Advance warning: this is part one of a three part series on a workshop I recently conducted at Strawbery Banke Museum
A few weeks ago I lead a workshop and discussion for my fellow interpreters and role-players at Strawbery Banke Museum. I designed the workshop in response to a training that the museum offered us role-players last spring. I did not blog about it because April was very busy, also because it was so bad, I really had nothing good to say about it other than that it got all us role-players together, and it convinced me that I could lead a better workshop.
One of the things that I had noticed about becoming a museum role-player this time around (as opposed to when I started back in 1999) is that the museum provided tools in only two varieties: historical research, and the other role-players. Every role that the museum fills comes with a big 3-ring binder full of history articles. The binders include information about the house where you will be role-playing, the family you will represent, a timeline of known facts about the person you will be portraying, articles about the general history of the era, and more specifically about Portsmouth and about New Hampshire’s role in that era. In addition to the binder there are file cabinets full of photocopies of primary sources, articles written by past employees, and yet more history articles. Plus there is a small library of history books that we’re encouraged to borrow. That is all history-research related, which is useful but only one part of becoming a role-player. When one of the folks in horticulture asked what is wrong with just giving only the history stuff I kind of blew up at him (sorry Eric) and said it would be like giving someone a book of plants and telling them to go garden. Not a book on how-to garden, just a book with facts on the plants in the garden, he would never expect someone to know how to transplant seedlings without step-by-step instructions, or at least watching someone else do it.
Now for new role-players they are given a small amount of time shadowing a well established role-player, where they get to watch someone who knows how to do it. But from what I have gathered, the amount of time a new RP gets depends less on their need and more on the museum’s scheduling difficulties. How much the experienced role-player gets to share, and if it is compatible with the way the new RP learns is left entirely up to chance. In the little library there were no books on role-playing. Heck, there were not even any books on museum interpretation!
But back to the spring workshop. I was very excited going in to the workshop because we were actually having training! I was hopeful that the workshop leader would establish some professional vocabulary, that she would talk about the books about roleplaying, and that we would get a chance to bond as a group outside of the mess of interpreters. Well we got to bond about what a crappy workshop it was. The worst part was that at the very end of the workshop the leader passed around some hand-outs that did include a vocabulary list and a tiny bit of a bibliography! She did not talk at all about her hand-outs which would have made a great workshop, she just passed them around with apologies and basically told us to ignore them!!
By the time the workshop was over I knew that I could better meet the needs of my fellow role-players, and at the same time I was offered an opportunity to do so. We were all told that the museum was offering us RPs 5 hours of paid research time. It was expected we would research some aspect of history from the era that we represent, then write it up in a paper, so the other folks who do the same time period could benefit. I knew that my co-workers would be better served if I was able to share my research on role-playing instead of any research on history that I may do. Thankfully my bosses at the museum agreed to let me try.
Thus ends part 1 of my journey to workshop, I’ll post about the actual workshop soon.