Julie, JulieInTheGreen, "Squire!" (brickhousewench) wrote in reenacting,
Julie, JulieInTheGreen, "Squire!"

Discussion Question - First or Third person?

When you're doing events with your reenactment group and are speaking to the public, are you doing first person (I like to drink beer) or third person (They drank a lot of beer in period because the water wasn't safe to drink)?

I'm looking for a couple of folks who do first person whose brains I can pick. I'm trying to wrap my brain around why my persona would be explaining things (cooking, sewing) that should be things that everybody knows in our time period. Any excuse would do. I just need something to help me over a mental block.
  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

I think re-enactment in Britain as a whole settles down comfortably into third-person because we don't have the set-up to do first-person in the same way. Although, that is a broad generalisation so I shall narrow it down: Napoleonic re-enactors stick to third-person, though I would LOVE to be able to do first person, but a weekend camp doesn't lend itself to that type of presentation/interpretation.
a weekend camp doesn't lend itself to that type of presentation/interpretation.

I'm curious why you say that. I think of being "in first person" as similar to acting. You're a character for the day. How to you interpret it?
There is that, and yes, it is. But there is also the education - if you're doing first-person interpretation, you must have some method of answering anachronistic questions (which people do like asking).

We don't have the set-up in the UK to educate people how to approach first-person sites - we don't have those sites. A weekend event in the US would (I understand) work much better, at least for certain periods or in certain places, because both the re-enactors and the visitors know how to approach each other and more or less what to expect.

In the UK, where we do have a lot of history and historical houses, people are shown around by English Heritage or National Trust guides in smart modern dress who can answer questions about the property but in terms of 'this happened here, so-and-so had the painted on this occasion' - not re-enactment at all, as we use the term.

And visitors to events are used to that, so they approached a 'costumed re-enactor' (which is often what is printed in the programme) and ask their questions with reference to the modern-day. We would need a great deal of education for all parties for first-person to work at all.

Bearing in mind that I'm speaking as a Napoleonic re-enactor whose only experience of other periods has been meeting them at multi-period events, I do hope that I'm wrong and that first-person does exist. And admittedly, the Napoleonic era, in terms of its interpretation and re-enactors, is stuck in the Dark Ages.


6 years ago


6 years ago

Agreed with sharpiefan that I've found most Napoleonic dos overwhelmingly third-person. (A major factor being that otherwise there's always at least one smartarse who thinks it's terribly witty to demand to know why we're not speaking French. :P)

I've seen some excellent first-person interpretation done for several time periods, but consider a standard third-person job to be far less risky. FP has more of a tendency to fall flat on its face if it's not done very well.

It depends on individual event logistics, too. At one event I was doing ECW LH, and as it happened, the knowledge and expertise of the males on the site was based around civilian life, whereas all the females were usually (or former) fighters. As a consequence, any MOP wanting info on the muskets and so forth was promptly directed to the lasses in skirts, where first-person discourse on the big bangy things wasn't really an option. ;)
Hey - a bit OT, but are you guys doing Detling, or is the NA putting on an event of their own over August bank holiday weekend?

Because we've just found out, as of last night, that a couple of us will actually be going to Detling... :D


6 years ago


6 years ago

there's always at least one smartarse who thinks it's terribly witty to demand to know why we're not speaking French

We just say that the Hautmann has the Fahnlein under orders to speak English while we're in England. It helps that we spend a lot of workshop time working on our German accents. Everytime someone asks me if my accent is real or if I'm really German, I do a little Happy Dance inside. ;-)

any MOP wanting info on the muskets and so forth was promptly directed to the lasses in skirts, where first-person discourse on the big bangy things wasn't really an option.

That's hilarious!

Luckily, there is documentation from our timeperiod of women 1) marching around behind hills with pikes during negotiations to make the army appear larger than it was and 2) reloading arquebuses for the men during battle. So our approach is that we're sort of like the US Marines, everyone in the Fahnlein carries a pike, and we're all able to answer weapons questions.


6 years ago


6 years ago


6 years ago

I do third mostly.

Why not act surprised that they do not know these things.... everyone should know the basics so why do these odd foreign visitors know so little?
I'm fine during the rope line interactions, it's getting into the right head space for our scheduled demos that is giving me fits. We were talking about actually scripting our cooking demo, and for the life of me, I just can't wrap my brain around what we'd say. I knows that there are modern women whose cooking skills consist or ordering carry out and using the microwave, but Magda thinks that all women know how to cook...


