The Joys of First Person Interpretation. By Timothy Brown

When people converse, magic happens: they learn about each other. When you are
impersonating someone else, the other is learning about that other person. This is what
historic interpreters do; teach people about another time by being someone else. It is like
acting, but more – the first person interpreter actually does the things as they were done in
their particular era. So, when an interpreter converses with a visitor, they are not really
acting; they have become that person. The visitor has stepped into a different world.
First person takes a lot of work because the persona (or character) has to be developed.
Famous historic people are a little easier because they are “historic” – there are records
about them. The average “Joe” has few to no such records. Therefore, such personae
need to be built. An interpreter may have a name and location, but what did that person
experience at the age of five? This is where one has to step away from documented
history (since there is none on that age), and do some improvisation. This is what
Character Development entails. The interpreter has to “fill in the gaps” while remaining
within the historical context. It is certainly challenging, but very rewarding.
Over time, the interpreter is able to convince others that they are that person – that is the
goal. This comes through, what I call, “honing your character.” Honing takes time – and
practice. I personally have developed five such characters, two of which are used at the
Historic Village at Allaire: the Captain of Militia, and a Blacksmith (I’m now currently
working on the Harness Maker.) The bottom line is that when you have brought your
character/persona to life, and have convinced visitors that you are “real,”Β there is a real
sense of accomplishment and joy, knowing that the visitor leaves having been not only
educated, but also entertained. During last Christmas Lantern Tours, I had a grandmother
convinced that I had been a Constable aboard a steam ship on the Hudson – her
granddaughter set her straight. Again, through development and practice, a not only
plausible, but believable character can be presented to the public. And the goal is to draw
the interest of visitors – so that they tell their friends and want to come back.

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