Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Conference that I Built

I did something a little different earlier this month, I was the sole organizer of a professional conference.

There are professional organizations and conferences for just about everything! And that is true of Living History too. Stephen and I have attended three FPIPN Conferences, two of which I blogged about: Here and Here, and at the end of the last one the organizer asked if there was anyone who would be willing to host the next in two years. At the time I was pregnant, less than 6 months into my new job at the museum, and reluctant to take on any new projects, but even then I knew that I could do it, and that I probably would. Fast forward two years, and here we are, just a few weeks after the 2016 First Person Interpreter’s Retreat of which I was the organizer, communicator, decision maker and host. To say that I will be processing this for a while is an understatement, but I also want to get down some of my thoughts while they are still fresh.

The FPIPN Retreat is usually a two-day retreat, where members of our community help each other out, teach a few of our favorite tricks, commiserate about our tough experiences, and get re-inspired for the upcoming season. My friends and acquaintances, the FPIPN Facebook group, and the parent org’s newsletter shared the call for sessions, and I heard back from people I had never met as well as some of the usual suspects. I only asked pointedly a few people, and amazingly all of those that I tapped were happy to oblige. We got enough session proposals to fill up both Saturday and Sunday, and on an amazing variety of topics: working with kids, visitors, museum management, emotional topics, new programs, unknown historical figures, an abundance of resources, in all sorts of environments. We had a total of 19 different “sessions” or chances to learn about some aspect of first person interpretation.

I changed it up a little by starting on Friday afternoon with some in-character presentations, and a pizza party/Book Group. I am obsessed with finding all the books on Living History, which is still a relatively small number, and with sharing all these great books, so it was fun to pack up my LH library (one shelf in on the bigger history bookcase) into a tub (they all fit in one plastic tub!) and spread them out for conference goers to look through.

I also hired a keynote speaker. There was one at the first conference I attended in 2010 which had been very inspiring, and set the tone of the conference for me. I wanted to do the same this year, and I knew the tone that I wanted to set. I see these retreats as a chance to connect to other roleplayers, and I see my job as a roleplayer to connect my audience to history. I had met a woman out in Chicago who wrote a whole book about doing just that, and I’d seen her interact, she is good, and definitely articulate. I took a big risk, and invited a Renaissance Faire performer to share with all these serious museum folks the power of positive interactions. It turned out great! I heard plenty of good feedback about how A-E was putting into words things that some folks had been thinking about for years and been unable to articulate. Or even if they’d never thought about it, now they would! She added to the weekend’s feeling of comradery and positive learning.

Even before Friday night was over I heard from a Strawbery Banke colleague who came up to me and remarked that before that day she had not really thought of herself as belonging to a community, but this conference, in just the first few hours had shown her that there is a community of costumed history folks, and she is a part of it. The reenactors who attended told me they found it interesting, the museum people said they learned quite a bit. Event Stephen said he has new ideas for the upcoming year, some of which came up in the presentation that he lead, that he’d never thought about before! And many people remarked on how they had made quite a few new friends this weekend. I’m not sure it gets much better than that.
The crowd for our keynote.

Out and about in Portsmouth. Having way too much fun. Photo by A_E Shapera.

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