July 22 2010, 10:33:23 UTC 6 years ago Edited:  July 22 2010, 10:34:31 UTC


Could you borrow neighbours, friends and/or work colleagues, put on a mini-event for them, and tape it? And transcribe the tape - or the answers to the questions.

Though scripting anything can lead to stagnation. The spontaneity of talking to the public is one of the things I absolutely adore about this hobby! (I told you guys about the woman, her son, the water and the thick green pond-scum, I know I did! :D )


6 years ago

I find the clothes they wear so strange... I can't believe women could ever dare to show so much leg in public. *G*
While I don't reenact, my former job was essentially a paid reenacting gig for the American Civil War. For the entire job, it was third person. This was to keep the visitor from feeling awkward or from us looking completely stupid ("Wow, what's that thing flying overhead?"). However, I did indulge myself personally in first person for our Civil War Adventure Camp where I played either a sergeant or officer. While we were not part of any unit (and usually officer and sergeant were on opposite sides), I styled myself after the 6th Virginia (a unit from my hometown area of Virginia Beach) and the 62nd Pennsylvania (a unit where I had an ancestor fight). The other staff member I worked with kinda did the same thing and we played off of each other. For instance, I was always Union when I was an officer so my first sergeant would be Confederate. My usual cohort had ancestors who fought under Jackson in the valley so we would banter back and forth about Virginians versus Pennsylvanians and the like.

The most enjoyable part for us was when we had enough guests to require a third staff member. We usually had an African-American co-worker who either played a slave or "my" contraband who did all the food preparation. It was especially humorous when we talked about her being a "belly warmer" for the Confederate lieutenant and we got some serious looks from the adults. Totally worth it.

So my thoughts are if you can pull of first person, then I guess at least try because it can be loads of fun. If not, don't sweat it with third person.
Our group has been doing first person since we formed a year ago. But we're upping the effort for our next event. a five week encampment at a renn faire this fall. *sighs* I'm finding that the amount of research involved to portray an ignorant peasant is a bit daunting. But fun.

Since we're smack in the middle of the Protestant Reformation, some of our best interactions have been around religion. Which is always a touchy subject to try to bring up for discussion. But we've got plenty of items (paternosters, religious iconography) around camp that are there just to get the patrons to ask "What's that?" and spark the conversation. I got such a huge kick out of starting to talk about my paternoster at MTT and proclaiming that we were good followers of the Holy Mother Church, unlike the followers of that mad monk, Luther, and being able to figure out exactly when I was talking to Lutherans by the expressions on their faces. Hee!
Indeed! To get those reactions are priceless. Going back to my story, the kids never got the belly warmer bit but the adults always grew their eyes big like "Woah! What is going on here?"

Especially sensitive topic like religion is something all of us can relate to. And remember, you are living in the moment, so you don't know how things are going to play out. You don't know that England will eventually set up its own church through the monarchy. That's what makes it fun is that the guest knows what happened and you have no idea what is going to happen.


6 years ago

That sounds like so much fun! I'm going to meet up with a couple of other guys from my unit and see if we can try to do something first person at one of our events. I'm hoping to be pleasantly surprised...
You just gotta do your research. What kind of "person" were you? What is your family background? What vocation do you come from? It can be a tremendous amount of fun for you and your fellow reenactors. Do it right and it can be a real treat.
I do first person whenever I can. It's a much better way, IMO, to get the feel of the period across to the public. When you are doing third person, the public knows they are talking to someone in 'costume' and they interact on the same level. First person allows you to show the public what a huge gap there is between today's mindset and technology and that of the past.

But to do it right, you have to get the mindset. You have to be able to leave the comfort zone of the 21st century and live the way they did without the conveniences that we now have. I don't think you can do accurate 1st person during the day and go to a hotel, or modern tent, or airmattress and sleeping bag at night. The break in the mindset confuses you. You have to sleep on the straw sack, chop wood and start a fire instead of going out for coffee and donuts, deal with foul weather without resorting to goretex and fleece. You have to be willing to completely ditch your modern notions of politeness and political correctness. Some people will be upset, but I've had some of the best interactions with the public when I've been speaking of filthy papists or uncivilised, savage Irish.

