Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Book Review: Easy Street

I've just finished Ann-Elizabeth Shapera's book Easy Street: A Guide For Players In Improvised Interactive Environmental Performance, Walkaround Entertainment, And First-Person Historical Interpretation. What a fascinating read. It was written as a guide for Renaissance Faire performers, and for the most part that is exactly what it is, but it reads like a self-help book. I recommend this book to folks starting out at RenFaires, but also for long time living history presenters who have lost their spark and are wondering, why the heck am I doing this?

Shapera performs at many Renaissance Faires as the lovable Jane The Phoole. I've seen her perform, she is very good. I've also run into her at several Reenactorfests. Jane the Phoole is a walk-around character. She spends most of her time on the streets of the faire, interacting with groups of visitors or "patrons". While she does sometimes appear on stage this book deals with the "street" interactions: how you make a street character, how to interact with all kinds of people, how to make interactions positive, uplifting and meaningful to every participant.

It is the uplifting part that Shapera excels at. If your venue is a museum or reenactment, and you want the ability to make magical connections the way performers at Renaissance Raires do, then I highly recommend Easy Street. But if that is the case you might want to skip from chapter 13 right to 18. While the pleasant insights continue in those chapters, a person can get bogged down in the bits that do not apply outside the RenFaire. If you are a participant in the world of Renaissance Faires Shapera does not have much new to say about improvisation, physicality, or Elizabethan England, but she has nicely condensed those staples of RenFaire training.

Throughout the book Shapera stresses the importance of remaining positive, especially when interacting with those that have paid money to come see us. A point with which I highly agree. She includes chapters entitled, "It Only Takes a Moment", "Say Something Nice!", and "Why You Must Never Exclude Patrons, Ever, Not In A Million Years." Her big points of emphasis include  "Include and Elevate" the people you  encounter while plying this craft and "Making it Worth It" for both the audience and the performer reading the book.

Easy Street is self published through Lulu Press and it shows. Many of the chapters could have been merged into longer, more comprehensive sections. Also, Shapera's capitalization of Every Important Bit got very tiresome. It is an Elizabethan mode of writing, but in my opinion, was over-used, especially when paired with the heavy handed formatting.

Of all the training I have undergone to make me the history presenter that I am today, my most meaningful training has been in how to do historical research and how to be a Rennaissance Faire performer. A-E Shaera's Easy Street touches on all the best parts of RenFaire performance, and includes many points from which all presenters of history can benefit. I am glad to have this book on my shelf, it is a worthy addition to LH library.

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