When all dressed up and portraying a historical character confronted with members of the public, it is a good idea to have a little bit of monologue explaining who, what and when you are. It helps your audience have time to look around, also to let them know some important facts (never assume your audience knows anything.) A short monologue can ground them, but I also find it helpful to get me in the mood for sharing information. I am actually a very shy person, and sometimes I need a reason to open my mouth and be outgoing just as much as the audience needs to figure out what is going on.
Now by monologue, I don’t mean something long and boring. The old Strawbery Banke rule for tour guides was that your introduction to the history could not be more than two minutes long. I think that is too long for a beginning introduction before you toss focus back to your visitors and find out what they are interested in. I generally like my introductory monologues to be roughly three sentences in length and either end with a question or some other type of conversation starter that the people you are conversing with can latch on to.
A few months ago at the FPIPN retreat, Ron Carnegie, who is George Washington at Colonial Williamsburg started his talk with a pet peeve that he called the “Wikipedia method” of first-person interpretation: Where the presenter sounds less like a real person talking to other real people and sounds more like the entry in a dry encyclopedia. “Hi, my name is ____ I was born on March 18th in a small town outside ____. When I was 18 we moved to ___ where I was to meet my future ____.” Just a list of dry facts. I actually recently heard this done. Not quite as badly as all that but the person really did say: “my name is ____ this is my house and the year is ______.”
It sounds so fake! Most people don’t really talk like that. I’ve thought back over some of the times I’ve had to introduce myself to people, to groups, and there are definitely ways to introduce yourself and the historical setting that are much less awkward. One of my fellow Mrs. Shaprios at Strawbery Banke has a basic introduction that sounds like this: “Hello, my name is Mrs. Shaprio, welcome to my home. My husband and I purchased this house 10 years ago in 1909.” I think this is a fairly brilliant way to get the date across. Easy math, that also tells you something about the character and her social status. Sometimes she even adds: "That was just a few months after our daughter Molly was born." More info, not a lot of fuss. As Mrs. Shapiro I often endow people as potential renters since the Shapiros rented the third floor, it gives me an excuse to talk about the house, and a reason to invite them to look around the rest of the house.
This spring Stephen and I spent 4 weekends at the Robin Hood Springtime Festival mostly with Stephen working Saturdays and me working Sundays. I usually arrived tired, and proceeded to spend the day getting progressively more exhausted. Couple that with the small attendance, and I don't feel like I ever really got into the swing of an opening monologue about my 12th Century character: Rose I got good at explaining about the encampment, the tent, food and herbal medicine, but I don't feel like I really found Rose and her relationship to all these strange people she meets when the lord is on the march. I guess that is a good excuse to find other places to set up our 12th Century encampment.