Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Every 8 Minutes

In the parlor of Shapiro house there is a large mirror above the fireplace (actually the former fireplace). The mirror is magic, it conceals a television that plays an eight minute video about the Shapiro family and their journey from Ukraine to Portsmouth, NH. The video is on repeat. The interpreter playing Mrs. Shapiro turns it on in the morning when we open the house, and turn it off in the evening when we lock up. On a quiet day in Shapiro house us Mrs. Shapiros listen to the video while we sit in the kitchen and it plays over and over in the parlor. Every eight minutes. In a day we listen to the video play over 53 times, depending on how early we turn it on, and how sick of it we are at the end of the day. I'm sure all three of us could recite the whole thing, narrator's pauses and inflections in place. Luckily, the script is very well written. It is not an easy task to condense the lives of an entire family into eight minutes, and to do so without causing bleeding ears among those of us who have listened to it all season for years is a blessing.

The narrator starts out describing the family back in Russia, talks about names, about Samuel Shapiro’s journey to Portsmouth, about Abraham and Sarah, about life in Portsmouth, about Mollie, then about the family as it is now. Since I have mostly just listened to it for the past two seasons sometimes I’m surprised when I catch the images on the TV that go along with the script that I know so well. It is an odd perspective.

For me one of the parts that stick out the most are the tragedies. There are three events that the narrator describes as tragic: the holocaust, the death of Samuel Shapiro's two oldest daughters, and Mollie Shapiro's death shortly after her marriage. The order I have described above is the order they appear in the film even though chronologically the holocaust happens last. Yes, when sitting there on a really slow day, often a cold and wet day, I think about things like that while I keep myself busy cooking, sewing and reading; waiting for visitors to talk to.


  1. How well is the video received by the patrons? I ask because we tried to run a video at our blacksmithing demo that was designed to answer many common questions. We tried this for a couple of years, but the people actively eschewed it, found it distracting, and made it clear they'd rather interact with us and watch what we're doing, so we quickly abandoned it.

  2. In Shapiro House the video is in the parlor, quite separated from us interpreters in the kitchen. There is furniture that visitors can sit on in the parlor, and after walking around the museum, I think some people stop to watch just because they can sit. I think your situation is very different.