There have been a couple of questions about what sort of training we undergo to transform ourselves from 21st century historical interpreters into the 17th century people we portray. This is by no means an exhaustive answer and I hope some of my colleagues will comment further.
First, obviously, you have to apply for the job, get interviewed and accepted into the Colonial Interpretation Department. Then the training begins…and never really ends. Someone coming in mid-season is given an intense, compressed week and a half or so of primary sources, dialect training, character study, historical reference, and an understanding of public deportment, to name just a few of the subjects one has to tackle.
World view is a critical part of a new interpreter’s learning as we don’t always know as much as we’d like to about everyone we portray. In that we don’t know everything about these people we sometimes have to answer questions the way we think they would, given their economic and social status, nationalistic pride, period prejudices, and even gender.
Passages from primary sources such as William Bradford’s Of Plimoth Plantation, Edward Winslow’s Good News from New England, as well as Mourt’s Relation, and Three Visitors to Early Plymouth are given to study. Eventually interpreters are expected to read as much as all of these as they can. It’s from these books that a large part of what we know and how to interpret what we know comes from.
Of course facts and even world view are one thing (if plural can be said to be one thing), interpreting (from a first person perspective) is another thing all together. It takes a particular type of person to do this and I’d be lying if I said everyone finds it easy. You have to be outgoing, unafraid to approach strangers, have and keep an even temper in difficult situations (hundreds of excited school children?) and frankly it doesn’t hurt to have a quick and ready wit.
The job is often (to quote a much repeated “pilgrim” metaphor) “menial outdoor labor in a burlap suit” (thank-you Scott). You must be prepared to answer the same question over and over…and over again. Yes, you will be hot in those clothes. Your mouth may ache at first trying to wrap it around 17th century syllables. You might have to pretend not to notice the airplane, the helicopter, the church bells, the siren from the nuclear plant, and even the occasional ambulance trundling down the dirt street when a visitor gets a little too overheated.
But, if you are fortunate, as I have always been, you get to eat great food while people from all over the world oggle at you wondering “are you really going to eat that?” As I sit at my table in my thatched-roofed house on a crisp autumn New England afternoon, while my “wife” serves up a boiled hen, colewarts (collard greens), the grits of native corn…I think, “Am I going to really eat this?”
You BET I am.