we got into the dancing!

Jess did not dance very much, she mostly sat with the other folks we knew, but she did get out for a few dances. I found plenty of partners and was incredibly glad for the ballroom dancing lessons. I even managed to get out for some waltzes and not kill myself and my partners, though the major twirls were tough in my hobble skirt. By the end of the evening I even got asked if I was married! We did not stay too late because we had the hour drive back and we had more fun planned for the next day.

Sunday we got out late because Stephen made us breakfast, but it was totally worth it, and we were not the last people to arrive. Since we did all arrive at different times, and were all wandering around the museum in our own small groups, one might enter a photography exhibit and see two lovely ladies in incredibly huge hats on their way out, or wander into the Indian art exhibit and catch a woman in a striking walking suit gazing at a statue of Vishnu. Quite a few of us wandered in and out of the atrium, sharing tables with other people in funny clothes, and getting our pictures taken by the tourist.
At the Peabody Essex Museum, photo by Jess Boynton

There were a lot fewer people at the museum than at the dinner. Saturday’s events had been the real draw of the weekend, but all the folks who came out on Sunday were serious about their history, and they all had different outfits than the ones they had worn the night before. All of the new outfits (since these were the die-hard folks) were amazingly gorgeous and the hats were fantastic! I was so glad that I had at least managed to make small hats for Jess and I so we at least had our heads covered. All of us in attendance promised to come back to the PEM for the hat exhibit in the fall. I really enjoyed my Titanic weekend.

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