Friday, August 24, 2012

Historical Interpretation vs Reinactment

When I got ready to take the classes to join the Village's cast of characters, I was not sure if I was considered a volunteer actor, a re-inactor or just someone playing make-believe. As I learned in my classes in preparation, the appropriate term was First Person Interpretation. There are tons of articles, books and sites on the subject, but I wanted put up a quick list of the basic differences between the various types of folk you see in historical sites.


Generally, I’ve seen this very little, since actors usually portray a role with a general script or outline and have not done the research themselves in a lot of cases. This is not a very common situation as I have read.

Historical Re-enactor

The name basically explains the function. This person’s duty first and foremost is to re-enact history. Whether that be a specific event in time, like a certain Civil War battle or a specific person in time, their job is to portray an historical event or persona.

I’ve been told, though no experience personally, that at many camps where guests can visit a reenactment camp, there is no veering from the historically accurate moment. I have also heard that they generally don’t interact with “mundanes” or break character. While this is an experience that can illustrate a very specific time or person, it can be rather difficult to feel involved if you are not a costumed re-enactor yourself.

First Person Interpreter

This is a role that expects the interpreter to take on a persona, usually one they’ve created as a composite of first hand accounts from a chosen time period. Their function is to illustrate what a person of the time experienced and provide a more hands-on method of education. While their roles are more general, the interpreter has the ability to interact with guests, drawing them into the experience of living in the selected period.

Ideally, the interpreter will also not break “character” when interacting with the guests. But, education is key so it is occasionally the case where an interpreter is asked a question that can not be answered in the manner of the character. Involving visitors and bringing them into the moment is essential to the interpreter so welcoming visitors is crucial to their purpose.


Both the Re-enactor and the Interpreter are expected to do a great deal of research. It is quite more involved than “learning about X event”. Many of both groups study a great variety of topics pertaining to their period of choice. The purpose is to give the most authentic portrayal of character possible to achieve their goal of portraying history and educating.

For the interpreter first hand accounts are a great resource to the veracity of their roles. From personal correspondence, to news articles and interviews, they seek a first hand account of life from which to create their composite character and be fully emersed in the world around them.

I will get more into composite character creation in a later post.

But soon...PICTURES!!!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Going Back in Time

Going Back in Time: The Ohio Historical Village

When I was in High School, my theatre teacher was always looking for opportunities for us to get out and get experience portraying characters. She mentioned the local Historical Society had an historic living village that was looking for volunteers for the holidays. I had been there several times over the years with my parents and always loved the experience of walking around the costumed interpreters and feeling like I was living a part of history. When the opportunity was presented to me, I could hardly contain my enthusiasm.

Over the next seven years, I would venture to the Ohio Historical Society a few times a year, get dressed up in bloomers, frocks and bonnets and walk around the village trying to convince families to buy song sheets or flowers for a dime. But, what I loved the most was watching that actual interpreters (the costumed characters that had names and told stories about their lives). They would carry on about various topics, chastise young men and women for wearing short-pants that in the mid 1800’s would have barely been considered drawers. Each of them were committed to drawing in visitors to experience life as a man or woman in the 1860’s.

The Mayor and his wife, the leather smith, the school teacher all kept my attention rapt. Their lovely finery and hoops drew me in, but their tales of what life was like for them. I wanted to know more and it was so much more vivid an example of history than the dusty books I was used to in school. I was learning and I wanted to help others find the same interest someday.

When I heard they were closing the Village due to budget cuts, I was crestfallen. This fascinating way to immerse yourself in history was gone and I was terribly disappointed for the generations of kids that wouldn't get to work in a leather shop or have a brief arithmetic lesson in the school house, all the memories I cherished as a child. It seemed like such a waste of an opportunity to teach in a very hands-on way. It felt like not only the city lost something, but I had as well.

But, after almost ten years later, I heard they were opening the doors again. My heart raced and the normal fear I have with reaching out and trying things at which I might not exceed was trumped by the fear I would miss an opportunity. So, I called and got approved for the first person interpretation class. I jumped at the chance to read, learn and create my own character, finally able to be a costumed interpreter who could help children (and adults for that matter) learn. I was so eager to be part of living history that I had created a persona by the end of my first class!

So, if you'll all indulge me, I will likely post a few entries about the last few weekends as an interpreter at the fantastic Ohio Village!

See you back in 1862!