I'm working on a new persona, a 15th century Routier, robbing, raping, and surviving my way across France, after the defeat at the battle of Chatillon. Living rough, without tent whenever possible, living on beans and 'stolen' meat, and generally being the epitome of everything the French hated the English for being. I have no doubts that it will cause problems, both with the public and with some event organisers. But, to my mind, it is the willingness to deal with the things things that people would prefer to forget that makes a good first person interpreter. Working with only the good things does not give the public the sense of separation from the modern world. Cooking, doing dishes, sewing, even chopping wood, are too much like their regular world. They can relate to it. Show them the things they cannot relate to, even recoil from, and they will get a much better sense of the history.
Yep, I agree with you about trying to get into the mindset (although you carry it a little further than I'm ready to just yet....). It's surprising how dry my feet were during the rain in my period shoes, and I'm really starting to love the waterproof qualities of well fulled wool. (Note to self, must wash fabric for my new cloak again...)

I already sleep in the tent, although I haven't quite gotten brave enough to try wholly period bedding as I really need my beauty sleep or I'm ugly at events. ;-) And one of the things that I enjoyed the most this spring was the amount of time I spent splitting firewood. For whatever reason, I found it oddly therapeutic. Now I want to learn how to start a fire with flint and steel.

Oh, and I'll probably be over to visit the artillery camp at Pennsic.
Oh, I camp out in a tent, but I've given up on sleeping direct on the ground. I just don't understand some people, though - if you're not even going to try for the look of it, why bother doing it at all?!

(Which reminds me - I think I ought to take a look at my boots and see how the hobnails are holding out...)
I like cmerun12's answer, and I find I slip into that mindset at public events. First person moreso comes out when speaking to children and describing, say, close combat in WWI or why I look like I'm enjoying a tin of oily fish. However, I find I slip into 3rd person academic mode with the inquisitive adults.

I think first person has a tendency to bring out the abominable stage actor in reenactors. Hamming it up in front of spectators may be a good way to get them interested in your camp [which, granted, is imperative at events like MTA if you want judges to look favorably on you], but the pratfalls and goofy jokes that I see from a lot of first person types really take away from the historical context of what they're trying to portray.

For private events, though, I highly encourage first person. When you're not putting on a forced show for a crowd, getting "into it" becomes a lot more natural. It feels a little awkward at first, but if everyone else is on board it makes the transition away from the present time much easier.
Actually, thinking about it, I do first person a lot more when talking with kids - it's just a lot more natural with them, for some reason. And it's impossible to do first person to a bunch of adults if everyone else in kit is doing third-person.

I think I've only done one private event - which was great fun - but again, the other guys there just didn't bother with creating personas. They were very much themselves in kit having fun, whereas I would LOVE to do a private event with folks in character.
Talking to kids is so much easier, because the don't know as much as adults, and they're willing to play along!

Our group may be unusual in that our founder is an experienced director and many of our members are refugee actors. When you have that many experienced theater folk, first person sorta comes naturally. As one of the non-actors in our group, I'm struggling with character a bit. Maybe if I had more acting experience it would be easier. *shrugs* But I'm putting in my work on character development, and my accent is pretty decent, so I'm sure it will all fall into place eventually.

*Whines* But I want it now! *end whine*
I'm not sure that I think of it as acting. More like a volountary multiple personality issue. Acting, to me, is following a script or adlibbing, but always with the awareness that this is not really me, but something put on for the public. I try to take it deeper than that, and do my best to sever the ties to the 21st C me and what goes with that. The more I can ignore reality and disappear into the persona, the happier I am.

Don't get to do it at Pennsic, I'm afraid. I'll keep the camp period, but it's hard to maintain persona when you are attached to a radio and a golf cart. Come on by the camp. First week I could be anywhere, second week, chances are I'll be at camp or on top of Mt. Eislin. Of in the AM for staff set up week.


6 years ago


6 years ago

We will have someone in camp that does the first person routine at Plymouth Plantation. He will be there until Friday 2nd week. Just to give you incentive to come visit... :D
Oh, I'm already planning to visit! I'm dying to see your camp and have the chance for a good chat. The problem is, I looked at the University schedule and suddenly my "no plans" vacation is looking a bit more complicated! LOLz.
Welcome to Pennsic... My first war I worked so much and now 5 years into it I am still working... But I would not change a thing. The best advise take it one day at a time, and do not worry about taking in everything because that is very difficult to do. You know where to find us and we have a message board/Shrine out front. Also you can find us at the top of the hill with the guns. Cannot wait to see you there.