Elementary reenacting question

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James B White

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Some quick background: I'm planning to attend a few nearby events to introduce my dog to reenacting without a long car trip and camping overnight for her first few times out. Yes, I'm checking that they're dog-friendly events. I'm experienced at reenacting but inexperienced at these kinds of typical small-town events, and I'll be alone, a stranger, among reenactors who understand all the unwritten rules of etiquette that I don't.

I'll be portraying a civilian, so no involvement in the battle or drill. I'm mainly interested in intepreting history to the public, which I'm comfortable with.

But I can't figure this out: How do you tell when, if ever, you're supposed to interact with other reenactors as the person you're portraying, vs. when you're supposed to interact as your modern self?
 

unionblue

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Some quick background: I'm planning to attend a few nearby events to introduce my dog to reenacting without a long car trip and camping overnight for her first few times out. Yes, I'm checking that they're dog-friendly events. I'm experienced at reenacting but inexperienced at these kinds of typical small-town events, and I'll be alone, a stranger, among reenactors who understand all the unwritten rules of etiquette that I don't.

I'll be portraying a civilian, so no involvement in the battle or drill. I'm mainly interested in intepreting history to the public, which I'm comfortable with.

But I can't figure this out: How do you tell when, if ever, you're supposed to interact with other reenactors as the person you're portraying, vs. when you're supposed to interact as your modern self?
James,

I think a lot of it has to do with whatever first person impression you intend to make. I am doing civilian reenacting now as a news reporter for an Ohio newspaper. I stay in first person with other reenactors, trying to get their "stories" (name, unit, hometown, etc.) which I put into my notebook. You may want to portray some other type of civilian impression from a sutler, Christian Commission representative, preacher, farmer, tradesperson, state representative or political figure, doctor, the field is wide open for you to decide.

When I talk to spectators, I can decide if I want to keep in my first-person role or "step out" and don a 21st century guide persona. It really depends on the situation, but this method seems the easiest for me.

You'll figure it out.

Sincerely,
Unionblue
 

James B White

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I think a lot of it has to do with whatever first person impression you intend to make. I am doing civilian reenacting now as a news reporter for an Ohio newspaper. I stay in first person with other reenactors, trying to get their "stories" (name, unit, hometown, etc.) which I put into my notebook. You may want to portray some other type of civilian impression from a sutler, Christian Commission representative, preacher, farmer, tradesperson, state representative or political figure, doctor, the field is wide open for you to decide.
Thanks for your reply! I'm portraying a slave catcher who's quitting the business early-war or has quit late-war, but it gives me an excuse to talk to anyone about the local area, politics, how the war has changed things, and eventually get to my main purpose of interpreting that the Olde South wasn't all moonlight and magnolias and happy loyal slaves. It also means I can start out as just a random farmer passing through with his dog making small talk, then take it only as far as the other person seems comfortable.

I'd love to stay in first person with other reenactors, which is what I'm used to, but it doesn't seem to work. I can clue in members of the public by dropping a few hints if they don't immediately get it, but what do you do when reenactors simply can't or won't understand?

While in period clothes waiting to get my picture taken at Guyandotte, I tried talking to a union soldier and started by asking him how recruiting was going in the area, knowing the union men were portraying soldiers there recruiting. He thought I meant modern recruiting. I dropped hint after hint: Wasn't he here in Virginia [not West Virginia] recruiting? I said my dog was a little over a year old, born last spring in 1860. Most spectators would have gotten it, but he still insisted on talking about modern things--other reenactments, his modern life. And that seemed to be typical of many reenactors--no clue and no interest in a period portrayal. So it seemed that a period portrayal around other reenactors was not the right thing.

There's also the problem when they suspect you're portraying someone and insist on modern answers: "No, where are you really from? Is that your real name?" (I don't mean at registration, etc. where real info is needed, but just during small talk.) Or: "What other events have you been to?"

Do you say, "That is my real name," or, "Not sure what you mean by events; I was at the county fair last month," the way the person you're portraying would? But they don't give up. I get the idea that you're supposed to drop the portrayal as soon as anyone expects you to, so it almost seems easier/better just not to start and save it for spectators.

But I wondered if maybe there was a social cue from reenactors that I wasn't understanding, to indicate when a period portrayal was okay.
 
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unionblue

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Thanks for your reply! I'm portraying a slave catcher who's quitting the business early-war or has quit late-war, but it gives me an excuse to talk to anyone about the local area, politics, how the war has changed things, and eventually get to my main purpose of interpreting that the Olde South wasn't all moonlight and magnolias and happy loyal slaves. It also means I can start out as just a random farmer passing through with his dog making small talk, then take it only as far as the other person seems comfortable.

