Lately, I have felt like a street preacher exhorting people to change their ways.
Feel the power of the primary source.
Behold the possibility in the unknown.
Surrender to uncertainty.
It’s not for everybody, I know. But rethinking reenacting will change not just you and your appearance, but the way you “do” history. The more you dig in, the more you question and change, the more engaged you’ll be—and the more engaged your visitor will be. The more fun you have, the more fun the public will have.
“That’s great, Aunt Kitty,” you say. “But how am I supposed to do that? I’ve already learned rabbtre sous le main and buttonholes and pinning my stomacher and making soap. What more can I do?”
Stop asking how. Start asking why.
Look, I get it. Those 18th century skills are hard to acquire. Tons of people have better skills than I do, and I willingly and happily admit my general incompetence.
Take soap. I cannot make soap. I know that it takes lye and tallow and heat. I know it is slimey and hot and dangerous and vaguely disgusting. (I’ve done my time with tallow candles, thanks.) So I respect the soap.
But honestly, so what? is the question I ask when y’all tell me how to make soap. I want to know why you’re making soap.
Are you selling it? What will you wash with it? How often do you do laundry? Do you share the soap? And if you’re selling soap, how do people know to come to you? Why is your soap better than, say, Bono Brown across the river? He’s cheaper by a penny, why is your soap so special? If you do sell it, what do you do with the money? Are you married? Does your husband drink the profits?
Tell me a story. Tell me why you’re doing something, or why it was done in the past, not just how. Then I might give a damn. But telling me only how a musket works, and not why you have it and where you got it and what you’ll do with it and whether the sergeant yelled at you the last time you failed to clean it and the punishment you got when you failed AGAIN to clean it…. Well, you see what I mean.
Change the question, change the answer, change how people see history.