Before I go on, dear friends, I must make a confession. I almost didn’t publish this post. Once I had written it, I read it through and thought “well, this makes us sound like a bunch of history obsessed weirdos”. But then it occurred to me that we actually ARE a bunch of history obsessed weirdos. And perhaps at least some of us are proud of this fact! So here it is, for all the internet to see, some deep insight into the hearts and minds of Plimoth Plantation’s Historical Interpreters.
Being an Historical Interpreter comes with many unique work-based situations. For instance, one day at the office, I plucked and gutted a chicken. Then I cooked the liver and fed it to my child volunteer who was actually looking forward to eating it. On beautiful spring days, I get to look out of my office window and see this:
In addition to the uniqueness of both our surroundings and our work, all our Interpreters are special in another way. We like to talk. As legendary veteran Scott Atwood likes to say, “if we got paid by the word, we’d all be rich”. We talk about anything and everything with our visitors, no topic is taboo. Bathroom habits of the early modern man, how to geld a rooster, the terrible conditions of our prisons, the biblical arguments for predestination, we’ve got it all covered. In addition to these, potentially embarrassing or controversial, conversations, there are things we say between us Pilgrims that one would never expect to say IRL. That’s what this post is about.
Stuff Pilgrims Say.
“If we’re not married next year, we should be brother and sister.”
Perhaps one of the strangest things about our workplace is the fact that so many of our colleagues have been our fake family members. And not too unlike our real families, or perhaps in your “normal” workplace, there are some people you work well with and some people you may not. You may not even realise how annoying your fake sister actually is until you spend your first rainy day together stuck in the house…ahem…Anyway, I think there is something pretty special about finding a coworker who can be both a convincing fake husband/mother/father/sister/brother/child and a good friend at the same time. Some of my best friends are ex-fake-family. We are lucky enough to work with a surprisingly diverse range of really incredible people, so there’s a fake someone for everyone!
“I’m really sorry I’m not going to get to see you die tomorrow.”
Throughout the interpretive year, we schedule special events based on real things that we know happened in Plymouth Colony that year. For instance, we know that on April 17th, 1627, Mary Brewster passes away. So, we have been known to plan a sickness and dying scenario around this actual historical event. It may sound morbid, and I can attest to the fact that sitting at your (albeit fake) mother’s bedside as she fades from this vale of tears is certainly an emotional experience, but it is an important reality of life (and death). If we are to accurately represent our early settlers, and out of respect for their real lives, I believe we should represent their losses as well as their gains. Of course, our Separatist friends, like the Brewster family, would say that “to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21), so a sickness and dying scenario is not necessarily all doom and gloom.
“Can you help me get my belly on straight?”
Here’s another reality of life: pregnancy. Last year, I “played pregnant” for a month or so. We have a pregnancy pillow which affixes underneath your petticoats and makes you look approximately nine months pregnant. I think it’s fairly convincing, although it’s certainly challenging to work out how that much extra weight on your front should change the way that you move in general. This year, I’ve been experiencing it all for real. Coming soon to a blog near you, a post entitled “Yes, I am really pregnant (but no, I’m not really going to give birth in that bed)”. I’m not quite as far along as the pregnancy pillow, but when I am, I’ll make sure to post a comparison picture. I will say that (at least for now) a real pregnant belly is much more comfortable than a pretend one. For one thing, I don’t have to worry about my real belly falling off as I walk down the hill…!
“I made somebody cry! Yay!”
When we head up the dressing room at the end of the day, the conversation inevitably turns to sharing the day’s highs and lows. The one that tends to get the biggest cheer is when someone has created such an emotional moment that the guest has been moved to tears. That’s the true beauty of our first-person interactions. We don’t just teach history by telling stories of “they” and “them”. We teach it from the perspective of “me” and “us”. That is what makes it all feel so real, what enables us to draw our guests in to this incredible story with all of their senses. We know from our primary sources that settling in the New World was not all Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows. William Bradford reminds us that “they had now no friends to welcome them nor inns to entertain or refresh their weatherbeaten bodies; no houses or much less towns to repair to, to seek for succour.” It was a hard life for our colonists, and we should not take that for granted.
“Would you mind watching my coffin?”
Pie crust. She means PIE CRUST. Coffin is the wonderfully descriptive term for the pastry that holds your pie filling in seventeenth-century England. Why am I asking someone to watch it for me? In this job, you learn by experience. One fateful day a couple of years back, I had painstakingly crafted a rather large and beautiful pie, I think it was a herb tart, actually, which I was planning on carrying up the modern oven for baking. I placed the tart in a basket and covered it with a cloth. Perhaps ten minutes or so went by, when a child of about ten years old ran into the house, stopped at the basket, and punched the contents. Yes, he punched my pie. I cannot explain the reasoning behind it, but after he did it, he exclaimed “argh, why is that warm?” and promptly ran out of the house, never to be seen again. This may have been the saddest day in the history pie interpretation, but all was not lost! The pie was still in tact, it just had a rather unfortunate, ten-year-old-boy-fist imprint in the middle of it. So we cooked it and ate it anyway.
“I saw my grave yesterday. It was awesome.”
Naturally, we all form attachments to the characters we play throughout the year. Often, part of understanding the best way to represent a settler in the early days of Plymouth is to look at what happens to them afterwards. For instance, we know from court records that Stephen Hopkins gets in some trouble for drunkenness and other such licentious behaviour in later years. Therefore, if you’re playing Hopkins, you might like to complain about the lack of a tavern in our English Village. For some of our characters, there is not much information at all that can be relied upon. Some even disappear after the 1627 Division of Cattle, never to be heard of again. Conversely, some of them go on to become leading members of their communities, we know where they lived, where their children went and where they are buried. For our 102 Mayflower passengers, there are only a handful of known burial sites, so to play someone who you can actually “visit” is something to get excited about! At the time of the above picture, Kyle was playing Mary (Chilton) Winslow who is buried with her husband John in King’s Chapel Burying Ground in the centre of Boston.
The bad news (or is it good? I’m not sure) for us Pilgrims is that it never leaves you. As the saying goes, “once a Pilgrim, always a Pilgrim”. The other day, the following joke came through my newsfeed from someone who used to work here, and seeing as I’m a sucker for a bad joke, I thought it deserved to be shared with the world!