Monday, December 10, 2012

Becoming Lizzie, Again

At Strawbery Banke Museum folks look forward, or at least plan for, the Christmas program all year long. Called Candlelight Stroll, the grounds are illuminated, there is hot cider, a bonfire, caroling, Saint Nick, and all of the historic houses are full of roleplayers. This means that people who have been roleplayers in the past come back for the three weekends of stroll, folks who are not normally roleplayers get into costume, and they even hire some outside folks, usually musical outsiders.

By August of this past season the other interpreters were asking me where I would be at Candlelight Stroll. They asked me if I’d be the third sister making Latkes in Shapiro kitchen. I love Shapiro, but two Mrs. Shapiros are probably enough. So I went to my boss (the one in charge of education) and asked if there was a different role for me, or if they had any holes they’d like to fill. She asked if I was musical, and had any reenacting friends who were musical… they had spent the last few years looking for a group to provide a drunken Irish servant party in the kitchen of the Victorian mansion.  I jumped at the chance for three reasons: not Shaprio, I would get to hire a few of my friends, and I would get to reprise the role of Lizzie Sullivan.

The last Candlelight Stroll that I worked at Strawbery Banke was the Stroll of 1999, and at that time I got to play Lizzie Sullivan, the 21 year old Irish maid employed by the Goodwin family. I was alone in the kitchen and behind the barrier but I was not allowed to touch anything, so I mostly chatted about all the pies I had made to help my older sister Sophie, the cook (who was downstairs in the cellar gathering root vegetables and stored items.) I had been portraying Lizzie once a week for most of the summer, using the Irish accent taught to me by my mom’s best friend (I have her first name as my middle name), who is bona fide Boston Irish. I wore a costume that was made for someone much bigger than myself (I told people it was my sister’s spare dress, the Goodwin children had just ruined mine.)

My love of Irish history goes back to my first Living History experience, in eighth grade, where the computer teacher and the English teacher taught us about the Irish potato famine so we all could write a journal from the perspective of a real immigrant who made the journey to Boston in the nineteenth century. So when, the first time I worked at The Banke, I was asked to play a Nineteenth Century  Irish Servant I was thrilled to do so. When I went back to college after working at The Banke I did a whole Independent Study and wrote up my Lizzie Sullivan script, with a lot more bibliography thrown in.

Lizzie Sullivan & George Rose,
photo by Jess Boynton, taken in our den.
This past summer, not long after enquiring about this year’s available roles, the Event Coordinator approached me and asked if I really could provide a drunken (acted) party with music for the Goodwin kitchen. I assured her I could, and would start to gather a musical servant posse right away. The first person I approached was Stephen. He is a better roleplayer than I am, plus he plays the Irish drum and we know a lot of the same Irish songs. I searched around for another instrumentalist (I only sing) and ended up with our good friend Kristina of Silver Thistle who, besides being an excellent historical costumer, is also a historical roleplayer and knows a lot of the same songs from years of acting at Renaissance faires. She also lives not too far from Strawbery Banke. Kristina made up a lovely dress, Stephen dug out his mid-nineteenth century clothing from our dabbling in the Wild West, and I borrowed a Strawbery Banke costume. In fact, I was given the same skirt that I wore 12 years ago. It fits me much better now. We rehearsed some drinking songs and some Irish songs, Kathleen (mom’s best friend) sent me a lovely cookbook of old Irish recipes, and we have had a lovely party in the kitchen for the last two weekends.

Lizzie and Sophie Sullivan in Goodwin Kitchen
There are no more barriers in the Goodwin kitchen, and we were told we could eat and drink (as long as it was not too messy.) I provided some food, the event staff provided some, the education staff provided others. It can get cold since the door is so often open, but we have hot water for tea, and a lot of layers of clothes. Goodwin house always has a large number of Junior Roleplayers for Stroll (I'll have to do a separate post of Juniors.) The Juniors, playing some of the grandchildren, string popcorn for our little Charlie-Brown-type tree, and make animals and fruit out of marzipan. We don't sing all the time, since usually there are so many people in the house we are all carrying on different conversations with different visitors. We always get to sing every sing once, and our favorites twice. Even the juniors join in on the songs they already know, or get to know the more time they spend with us. We tell jokes and tongue twisters, and tease each other all evening long while we spread Christmas cheer and maybe a little education too.

We’ll be there for one more weekend, I can’t wait, but I’ll be so sad when it is over. I have a lot more to share with you, hopefully I’ll be getting up a few more posts soon, including some cooking adventures, and future plans.


  1. You look great! I wish we could see you at Strawbery Banke. We normally always go in 18thc. clothing every year of course, but are not able to make it this year. We will be at the Twelfth Night Ball at the Wayside Inn, and hope to again see you!

  2. What fun! I just love these kinds of events. And it's so obvious that you do, too. HUZZAH! Wish I could do a grand tour of all of them. Ahh, well, one can dream, yes?! LOL

  3. I am SO bummed out that I felt too ill on Sunday to go to Stroll. I really wanted to see your 'drunken Irish party'. ;P