Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Reenacting Frustrations

My wife, Patty, and our good friend, Jean Cook, are on the cover of the latest issue of "Citizens' Companion" magazine - 'The Voice of Civilian Reenacting.'
It is an honor and a thrill for the two lovely ladies to be on the cover of such a respected magazine, and for me as well, for I was the man behind the camera last year at Waterloo Farm Museum during our Christmas at the Farm presentation. The back cover photograph is also one that I took, though this was at Daggett Farm in Greenfield Village - a scene around 100 years earlier than what's on the front.
Seeing the picture on the cover got me to thinking about that weekend last December and the presentation we did. It was an amazing weekend.
The photo used for the back cover of Citizens' Companion
There were eight of us there and we did our best to give the visitors an immersion experience - to help them feel as if they stepped into Christmas past. We all had an opportunity to interact with the public as well as to demonstrate everyday life. As Mrs. Cook (the woman on the left of the cover photo) said, "It was like being in a Christmas card."
Bringing the past to life is no easy task, mind you, for all participants must be on the same level with the same mindset; nothing would be worse than providing a 1st person atmosphere to a patron only to have one of your own be caught with a cell phone in their hand or to hear their cell ringtone. This not only ruins the moment for everyone else - including the patrons - but pretty much the rest of the day. Yes, this has happened and, unfortunately, probably will happen again. You see, for me it's the cell phone that is the bane of a living historian's existence. Too often I see period dress folk not even try to make an attempt to hide their phones. And when they do make the attempt it's still pretty obvious. But, everyone seems to have a cell - me, too - and too often we will whip it out without a care as soon as we hear a sound coming from it.
Fortunately, I have prepared myself to hopefully prevent this situation from occurring again: before the event begins I will ask, "Are your cells off or on vibrate? Do you know what to do should you feel the need to answer your phone?"
Yep - these'll be my words to the participants for I will no longer tolerate any more of this crap at events where I am the main coordinator.
This is a man portraying President Lincoln. How do you think the public perceives this? Whether you are in a modern parking lot or in authentic surroundings, while in period clothing the living historian should always present themselves as best and as authentic as they can.No, this is NOT Michigan's very own Lincoln, Mr.Fred Priebe!
Oh wait - how about those plastic water bottles? They are as bad as the blasted cell phones! I actually see reenactors walking around with these obscenities more than cell phones! Oh, that's right - it's inconvenient to pour water into a glass, and the water may spill as you walk around.
Do I sound anal? Like a stitch nazi? To be honest, I really don't care.
When something like this occurs it's a reflection on me and/or anyone else who is "in charge."
So, what to do if your phone begins to vibrate (for I am assuming that you were courteous enough to put it on silence)? Quietly and unobtrusively excuse yourself and move off to another room in the house or, if you happen to be outside, out of public viewing (like maybe behind or inside of a tent) and then answer it. If the caller already had hung up or left a message, you can then phone them back should the call be of utmost importance.
It's simple! And no one will be the wiser.
Do you think the good folks that come and see us notice this sort of farby behavior?
You bet they do, and they are making no bones about their feelings. In this latest issue of Citizens' Companion of which I am so proud, editor Connie Payne writes an angry editorial - very unlike Connie to do so, by the way - about this very subject. She speaks of one particular reenactment (she does not state where it took place) and the extreme farb some visitors witnessed, backing their claims with photographic evidence. By the way, what happened in the following snippets from Mrs. Payne's editorial did not take place after hours, but during the event itself:
In a letter she received from a non-reenacting visitor there were complaints of seeing a few young women who were attempting to portray men in uniform; "One had a lip pierced. They laughed, giggled, chatted about how their soccer team had finished the season and made absolutely no attempt at any 1st person impression for the spectators."
In a second scenario she tells of a spectator's husband that wandered off to the military camp  where she found him "sharing a Bud Light Lime with a soldier. Having taken off his kepi and exchanging it for a Cubs ball cap, he had cracked open 2 beers, offering one to (the) husband while giving his very best recruiting speech: 'This is what it's all about man! Killing rebs, sleeping under the stars, and enjoying a cold one with the guys!'"
And in a third 'presentation' - this time in civilian camp - "they were greeted with a family of reenactors sitting under their fly eating Subway" with modern chat and slang, modern kitchen ware, and "a bubbling pot of delicious smelling meat of some sort. When our writer asked the owner of the camp what was cooking, she replied, 'Taco meat!'"
Connie's final line in her editorial was "Friends, tighten it up a little. Please? You are being watched, you are THERE to be watched. Show them, and each other, the 19th century as it was, not as we have distorted it to be."
A woman stands in front of her very patriotic parlor

As for my own personal experiences I have witnessed a portable television set brought to a reenactment, plenty of (ugghhh!) cell phone usage (went over this already), and even laptop computers.
Did I mention that these were all under flys?
I suppose one could say, "I had an emergency. I had to use my cell!"
Well, there certainly are a lot of emergencies, for this is a very common occurrence.
I suppose one could say, "The Red Wings are in the play offs against Colorado. I don't want to miss that!"

