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Re-enactors (was Re: [EK] Operation Renaissance Persona)

Poster: Karen@agent.infodata.com (Harris, Karen)

Anarra wrote:

> I've been to Plimoth Plantation, where everyone is 'in persona' all the 
> time. I hated it. I hated the 'actors' there speaking as if they had no 
> idea what I was talking about.  I'd ask a question about life in that 
> time, and if it contained words they wouldn't have known back then, they 
> pretended they didn't understand.  That's stupid and insulting and 
> doesn't teach any history, which is theoretically the point of the whole 
> thing.
> While I don't suppose for a moment you mean anything like the level of 
> persona they do at Plimoth, perhaps you can understand why I am so wary 
> of movements for us all to be 'in persona' at events.
> (And just imagine the chaos of trying to stay in persona when speaking 
> to someone 500 years your junior!  :-)

I used to work at the Claude Moore Colonial Farm at Turkey Run, which 
(back when I worked there used to) re-enacts life on a 
substinence-level farm in 1771.  _Every_ year was 1771.  The fashions 
never changed; every season brought the same news as it did the year 

My outfit was based on the meticulous research of volunteers who had 
put together literature years before I began working there.  I wore a 
linen shift, a set of stays, a petticoat, an apron, a kerchief to 
keep the sun off my neck, a little white cap, and a straw hat with a 
little bit of maroon-colored ribbon on it -- my one real concession 
to vanity.  During the summer, I went without shoes or socks.  The 
few times I was able to work in the winter, I wore a wool petticoat 
over my linen petticoat, as well as a wool cloak.  My "persona," if 
you would call it such a thing, was (most of the time) a daughter of 
the tenant farmer.

We ate food prepared on the farm *that day* by the "farm mother" -- 
often using what we could pick from the crops, but sometimes cheating 
and using produce brought in from an offsite storage area -- and was 
prepared over a fire, in the log cabin.  The dishes and cups and 
other tableware was all handmade.  I had my very own tin cup and my 
very own bowl.  Before meals, the "father" would say a period 
grace.  When it was time to wash up after meals, we used loofah 
scrubbers, hot water warmed over the fire, and a bit of the lye soap 
made on the farm.

Most of my time was spent as scenery -- weeding in the fields, 
planting, feeding the animals (which were all period breeds).  I did 
get to interact with the farm patrons at times -- generally when I 
was up by the house -- showing how to work the butter-churn, the few 
games we had at the house (quoits was a particular favorite), or 
mending clothing.  If someone asked me a question I wouldn't have 
understood, either because I personally didn't know the answer or I 
as an eighteenth century farmer's daughter didn't know the answer, I 
would have politely referred them to my father and mother, who would 
certainly know a great lot more about the world than I do.

For special events, I would work at a milliner's shop, and I worked 
as an apprentice milliner.  I mostly sewed ribbons, flowers, and 
feathers to straw hats.  The only real change in my outfit is that I 
would wear a peach-colored short jacket on top of everything else; 
sometimes some flowers or a nice pin at the front of the jacket; 
still no shoes.

For all this, I attended full-day training sessions at least once a 
year.  I also made (or helped make) most of my outfit; I had to take 
special care to make sure that no machine-sewing showed on my 
clothing.  (That's how I got so good at hand-hems, if you were 
wondering ...) ;) As a farmer's daughter, I knew how to do two 
things in sewing -- seams and hems.  As a milliner's apprentice, I 
knew several other fancy stitches, especially those I needed to 
ornament straw hats with ribbons and flowers and feathers, and enough 
embroidery to be truly dangerous.  ;)

Now, why am I telling you about all this?  Consider this a *glimpse* 
of the life of a re-enactor who is "performing" for patrons.  While I 
did speak to the patrons at times, I did my best to be careful to use 
words that someone would have known 200+ years ago, and that would 
have been appropriate for someone of my station.  I understood that 
my duty -- no matter what I had been assigned to do that day -- was 
to maintain the illusion that the year was 1771, and Virginia was a 
colony and we were all quite loyal to King George and England, 

Sometimes I think about going back to working with Turkey Run Farm.  
It would take a huge investment -- both in terms of time and money 
-- and that sort of investment is what I've currently committed to 
being involved in the SCA.  (I'm done with ALL of the napkins now, 
BTW!!)  I really got disillusioned last time I was up there for a 
special event.  The old log cabin was quite dilapidated; most of the 
furniture had been moved to the "new house," which had since burned 
down.  While there were many children re-enactors, most were wearing 
modern shoes, many were talking about VERY modern things, and a lot 
of the fields looked like they hadn't seen crops in ages.  Downright 
depressing ...

Yours in Service to the Dream,

Karen Larsdatter
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