Sunday, March 11, 2012

We Take Our Fun Seriously

The above 'headline' is something my good friend, Mike, likes to say. He is, of course, referring to reenacting and of the importance of doing it as correctly as our knowledge will allow.
You see, there are many who only think of this hobby as an opportunity to wear "funny clothes" and do some camping.
And it shows, doesn't it?
I know you know it's much more than that.
But there many - too many - who think that way.
On Saturday the 10th of March we in the 21st Michigan Civilian Contingency had our annual spring period-dress civilian meeting. I really enjoy these meetings; it gives us an opportunity to get into our period clothing during a time when few here in the north country are even thinking about reenacting; our "time travel season" doesn't usually begin until May.
A group photograph of those that dressed in period clothing

We had a number of new people join our group over the winter months - nine new members in all - and six of 'em showed up at my house for the meeting.
Since I am the Civilian Coordinator for the unit I conducted the assembly, though I always welcome commentary and input from other members of the group.
The main topic of discussion was, as usual, presenting ourselves in an authentic manner. I know I sound like a broken record but I feel it's important to drill this into people's heads. And the outcome of this constant repetition over the last few years has been very impressive and productive indeed, for the membership is taking heed and the quality is showing.

Not everyone could dress period, but all were engulfed in the information being shared

I began my speech to the membership with some lines I saw in a presenters guide for Greenfield Village. With a few changes I made it work for the world of the living historian:

Authentic. This is the key word.
You should carefully consider every object before allowing it to become part of your site. It's this type of vigilance that maintains the appropriate period appearance for each and every one of us.
Every object should tell a part of the story. Nothing should be there by accident, and nothing is there that shouldn't support the overall story. If you do this correctly, the signs of the modern world become non-existent. No make up, lip gloss, or nail polish of any kind is to be worn. Jewelry, aside from an emergency bracelet or a wedding ring, must be period appropriate. This means no earrings for the males and no wristwatches of any kind.
Although most of us may not portray an actual named or historical character from the past while at a reenactment, our appearance, action, and manner of speaking attempt to evoke the past. We should be trained in thought and detail to give the visitor the impression that they have stepped into the past
Does this make me compulsive to expect others to feel this way? 
I suppose in a way...but I like to think of myself as being enthusiastic, or even passionate
It is this sort of vigilance that sets the 21st Michigan apart from many of the other units.
And as proof of our diligence in bringing the past to life I'd like to present a few postings from the 2011 reenacting season that involved the civilians (and sometimes the military) members of the 21st Michigan. For instance, we had a shot gun wedding (My Big Fat Shotgun Wedding), schoolchildren shoo'ed out of harms way from the school house because of an imminent battle (as well as showing everyday homelife during the 19th century - Charlton Park: Where the Past Comes Alive), another opportunity to show daily life in 1861 occurred here (My Favorite Place to Reenact), we did a whole recruitment scenario last Memorial Weekend (Civil War Remembrance), we had an opportunity to bring a small historic Michigan Village to life (Historic Village Lantern Tour), and a few of our members even celebrated Christmas authentically - not once but twice at two different places ("Ghosts of Christmas Past" and "Christmas at Historic Fort Wayne"). 
(By the way, the other reenacting group I belong to - the Michigan Soldiers Aid Society (MSAS) - is also a top-notch authentic living history group and were also involved in many of the above event links. The MSAS is planning An Afternoon in the Parlor in a couple weeks and I plan to write an article about that, so please keep an eye out).
This, my friends, is what I consider real living history. This is giving the visitor the impression that they have stepped into the past
This is what gives us as living historians that time-travel sensation we strive for.
And it's the period-dress civilian meetings that help the members get "there."
A few of the young ladies of the 21st Michigan
I mentioned earlier about the new members that joined the 21st Michigan. But just because they are new to our unit doesn't mean they are new to reenacting. Lynn has been in this hobby for nearly 40 years! Her daughter and grandson reenact with her as well and also joined our group.
Another new member (Larissa), who has been reenacting for (I think) 12 to 15 years, regaled us with her hardcore civilian adventure called "Into the Piney Woods." This event took place in Louisiana - three years ago to the date of her telling us the story, and she told how she and four others dressed in their period clothing and ventured into the 'piney woods' to get away from the Yankees, who had entered and terrorized their village. 
"Into the Piney Woods" - before the adventure (photo courtesy of Larissa Fleishman)

For three days and nights three girls and two guys survived in the rain and heat and even cold by their wits, sleeping under a make-shift lean-to made of pine bow tree branches that really didn't give them much protection, eating only the period food they could carry with them, and remaining in 1st person the entire time (nothing modern except medicine for health reasons were allowed so the photos you see are at the beginning and end of their adventure). They spent most of the three days soaked to the skin and could not readily return to their vehicle even if they wanted to, for they were over over six miles deep in the unfamiliar woods from civilization.

"Into the Piney Woods" - after three days of rain, heat, and cold (photo courtesy of Larissa Fleishman)
To portray southern refugees in this manner is about as hardcore as a civilian can get! And yes, there was some crying during the three days.
I admire this group of "civilian campaigners" for what they did. 
Listening to Larissa's tales of "Into the Piney Woods." Larissa is at the window.
Another new member, Sarah, also had a hardcore experience. She and a friend ventured out to an out-of-state reenactment for the first time without their parents. Unfortunately, heavy snow fell and the event was cancelled. The girls, ever vigilant, did their thing anyhow and set themselves up in the snow - even sleeping in the white stuff!
Now, I wouldn't go to either extent of Larissa or Sarah, but I greatly admire both women and their companions for doing what they did. (My hardcore authenticity remains inside period structures or settings rather than portraying a refugee). 
These two ladies are now part of the Civilians of the 21st Michigan. And they, along with our other new members, will fit in wonderfully with the rest of our group.
I am proud!
See? We DO like to have a little fun, too!
By the way, we ended the afternoon with a parlor game of the period called Questions & Answers (or sometimes it's known as Conversations). 
This game is very simple to play and consists of two decks of 100 cards each, one deck containing questions and the other answers. The gentlemen take turns reading questions from one deck and the ladies take turn responding with answers from the other deck. 
Oh! Did we all laugh! Since the women outnumbered the men we had those lovely ladies who were not in period clothing become "men" during the game to even the sides out.
A fine way to end a fine meeting.
Yes, we do take our fun seriously!
By the way, here is a link to a tiny snippet of us playing the game. Many thanks to our very own Kristen - the lady behind the camera - for taking the time to put it all together!


1 comment:

An Historical Lady said...

Excellent Ken!
We can't wait for the 'season'!
Our first event is 'Battle Road'---an annual 'day' rev war reenactment at Minuteman National Park in mid April. With the job/economy/gas problems, we HOPE we can afford to go. (Paid some bills, but just another sale and maybe...!) 'Patriot's Day' reenactment in Lexington is that Monday after, and we at least hope to be able to get to one of those events for the day.
Can't wait to follow your adventures as well~