I'd love to stay in first person with other reenactors, which is what I'm used to, but it doesn't seem to work. I can clue in members of the public by dropping a few hints if they don't immediately get it, but what do you do when reenactors simply can't or won't understand?

While in period clothes waiting to get my picture taken at Guyandotte, I tried talking to a union soldier and started by asking him how recruiting was going in the area, knowing the union men were portraying soldiers there recruiting. He thought I meant modern recruiting. I dropped hint after hint: Wasn't he here in Virginia [not West Virginia] recruiting? I said my dog was a little over a year old, born last spring in 1860. Most spectators would have gotten it, but he still insisted on talking about modern things--other reenactments, his modern life. And that seemed to be typical of many reenactors--no clue and no interest in a period portrayal. So it seemed that a period portrayal around other reenactors was not the right thing.

There's also the problem when they suspect you're portraying someone and insist on modern answers: "No, where are you really from? Is that your real name?" (I don't mean at registration, etc. where real info is needed, but just during small talk.) Or: "What other events have you been to?"

Do you say, "That is my real name," or, "Not sure what you mean by events; I was at the county fair last month," the way the person you're portraying would? But they don't give up. I get the idea that you're supposed to drop the portrayal as soon as anyone expects you to, so it almost seems easier/better just not to start and save it for spectators.

But I wondered if maybe there was a social cue from reenactors that I wasn't understanding, to indicate when a period portrayal was okay.
James,

Nope, no real 'clue' that I can think of. I really think it depends on the depth in which some reenactors are willing to go with a first-person impression vice those who come out to simply burn powder.

You seem to have the right idea. Just keep hoping you meet some fellow reenactors with the same amount of dedication to their art as you have.

Good luck,
Unionblue
 

phil1861

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It's really going to depend on the quality of the reenactor you encounter and how they carry themselves while in "camp". At the smaller venues it might be a toss up if there's going to be a scripted powder burner battle or not as to what type of reenactor you'll encounter there.

If they are hiding plastic coolers and talking modern events you can bet they aren't prepared to carry on period conversation with another reenactor. Unless the unit has a strict first person immersion rule while out in the field (short of sutler row) you'll have a harder time engaging. But, I'd say keep at it as you might just make someone's day be dragging them into the period when they least expect it.

One of the Confederate characters in my novel series was a slave catcher, sort of a challenge I took on to produce a protagonist with a handicap right off the bat for the modern reader. Interesting way of trying to escape the obvious stereotypical characterization for that type of representation. Not wholly sympathetic, not wholly evil.

I'd be interested to hear how you've carried your own characterization on in first person.
 
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James B White

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Thanks everyone! Sounds like just starting with a period greeting and feeling to see where it goes, without any expectations, is good advice--which I'll put to use in a couple weeks.
 

James B White

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Well, hoped I'd have something exciting to report, but I made the mistake of choosing an event without checking to see how many spectators it typically got, and this one got very, very few. I did learn though that I'm completely clueless what it's all about, as far as why other reenactors do what they do when there are no spectators. It just seemed like any modern group of campers, except in different clothes with different tents, so I couldn't understand the purpose of the different clothes and tents. As the saying goes, "if you have to ask what jazz [or this kind of reenacting] is, you'll never know," so I guess I'll never know, LOL!

Someone said they liked my impression, which was very sweet of them and I thanked them, but my initial thought was, but I'm not doing an impression yet. I'm waiting to find someone who wants me to.

I'll look for other events nearby with more spectators, but as far as interacting with reenactors, guess I'll need to stick with the kind of events farther from home that I'm used to, where I can expect that people's appearance will match their behavior, so I can comprehend what it's all about.

You might look into joining some of the civilian organizations such as the Atlantic Guard etc.
Anyone know of a group in the eastern Kentucky/southern Ohio/western WV area that enjoys accuracy for its own sake as much as for spectators, and has civilians?
 
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In camp, with fellow unit members, our conversations, as any conversation will by nature, "drift" from "modern" to "historical" and back.....When the "public" comes around to talk to us, we go into "First Person" mode. They, and we, have fun with it!!.....Now, when another reenactor comes to visit, we will respond to them in the same manner as they engage us. To us, the "clue" is in the way we are spoken to, and we will respond in kind....It's a courteousy that we extend, as we welcome all visitors and will talk with them and answer any questions.....
Thanks for your post!!.....Hope to see you around sometime!!
 
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Here's an idea, BUT clear it with the Registration people and Administrators of the event, that way, they, and Officers, will know what you're doing: You and your dog can portray the owner of the land that the Armies occupy. You hope they leave soon, without damaging your house and crops. You want to know who will compensate you for fences that were destroyed, trees cut down, damage to your crops....Who will remove the dead, as you don't want them buried "here".....etc......Maybe you could be scheduled to speak to the public at the activities tent.....
 
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