Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Conference that I Built

I did something a little different earlier this month, I was the sole organizer of a professional conference.

There are professional organizations and conferences for just about everything! And that is true of Living History too. Stephen and I have attended three FPIPN Conferences, two of which I blogged about: Here and Here, and at the end of the last one the organizer asked if there was anyone who would be willing to host the next in two years. At the time I was pregnant, less than 6 months into my new job at the museum, and reluctant to take on any new projects, but even then I knew that I could do it, and that I probably would. Fast forward two years, and here we are, just a few weeks after the 2016 First Person Interpreter’s Retreat of which I was the organizer, communicator, decision maker and host. To say that I will be processing this for a while is an understatement, but I also want to get down some of my thoughts while they are still fresh.

The FPIPN Retreat is usually a two-day retreat, where members of our community help each other out, teach a few of our favorite tricks, commiserate about our tough experiences, and get re-inspired for the upcoming season. My friends and acquaintances, the FPIPN Facebook group, and the parent org’s newsletter shared the call for sessions, and I heard back from people I had never met as well as some of the usual suspects. I only asked pointedly a few people, and amazingly all of those that I tapped were happy to oblige. We got enough session proposals to fill up both Saturday and Sunday, and on an amazing variety of topics: working with kids, visitors, museum management, emotional topics, new programs, unknown historical figures, an abundance of resources, in all sorts of environments. We had a total of 19 different “sessions” or chances to learn about some aspect of first person interpretation.

I changed it up a little by starting on Friday afternoon with some in-character presentations, and a pizza party/Book Group. I am obsessed with finding all the books on Living History, which is still a relatively small number, and with sharing all these great books, so it was fun to pack up my LH library (one shelf in on the bigger history bookcase) into a tub (they all fit in one plastic tub!) and spread them out for conference goers to look through.

I also hired a keynote speaker. There was one at the first conference I attended in 2010 which had been very inspiring, and set the tone of the conference for me. I wanted to do the same this year, and I knew the tone that I wanted to set. I see these retreats as a chance to connect to other roleplayers, and I see my job as a roleplayer to connect my audience to history. I had met a woman out in Chicago who wrote a whole book about doing just that, and I’d seen her interact, she is good, and definitely articulate. I took a big risk, and invited a Renaissance Faire performer to share with all these serious museum folks the power of positive interactions. It turned out great! I heard plenty of good feedback about how A-E was putting into words things that some folks had been thinking about for years and been unable to articulate. Or even if they’d never thought about it, now they would! She added to the weekend’s feeling of comradery and positive learning.

Even before Friday night was over I heard from a Strawbery Banke colleague who came up to me and remarked that before that day she had not really thought of herself as belonging to a community, but this conference, in just the first few hours had shown her that there is a community of costumed history folks, and she is a part of it. The reenactors who attended told me they found it interesting, the museum people said they learned quite a bit. Event Stephen said he has new ideas for the upcoming year, some of which came up in the presentation that he lead, that he’d never thought about before! And many people remarked on how they had made quite a few new friends this weekend. I’m not sure it gets much better than that.
The crowd for our keynote.

Out and about in Portsmouth. Having way too much fun. Photo by A_E Shapera.

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Friday, March 11, 2016

Living History in 2015 through Cute Baby Photos

What did I do in 2015 that was Living History related? I learned a heck of a lot. Mostly about what it is like to reenact with a baby, and about what I can do even in a low-energy year.  in the early summer I shared a little bit about Early Modern Muster of Arms, and then a bit more about all the activities in June, but then I lost blog writing momentum. I don’t want to bore anyone with event recaps, but I think it will be valuable to look back on last year and remember what mattered at the time. These are not necessarily in the order they took place, I admit the summer has rather blurred over the winter. With plenty of cute baby photos to keep you interested.

Great Northeastern War
For the past ten years I have mostly been a history event participant, and not an event attendee. Just attending an event with very little to do while there other than dress up, walk around and soak up the atmosphere drives Stephen batty, but in 2015 I’ve learned to enjoy it a little more. We went up to an SCA event in Maine on a hot weekend this summer on my urging. I was hoping to meet more local history people. My history friends are scattered all over New England, and the travel is rough on Percy so on of my goals this past summer was to stick closer to home, but more importantly, make more history friends.

So we drove very far into Maine. Okay, not close to home but this is a big event for all those from New England who are members of the SCA, and I knew at least some of the attendants live pretty close to us. Since it was an SCA event everyone who attends is a participant, but we did not take part in the fighting, archery, displays, teaching classes. We did not spend much money in the shops, attend many classes, nor did we camp out. That was probably the biggest mistake, we should have camped which would have given us something to do and a base of operations. It also meant I missed the dancing in the evening, when we were back at the motel trying to get Percy to sleep. Stephen was fairly restless with all this walking around, sitting, and observing, but has agreed to try again this year if we set up our encampment with all of our usual camp activities to keep him (and us) occupied.

