Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Midwinter Mischief at Old Sturbridge Village

Stephen and I went on a Midwinter Mischief tour at Old Sturbridge Village on February 4th. It was their first day of the special program. We went on an afternoon tour, but it was still the first day of a new program. The program was a semi-guided tour, with a meal included for $20 for non-members, which is a very decent price.

From the OSV visitor center we were lead by a costumed guide who walked us across the village to the Bullard Tavern. He stopped us halfway through to recite a verse about the experience we were about to have. He was very awkward, dropping his lines and struggling with the tempo and rhyme scheme of the verses. I got the impression this was not his idea of a good time. But when we were met at the tavern by “Mr. Bullard” he was enthusiastic in his acting. He encouraged us to eat first and assured us we’d get on a tour, but we declined since we’d eaten in the car on the way down. After using the restroom, we asked where we could catch our 1:45 tour, it turned out the 1:30 tour had not left yet so we jumped in on the end of the orientation for that tour.

The orientation was lead by the “town gossip” who was very good at making everyone laugh as she handed out cards to each person with the “role” we would be playing. Everyone got a nicely printed glossy card with a silhouette on one side and a paragraph about the role on the other. In the sitting room of the tavern another costumed person came in to tell us , in verse, about the peddler who spent last night at the tavern, ran up a tab he could not pay, and promised the tavern keep that he would return “with a tin cup overflowing with Gold”. The costumed person (who I’m told was supposed to be a tavern regular)told us the peddler then went to the Tinsmith shop, and we should go there to look for him. He did not follow us, but pointed the group in the right direction, we all walked ourselves (I think there were just under a dozen up is on this particular tour) over to the Tin Shop.

Inside the tin shop we were given some basic interpretations by the two men working in the tin shop, and one of them almost sounded like he was speaking in verse but it was so natural and interspersed with info on smithing and the history of peddlers that it was hard to tell. We spent about 10 minutes in the tin shop before they told us the peddler went on to the Parsonage, and we should look for him there. Over the course of the tour we visited:
- The Parsonage, grating chocolate with the parson’s daughter, getting a sermon on the evils of drink from the parson.
- A house in the village, helping dip candles,
- The village store, learning about what was sold there and buying on credit,
- The schoolhouse, getting a lesson
- The pottery, doing some hands-on wheel work
- The barn, sawing some firewood
- The farmhouse kitchen, making sausages
- Another kitchen, baking pies
- The blacksmith shop, shoeing oxen
- Outside visiting, with an oxen pair.
All of these stops were roughly ten minutes in length, all involved some interpretation, at least one hands-on opportunity for someone in the group, plus a few verses of script about “that pesky Peddler.” Each stop felt like a pretty good length, with a good mix of learning and story. None of the walks between buildings were so long that they felt arduous, and even though most of the stops the group had to stand, there were enough sitting stops mixed in that the general visitor did not feel too worn out by the end. We almost bumped into the group before us twice, but both times they were coming out as we went in, and we never ended up waiting for them. We never ran into the group behind us. Nor did it feel like the interpreter/actors were watching the clock, or rushing us through, their timing was very good.

After the last stop, our visit with the oxen, we were met by the last actor, a skinny young man in a top hat who did even more verse speaking, heading back up to the tavern. He was dressed quite differently from the other interpreter/actors, and was a better actor than most of them. Halfway through the walk back toward the tavern he produced a tin cup, giving the first inkling that this was the peddler we’d been “looking for” during our tour. For a little while at the end of the tour it felt quite clever, how the script had worked our group around to “discovering” the peddler, but by the time we got inside the tavern the clever part felt pretty empty.

My takeaway as we sat eating our soup (they’d kept some warm for us when I’d refused to eat before our tour) was that the “Midwinter Mischief” was a cute gimmick to get people on to the grounds during the month of February. The OSV actor/interpreters were the museum’s regular staff, and while a few did a superb job most of them gave off a distinct air of silly. They were portraying silly town characters, reciting silly lines about a silly peddler. This tour was not something to be taken seriously. In the end, everyone knew the peddler would come out on top, the town was no worse off for his visit, and there was no effect on the lives of real people, real history.

I think that did an incredible disservice to the history that they were interpreting. Every visitor was given a lot of information about life in a New England town in the early 1800s on this tour, but since the script was so gimmicky, and the actors so obviously just reciting their lines and not portraying real people, I believe it was hard for the visitors to go away with any emotional investment in what they had learned. Mystic Seaport does an incredible job using engaging emotional content in their programs, as do some of SBM’s roleplayers, so I know it can be done. Midwinter Mischief’s plot was fairly weak, and definitely came off as an excuse to visit the best houses in the village, not as an interpretation method itself. This could be because OSV hired a theatre person instead of a history person to write and direct their program, but I’ve seen amazing theatre that is emotionally engaging, so that can’t entirely be it.

I think the most I can say about the program is that it is a cute gimmick to get people through the doors, and show off the best of OSV in a winter setting. The worst is that there was so much potential if they had put more emphasis on actual history, and if their staff running the program had felt more comfortable playing their parts.

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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Living History 2016 in Cute Baby Pictures – Summer Edition

I’m a bit sad I did not post more in 2016, ah well. Trying to remedy that this year (sound familiar anyone?) But there are more cute toddler pictures on the way!

American Lives

I manage the museum's 4th of July event, so that one deserves a post all to itself, and I’m going to try to do that. In the meanwhile I can talk about my family. My husband and parents are so supportive of what I do. They come out to just about every event that I manage at the museum. It helps that Stephen and my parents like history, they like Portsmouth, and almost all of the events I do are kid friendly. In fact, Percy was only 2 weeks old when we took him to his first Strawbery Banke event: An American Celebration on the 4th of July. I’m also really lucky that my boss loves kids and Percy in particular, so as long as things are going smoothly, and I have someone else to hand Percy off to I  can have Percy time and museum time at the same time!

