I’ve been listening to audio books while at work, and I’ve been on a World War II kick. I’m on my third book written about Europe during the 3rd Reich takeover, and I’m learning a lot while I sit in front of a computer all day. The first book I listened to was A Spy at the Heart of the Third Reich by Lucas Delattre. This one was about a junior government official who deplored the new practices of the Nazi party, but instead of speaking out and getting thrown in a concentration camp, he continued to do his job well until he had the chance to take all the memos, telegrams, etc. that were a part of his work and give them to an American official in Switzerland. The book was well narrated and full of sympathetic characters.
I was sad when the nine and a half hour book ended, but I had another book in a similar genre that I’d been trying to get through: In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson is a recent book and came highly recommended. It is about the American Ambassador to Germany and his family in the 1930s, and how they experienced the rise of Nazi power. I had started reading this one in hardcover, but it was so depressing reading about all the horrible things happening, and knowing that there were so many horrible things to come. The family was so naive at the beginning and I got so disheartened that I put the book down. I picked it up in audio format hoping that my divided attention (computer work) would make the horrors a little more palatable. It also helped that I did not go back and start at the beginning, but at where I’d left off reading. The audio book is almost 13 hours, and I did not particularly like the narrator, but I learned a ton about the early days of Hitler’s chancelory before he became supreme ruler, and about what it meant to be an ambassador in the early 20th Century.
I’ve just started another one, I’m two hours in to a 17.5 hour book called Citizens of London by Lynne Olson about three Americans in Britain during the Battle of Britain and how they shaped America’s entrance into WWII. So far I am entirely tickled, but that could be because one of the three, the American Ambassador to Britain is from New Hampshire, my home state. So far I’m enjoying the narrator, definitely sympathetic to the main characters, and I know things turn out alright for US and England, so I’m hopeful. This one is so long it might take me a month to get through it, but I’ve got a lot of computer work to do.
I have so many choices I can't decide on my own! I will be at Reenactorfest for 3 days, plus there is the Ball on Saturday night, so I am planning on bringing four different outfits. I'll outline the choices, then there is a poll at the bottom. I'm going to start packing soon, but I'd love your help, you can vote for up to 4, since I'll have 4 chances to change.
Here are my choices, in (basic) chronological order:
12th Century, Rose
Since Rose is a basic woman, my 12th Century stuff is fairly basic, but hand stitched and easy to pack!
16th Century, Hanne
I've worn Landsknecht every year since reenactorfest began, it is kind of what we're known for, but my pink outfit is showing its age and I don't have time to make a new one.
18th Century, Mary Fraser
I've added a new cap and mitts since last year, and this one has all the proper underwear, but there will be a lot of folks in RevWar...
Early 19th Century, Regency
This one is new! I don't have a persona for this one yet, but I'm almost finished, and it is new!
19th Century, Lizzie Sullivan
I've been wearing this one since almost the beginning too. It might be time to put it away for a year.
1919, Mrs. Shapiro
It took me until the end of the season but I've got almost an entire outfit made up for Mrs. Shapiro. She is my most developed of the new personas, I'd like to show her off to the folks outside of the museum.
1920s, Bathing Costume I made this up last year and only wore it for about an hour. It is a knit cotton, far from perfect, but still a lot of fun. It is cold for February, but I have not found another opportunity to wear it!
1940s, Travel Suit
The last few years I've worn a 1940s ensemble on Sunday because we have to check out of our hotel rooms, and fly home. I can feel at home in the con and at the airport in a 1940s suit, and this year I have a new one, plus a lovely pair of spectators that my mother found at a thrift store.
When chatting with some of the other folks that were new role-players at Strawbery Banke one of them mentioned that when she started she had a hard time getting into character and talking to visitors as if she was her historical role. This is an incredibly common problem, especially since she was given only one set of tools in training: the historical record. Don’t get me wrong, the historical record is incredibly important. Without facts, historical documents and scholarly interpretation, we would not have a foundation, nothing to stand on. Knowing how to write does not make you a journalist, or novelist. You can have the best costume in the world, and know the most knowledge, but if you can not get it across to your audience then you are not an effective first-person role-player.
There are two other sets of tools that I think someone needs to be an effective first-person role-player: interactive improvisation, and educational presentation. I believe both of these can be taught, and that they should be taught. The new roleplayers at SBM were not taught about education, it is expected they know a bit about teaching before they get to the museum. And many “professionals” look down on theatre as fiction, it is certainly not serious study, like us role-players. But without being able to teach, and without interactive improvisation, I would be much poorer at what I do.
I’ll talk about education tools first, since I think these will be the easiest for most folks to agree with. Every teacher out there will tell you that there are skills needed to be an effective teacher, I think many of those translate to being an effective first-person role-player. Not every visitor needs to know the exact same fact, there are many different ways to learn, not everyone makes a good discussion leader. A teacher can tell you all this and a role player can use them to get across all those great stories they’ve learned through research. Modern folks can empathize with folks from the past, we can learn about ourselves by learning about where we come from. Sometimes just knowing that our jobs as roleplayers is not only to get across the past, but to teach it, to relate it in ways that are meaningful to our audiences can boost our effectiveness.
The third tool that I use in every visitor contact is interactive theatre (yes, I went to a posh sort of college and spell it “re”.) There is an element of acting in Living History portrayals. It is not the same as acting in a play, or movie, but interactive theatre is very different from those too. When the audience is right there interacting in the story, you need to be willing to throw the pages of the script out the window, but not loose sight of the underlying story you are telling. It takes flexibility and empathy; you need to be a good listener, know how to stay positive, and not be afraid to look like a complete donkey. Theatre techniques, practice, and yes, games can be a lot of help. I promise your audience/visitors/MoP/students will never know.
I started doing this crazy dressing up and acting like a person from the past (i.e. first person roleplaying) nineteen years ago with a little theatre background, a little history research, and basically no educational training. Since then I’ve not only absorbed a lot of history and some educational theory, but I was trained in interactive improvisational theatre. I am a much better role-player for my training, and I think all of us role-players could continue to improve with more of all three.
I’ve decided that I’m not really cut out for high fashion, no matter what time period. I’m not a modern fancy-dress person. And I’m certainly not drawn to those roles that would require me to be fashionable. I bet that no matter what time you are looking at, there were frumpy folks, practical folks, folks who did not care what their neighbors thought, folks who would prefer if their clothes did not show off every little stain that might come their way.
This is visible in reenacting and costume circles to a smaller extent. There are some folks that only make elaborate clothes, no matter what age they are portraying, and there are some folks that will only put on the simplest of outfits whether attending a cook-fire or a ball. Last year I encountered a woman in the most fantastic Asian silk wrap, but she was still frumpy in it, and I imagine she is frumpy in her modern clothes too, no matter how much she paid for them.
In my modern life, I like to be dressed formal but not fancy. I prefer to wear slacks (not jeans) with sweaters (not blouses). I think I look silly in cocktail dresses, but don’t like to appear in public in sweatpants. This translates into my historical personas too. I prefer wool to silk, but it must fit well and have good lines. I like to look neat, but not froofy. I think that is why I love my 1770s dress, it is wool of a lovely purple color, no trim. My WWI outfit, right now, is composed of a wool skirt and a flannel top; with a practical hat on my head I feel ready for the market.