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sad light infantry private

Don’t just sit there pouting…

Solving romantic troubles is not my forte, but just as your first crush may not be the person you spend your life with, the first living history/reenactment group may not be your last.

Some folks are serial joiners, just as there are people who engage in a series of medium-term relationships: as long as everybody knows what’s going on, things should be fine and no one will be set anyone else’s goldfish free and leave each other twisting in the wind. But some of us want a long-term home in history: what should we consider?

In no particular order, I offer the follow areas to examine:

Communication Style & Frequency
Surprised to discover members of your group at an event you thought they weren’t attending, so you went with someone else? Find yourself alone at an event that people said they were attending, but dropped at the last moment? Just because all life is like middle school, there’s no need to recreate scenes from Gidget in historic clothing: communicate.

Everyone requires different amounts of information, but after considerable time working, I think it’s hard to over-communicate. Folks, if it’s too many emails, hit the delete key. But if you do not get the basics– a list of events and potential attendees, reminders as the event approaches, coordination of food, canvas and powder supplies– and end up powderless and alone at an event, you may want to reconsider your allegiance.

Level of Activity & Engagement
“It’s just event after event after event,” whined the Young Mr last summer, and I hadn’t even made him march to Fort Ti and sleep under a brush arbor. Some people need to mix primitive camping in funny clothes with a few days at the beach, others spend their entire summers living life as old-school as they can. Some perform the classic turn-your-back maneuver described on Peabody’s Lament (pro tip: don’t do that!) while others actively seek opportunities to engage the public. Some like to be in first person, and others are always and only in third person.

Mummers at Major John Buttrick House

How many activities can you fit into your year?

What’s your preference? If you want to try immersive, first-person interpretations, you need a unit that will support that, and opportunities to try it out. And if you want to go out often, you may need some flexibility in time period and activity.

But even beyond the times when you’re dressed in historic clothing and working with the public, you want to be with a group that includes people who are set a variety of RPMs. If you’re all super-intense original garment/gear/methods copying maniacs, you might not be balanced. As a newcomer, you need an environment that mixes challenges and support– like a good kindergarten.

Authenticity Standards
On that super-intense original garment/gear/methods copying theme, if the group doesn’t manage to meet a certain level of authenticity, or is not striving to improve, and to learn and try new things, is that the right group for you? I find that a curious mind is a necessity, one willing to accept that research advances and what we thought was right in the past may be proven wrong.

The other key here is, how does the group help you meet standards? Are there workshops to help you make up kit or improve what you already have? How deep do the standards go: clothing only, or to camp set up? What about how you cook, what you eat, and what you eat it with?

Colonial breakfast on a rock


Are the compromises people make balanced and understood? My family and I ar among the people who go to events in “wearable but not done” clothes, and that’s OK in our world. While we have period shoes, they are not always perfectly correct: the gents wore buckles in 1812 and the Young Mr definitely doesn’t get a second pair of shoes until we know his feet won’t grow larger than they are now….

Interpretation and Imagination
Did you have one, maybe two, really-really best friends in grade school? Did you play dress-up, imaginative games, engage in narrative play? Did you enjoy the school play (and insist on leading the writing of a research-based script)?If you did, you are probably looking for folks who played the way you did as a child.

Esther takes Mr Herreshoff's case to his room

What kind of interpretation do you prefer?

Good interpretation requires that someone in the group have an active and vivid imagination, and that people are willing to take risks. Interpretation is a risk: will this portrayal of a captain’s death, a washerwoman’s trial, a wayward apprentice’s punishment, actual work? Do we trust each other enough to slip into new roles?

Trust is key: will the other people in the group bail you out if you freeze, encourage you if you run with an idea, and meet you in the same moment? You will have to spend time with people to find out how well you can all play together but, happily, you will quickly learn if you cannot. If your questions about who you are, why you are in a place, and if you should be wearing a 1781 coat at a 1777 event are rebuffed, you may need to consider other options.

Another time: What are your options?