Great Northeastern War
Just like last year, I went up to Maine to my second SCA event of the year: Great Northeastern War. Stephen couldn’t go, he had to travel, but we’d agreed to teach classes so at least one of us had to. Percy slept most of the way up, and like always, got into his historical clothes without much fuss. We watched a battle, walked among the vendors, looked at the arts & sciences projects on display. I taught a class on the Renaissance Baby. I prepared a brief handout about clothing, and a much more extensive one about period approximate toys. If I re-find the handout I might put it up here (this totally is a trend!) The class was attended by mostly moms with kids, though a few ladies who hope to be moms someday did come as well. I shared around a lot of goldfish, and put all Percy’s toys on the table to let the kids run around and play with them. Good news, most of the toys worked for older kids too. I got fairly annoyed when one of the moms told everyone after I was done talking about how easy wool gowns are, that she recommended modern cotton tunics! But she liked my toys hand-out. Stephen’s talk was on Landsknecht, and though he was willing to talk about the culture, he figured the SCAdians in attendance would mostly want to talk about the clothes. He was right. He sent me up with a basket full of books and his clothing, which I spread out, and then asked folks what they hoped to get out of the talk. Only one male was there for more than the clothes, all of the females were there for their boyfriend’s clothes. I let them go through Stephen’s outfit, and made sure that they all knew that they would never get a proper fit out of cotton, that really the outfits had to be wool, and gave a bunch of the tips and tricks we have used over the years. There were almost no questions that I could not answer, which made me feel pretty good, though I do with Stephen had been there. When leaving one of the guys said he was hoping to get an SCA Landsknecht group going. He did not have a business card and with an increasingly tired Percy I was having trouble keeping names straight, but I gave him my business card and told him to let me know, because we always like to engage with people as Landsknecht. I never head back.

Gatsby on the Isles
My favorite event of the last few years has become Gatsby on the Isles. Getting Percy in a little sailor outfit, and Stephen in a summer suit, me in fancy hat and shoes and getting on a boat! What could be better? This year we took not just one friend with us, we took two friends and my parents! My folks don’t really do the dress up thing, but my mom has nice linen dresses with no waist to them, and my dad has linen suits. They both enjoy the Isles of Shoals, picnics, and will do just about anything to spend time with their kids and grandkid. We all met on the docks, and watched the dapper gents and fancy ladies line up to get on the boat. Such amazing outfits! Such gorgeous luggage! When everyone is wearing hats, it really does feel more like a proper outing.

We had more of an idea what to expect this year, so we brought our big basket cooler, some bathing things, and blankets for the picnic. I also brought a bunch of Percy’s toys. This year he was old enough to figure out we were on a boat, and to enjoy the sensation of a new mode of transportation. He loved having his grandparents there, and being able to play in the sun and the water. He is always our ice breaker, we made new friends because he is so darn cute people like to take his picture, ask us questions, and generally enter into conversations in ways they might not normally.

On the island we tucked ourselves into the shadow of the big hotel, and dug in to all the food we’d brought with us. I think only half of what we brought got eaten, and we pretty much ate all afternoon. We listened to the music, strolled through the hotel and on the porch, played with Percy on the playground. We definitely played it cool, and did not exert ourselves all that much. I had brought Percy’s swim trunks, and made myself a kid-of 20s bathing suit, so we brought his watering can and wooden boat down to the water to splash for a bit. Percy’s grandpa took him around to the other side of the island to the other beach too. And before we knew it, it was time to pack up and go. In 2017 I hope to bring more people, and maybe even stay overnight at the hotel.

Trip to Scotland
Just after my busiest event of the year, just before the CT Renfaire, Stephen and I went a little crazy and took a vacation to Scotland! Of course we brought along Percy, even if he’d just started potty training not two weeks before! Now I won’t go into tons of details of our vacation, but we saw a ton of castles, some ancient mounds, and event got to see a small reenactment. My favorite part was definitely the island of Islay (pronounced I-la.) where the villages looked exactly like they were supposed to, and we got to visit an artist’s colony with huge community type garden, and a still operating woolen mill. Yes, I bought fabric. I can’t wait to make something (hopefully two things) out of it. Plus we got tons of cute Percy pictures.

Connecticut Renaissance Faire
CT Faire is still our biggest LH event of the year. We’re out there for 5 weekends: living in camp, making food, caring for the kids, holding demonstrations, interacting with our whole group, and being as close as we can (in the middle of a renaissance faire) to the 16th Century. I missed the first weekend and the first day of the second weekend, then all of the final weekend because of work stuff. It is a good thing I love my work, because I sorely missed being there. This year Percy was clingy, but did not try to kill himself with every camp implement. I could do very little without him being attached to me, but he was fine playing with his historical toys as long as I was playing with him, or very close by.

The best day for me was the day that there were 4 kids in camp. Four kids! We had Percy, and a boy 4 months younger, then we had a four year old and an eight year old. Percy and the 4 year old have been playing together since before Percy could even play. He wears all her historical hand-me-downs. When they get together it is just like cousins, they seem able to pick up where they left off. Since Lilly kept Percy amused, I could sit nearby and do my own thing, instead of having to constantly interact with him, and with Percy to play with that kept Lilly out of the way of all the other women who were working hard. I wish I could say I was a help with all of the kids, but the youngest is fast and motivated, he was a full time job all on his own.

After Faire was over I had to throw myself right back into work, so didn’t get to go out in costume again. But I felt pretty good about all the living history that did happen over 2016. And we got so many cute pictures out of it!

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