Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Different Kind of Costume

As of the end of September I am no longer a Costumed Roleplayer at Strawbery Banke Museum. I have given up what may have been the best job ever, but since this is the second time I have given it up, I get the feeling that it won’t be the last. I guess I know what I’ll be doing when I retire!

I gave up the job because the wages are so low that I was not able to contribute to my family in a monetary way. We’ve got a mortgage, two cars, pets, medical bills. Yes, I probably could have changed my lifestyle to reflect the abysmal pay, but I can’t ask my family to do that too. And the commute was killing me. An hour and twenty minutes each way is a hard slog.

Well the commute is not going to change, but I’ve been given a stellar opportunity. The person in charge of special events (or at least some of them) at the museum where I’ve spent the last two years is moving on, and after I gave my notice as a role-player and expressed my interest in the events position the museum hustled to make me an offer. I am now Strawbery Banke’s Manager of Special Events! I’ll be able to use the skills I honed stage managing renaissance faires, then tempered in fire up at the college. I’ve only been in the job a week and a half, but I’m enjoying it so far, I’m not feeling overwhelmed yet.

There are four main events that I will oversee, the 4th of July, a wine festival, Halloween Trick-or-Treat, and the December Candlelight Stroll. I’ve jumped in feet first planning the Halloween event, luckily it is a fairly low-key event whose sole purpose is to give the community kids a fun, spooky (but not scary) experience. Christmas is the biggest event and will follow shortly after. It is the one I am most worried about and the one I am most looking forward to. If anyone who reads my blog wants to come help out, I promise I run a really fun event!

But on the title of this post. I only took one weekend and one day off in between my last day of role-playing and my first day in the new position. Most folks had been informed (especially the ones who read email) that I was switching from seasonal to regular staff, but some still mentioned that it was a shock seeing my come in wearing “normal” business clothes. I did not look like I stepped out of some other era, nor was I wearing the interpreter uniform of a burgundy polo and khaki pants. But one of my role-player buddies who is very perceptive observed of my office attire: “it is just a different kind of costume.”

So I’ll be living less history during the work week, but I’ll be able to do more of my own reenacting on the weekends, and hopefully I’ll get to create magical events where scores of people will get to experience Living History.

Read this entry on entry page

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Presenting the Presentation

The day of my presentation I was so incredibly nervous! I had hard copies of my various notes, plus originals for the handout. I had electronic versions in my email and on my iPad, I even packed a shirt to change into so I would not have to wear my red uniform shirt during the talk. Of course when I got to work the person playing Mrs. Shapiro called out sick, so I had to scramble into my back-up clothes and spend the day being Mrs. Shapiro. Actually that was probably better, it meant I could stay in Mrs. Shapiro mode and only think about feeding the family, and Avrham at work, Mollie at school. Mrs. Shapiro did not give presentations to colleagues. But when the crowds died down in the afternoon I was again stuck in my own thoughts, getting more and more nervous. At the end of the day I practically ran out of Shapiro house to go get ready for my talk.

Since it was not scheduled too far in advance, and because my talk was advertised as mostly for role-players, I did not have too big a crowd. Still, enough people did show up, and everyone who did was very attentive. The folks in the education department had asked for an advance copy of the bibliography so they could order some of my recommendations for the little library, they ended up ordering a ton of books! It was awesome to see all my old friends (in book form) waiting for me to tell more folks about them.

I started by talking about how important it is that we never stop honing our skills as interpreters (costumed or uniformed.) That we need to keep learning and developing new skills no matter how long we have been at it. Then I segued into an activity to determine what some of those interpretation skills are. I got some resistance at the beginning of the activity, but most people seemed to get in to it, and everyone seemed to figure out what I was aiming for. It started with everyone writing down various types of skills from a couple of different types of occupations: historian, teacher, and actor. I asked them to write down skills that they might use as interpreters, to think of those things that the best of us do well, and attitudes we all strive for.

The next part I was up in front of the whiteboard, while the group shouted out various skills they had either written down or just though of. I filled up the entire board with my horrible handwriting, my audience only corrected my spelling twice. The point was not really to have everyone read and memorize the skills we put on the board, the point was to help my fellow interpreters recognize the diversity of skills one can draw on in our profession and help them recognize ways to keep learning. When someone seemed to have a little trouble articulating an idea they had I was often able to fill in with a vocabulary-type word to describe the things we all do, but never talk about. As I wrote down skills I pointed to the various publications where my audience could find out more information. Before we finished each section i made sure to go back to the list I had compiled ahead of time, there were only a few things in each section that no one had yet mentioned that I thought were important enough to add. For the most part, my fellow interpreters got the important skills all on their own.

Once the board was full, folks asked questions, of me and of each other. We had a heated discussion on "telling the truth" and what that meant as a role-player. I tried to not let one or two people dominate the discussion, but at the same time I certainly did not keep an iron grip on the lines of discussion.

The whole presentation plus discussion ran for just over an hour, and I got quite a few compliments when it was done. I did not get a lot of constructive criticism, my guess is that the workshop was so far outside everyone's experience of other workshops that they did not have a lot to compare it to. I did have one participant come up to me the day after and share one of her favorite Emily Dickinson poems, and that was incredibly special.

Now I want to give my presentation to more groups, see if I can inspire more people who do historical interpretation (in costume or otherwise, at a museum or on their own) to hone their skills and never stop learning.

Read this entry on entry page