On September 15, 2009 museum docents, live interpreters, and living history performers came together at Historic London Town and Gardens in Edgewater to learn about new research on “Best Practices” in the field. Our leader for the event was Dale Jones, founder of Making History Connections, based right here in Maryland.
After watching a slideshow and a 10-minute segment of an informative video, Dale asked us to break into groups, gave each group an identical scenario, and asked that we figure out how to present the situation using whatever “voices” we thought appropriate. Did I mention this scene was supposed to take place in the 19th century? Oh boy.
I had to “act” out this scene playing the injured, and near-coma, young man who had just been hit by a fire engine (and not very convincingly, I was told). I haven’t acted since my senior year in high school last millennium. Luckily we had the very talented Scotti Preston, noted local performer, in our group.
I have a whole new appreciation for the individuals that do this type of historic interpretation. It takes a lot of practice and getting to know your audience. Engaging with the audience, finding common ground with them, knowing your own voice, and intuitively sensing the group dynamic all play into it. And since history isn’t always pretty, controversial subject matter sometimes makes visitors uneasy. Interpreters have to know how to handle it gracefully, and with diplomacy, yet remain “authentic” all at the same time.
Docents, interpreters, performers, historic re-enactors – what are your thoughts on the best practices in this field? Submit a comment below to start the discussion. If you attended the September 15 workshop and have ideas for another workshop, please let us know by emailing us or submitting a comment.
If you missed my cringe-worthy performance, maybe you will get lucky by attending our next (to be determined) training workshop where I promise to deliver an Oscar-worthy soliloquy from a Neil Simon play. On second thought…