Newport Illumination
Another far away event! We drove down to Newport, RI to participate in a day-time event to celebrate the arrival of L’Hermione on the east coast. I wanted to do this one because it was hosted by a LH friend who has been doing a lot of good events, and because those in attendance have the reputation for being seriously good reenactors without taking themselves too seriously. There were about a dozen of us in a nice old building mostly interacting with people who came in off the street and had no idea what to expect. There were two kids plus Percy, who crawled around, played with toys, and did not manage to nap until an hour before the event ended. I learned quite a bit about French occupied Newport, RI and did make some contacts in the reenacting world. Plus I got some super cute photos of Percy, which is always important.
Percy says "We're celebrating Illumination!"
Photo from Newport Historical Society

At the end of the day, Daddy's shoulder is the best.
Photo from Newport Historical Society

Hillsboro Living History Event
I’d been to this one before, some years ago but not in costume. When preparing for my own events at the Museum I got in touch with the organizers, who were nice enough to invite me up to one of their meetings. This event is organized by a volunteer committee who were super nice, and very dedicated to the event. After they shared so much I thought the least I could do is enjoy myself at their event. Stephen had something else on his schedule, so I was joined by Kristina, my trusty companion in historical adventures and Percy came along too. Since this is a multiple time-period event Kris and I chose to pull out our regency dresses that we never get to wear. I found a little white dress for Percy at a thrift shop and he wore his medieval underclothes as the base. We got a ton of compliments from envious participants and volunteers as we strolled along looking regal (and cool) in our light dresses. This year I made a lot more contacts among the reenactors and performers. I even hired a few at the museum this past winter. Percy proved to be a great ice breaker. He wanted to play in every single water bucket we passed, and since most encampments had a fire, they almost all had buckets of water placed on the ground in the middle of their camps. We had many nice conversations with encampment inhabitants while Percy splashed around with his wooden spoon and horn bowl in their buckets. Then when Percy got tired, we headed out, no sense in tiring everyone out!
Kris and Percy in History Jail
Photo by Alena Shellenbean
In the shade at a friendly encampment
Photo by Kris Skillin

Gatsby on the Isles
I think the theme of this year was relaxed events were we dress up and have fun. This one fulfilled the theme admirably. Stephen got to wear one of his tailored suits, I actually managed to sew something, and Percy’s grandma stitched him up the cutest little sailor suit. We put on our spiffy duds, drove in to town, and took a lovely boat ride out to Star Island. There was picnic food, a jazz band, a turn of the century hotel, splashing in a little pool, and making new friends. I appreciated this event not just as a chance to dress up Percy, but also since it is right in my back yard I got to meet really local people who love history. We had never been out to the Isles of Shoals; being on the boat was fun and I got to check that item off my list of local things I had to do. Exploring the old hotel was great because unlike most hotels, this one really has not been modernized a lot. The rooms were small, with bathrooms at the end of the hall. No plush queen sized bends, but the twin beds were under windows of lacy curtains, with wash stands in each room and a feeling that they were totally real. We did not spend the night (baby and limited finances) but came back on the afternoon boat. We still had a lovely time, made new friends, and determined to bring more people next year.
Percy Sets Sail. Photo by Julie Stickler
Picnic on Star Island. Photo by Julie Stickler

New York Renaissance Faire
2015 was the first year that the New York Renaissance Faire has had a group set up a Landsknecht encampment. The organizers of this new encampment contacted us last year, and we were more than happy to share our knowledge, sense of humor, and even some of our hand-me-downs! We traveled out to New York for their opening and closing weekend to lend our support and experience. For opening weekend we brought with us some items we’ve upgraded that were still perfectly good: water pitchers, chamber pots, serving trays; and we gave them a box full of the modern “necessities” that we’ve used over the years: sun screen, travel clock, first aid kit, trash bags, duct tape, extra rope, so many useful things that we packed the little wooden box to bursting. During the day we worked our normal magic: welcoming faire patrons, going over the basics of life in the Renaissance, explaining what exactly is a Landsknecht. Since the folks forming the new guild had never done anything like this before they were finding their feet on everything: cooking, tent set-up, educating the public, sticking to a schedule. We could not help with everything, but we could be there in our cool clothes, answering questions and walking around with the cute babies.

We enjoyed ourselves so much we came back the last weekend too! Actually our main reason was our friends from the Bristol Renaissance Faire were going to be there, and since NYRF is practically in our back yard (hah, when did a 4.5 hour drive start feeling like noting?) at least compared to a trip to Milwaukee we went to visit both our old friends from Bristol and our new friends from NYRF. And dress up in a baby-friendly history environment.

Connecticut Renaissance Faire
I really did look forward to getting down to deeper history. I wanted to do some real education, and use all that I know, but I ended up feeling pretty detached again this year. The rest of the Guild had a great year, a number of new members stepped up, we got into religion quite a bit, and made our meal time in the middle of the day even more historical. We also had a ton more kids in camp. We’ve had one or two before but this year we had children aged: 1 year, 1.5 (Percy), 4, 6, 7, & 8. Not all at once, but having at least three kids running around under foot while the women cooked and cleaned, the men worked with weapons or gambled, etc. made the camp feel totally alive. The older kids played with toys, with each other and with visitors. I mostly chased Percy while he tried to run into the fire, drown himself in water buckets, choke on tent ropes, grab kitchen knives, eat black powder, knock over swords,  and generally harm himself in the most historical ways imaginable. Sure I talked with visitors, but I never really felt like I was able to do more than half-heartedly answer the same old questions while mostly keeping Percy from damaging himself or others. Hopefully next year when he is a little older he’ll be a little less inclined to kill himself, and I might even have found a helper to keep an eye on him so I can get back to cooking, gossiping and pondering the historical subjects I like to ponder.
Percy tries out the guild's new wheelbarrow. Photo by Julie Stickler
I'm not making a mess! Photo by Alena Shellenbean

In Conclusion
What did I get out of Living History in 2015? An appreciation for the opportunities to just attend instead of being an organizer and doer. I missed getting deeper in to history, but I’d rather think about it as toddler-level history, and grow-up level networking. I’m laying the ground work for 2016 and beyond.

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