Then go home or to a local sports bar. A reenactment is NOT the time or place for you to watch (or listen to) a sporting event on an electronic device.
I suppose one could say, "I had to get work done on my computer!"
Then go inside your tent, not under the fly!!
I suppose one could say, "I have pictures on my phone that I wanted to show him/her because I don't see these people outside of reenactments!"
Then post the dang things on Facebook!
I suppose one could say, "We didn't bring any/enough food for us to eat this weekend. We had to eat something!"
Then stay at the restaurant and eat it there! Don't look foolish by eating Subway or Burger King or whatever under your fly for all to see! My family and I have had hotdogs and burgers at times during reenactments. We do not bring them back to our camp, however, but instead will eat it in the area where it was purchased. Even patrons will understand that you are in a "time-free" zone.
A very realistic scene at Smith's Creek Depot with the Michigan Soldiers Aid Society. This took quite a bit of preparation but we pulled it off!

With so many opportunities to almost literally time travel, it gets pretty frustrating for those of us who put our all into this hobby only to have it ruined by inconsiderate boobs who think of no one but themselves.
I suppose my solace is that I can say truthfully that both units that I am a part of - the Michigan Soldiers Aid Society and the 21st Michigan Volunteer Infantry Civilian Contingency are moving in the farb-free direction, due to some policing by our own membership. That's what it's going to take to cure the living history community of these ills: for us to police our own, for captains, presidents, and organizers to say NO to the farb and to begin pushing for the events to become more progressive. 
Whew! That felt good. Thanks for allowing me to get it out.

A happier more upbeat post next time - - -



An Historical Lady said...

As usual I agree with every word, Ken! I laughed, as well as rolled my eyes at portions of your narrative. I have certainly seen my share of the 'farbs'!
We do a program called 'Dressing A Colonial Lady'. In our contract it explicitly states that an announcement must be made the NO cell phones are allowed in the room, and NO photos may be taken until after the presentation. Some people have 'tsked' with sarcasm and annoyance, but we do not budge. These things certainly do ruin the presentation for others, some who have come great distances to see us.
Your post is fantastic, and I LOVE the photos. Congratulations to you and your wife for the magazine cover too!

Christine said...

Here, here! I'm still working on getting my group to drink out of period appropriate contatiners versus a plastic gatorade bottle. *sigh*

Pam of Eastlake Victorian said...

Glad you got that off your chest, lol!

I'm not a reenactor, but if I went and saw this type of behavior going on, it really would ruin the experience for me. It's like somebody talking behind you in a movie theatre, and you can't get lost in the movie with that going on. Good for you for putting your foot down.

And you always take such lovely photos! I'm sure your photography skills are intertwined with your knowledge of what looks authentic, so you are able to capture only the purest of scenes, which leads to amazingly authentic portrayals.


PvtSam75 said...

Someone who shares my sentiments! I agree with every word, it drives me insane to see blatant use of modern technology at events. I bring my phone with me to events, but it's off and in my tent during the day-I only check it at the end of the day, after the public has left. Everything else, except my camera, stays home.
I wish more people would understand that it IS a big deal to us when people do things like that. Sure, it's partially about sleeping under the stars and drinking with your friends, but there's a time and place for that, and it's not in the middle of an event. I play a male soldier, and I try to remain that way as long as I'm in uniform. I consider it an honor when someone calls me a guy-it means I'm doing my job right!

Another great post, as usual!

Historical Ken said...

Thanks so much everyone. Believe me when I say that I appreciate every word!

Gobae said...

These issues cross through all time periods of reenacting. The Living History Podcast covered this topic back in Aug (2010) with a show entitled Show Stoppers.

Additionally, they had the opportunity to give their impression of reenacting as a member of the public in Being the Public this past July. It's very interesting to be on the other side of the rope-line listen the public's impression. They are more critical of modern items than the self-apologizing reenactors think they are!