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Living History: Tableaux or Presentation

Posted: Fri Jul 03, 2009 11:18 am
by Wiblick
Hello all

really I'm wondering how to get away from presenting my LH display as though it were a supermarket sample stand but still offer something a bit more than a tableaux which the public might feel excluded from.

I was surprised to see that the Limners station at Kentwell (from the DVD) is presented the way it is - that's what I'm trying to get away from.

But then there's the issue that a lot of what I do is done in an anonymous field rather than at a historical site. Context is therefore difficult.

Is there any way to give the illusion of 'getting on with your day' while offering the educational/entertainment slant that organisers are looking for?

At the moment we're thinking of roping off our tents and allowing the public to interact with us as they will while we cook and clean and mend - rather than our current approach which is to stand behind a table with a very organised display laid out on it, be it spices or armour or fibre crafts.


Posted: Fri Jul 03, 2009 12:05 pm
by hazy
I'm a member of two groups and both present to the public in very different ways, but then often have different event-types as well.

One group does the organised table display, twined with interactive activities going on around camp (such as weaving or spinning) and a (usually roped off) cooking area where the tables face out to the public so they can see the preparation and ask questions, but so we can get on with the cooking behind the rope also, presenting a more 'realistic' (and I use the term warily!) experience.

The second group tends to be set up as more of a soldiers camp, with other activities, as though we were just getting on with our day. While this has the advantage of perhaps looking more like real life and less like a presentation, it does have the disadvantage of sometimes making the public feel as though they are 'intruding' on the camp, because we aren’t presenting something as an actual display, although some parts, such as the cooking, are laid out facing any public.

Basically I'm not sure which I think is the best method- while the 'real camp' effect looks good, it isn't the most inviting to the public, who seem to prefer to have several little 'areas' to visit with various different activities going on at each. Roping off certain areas, such as the kitchen, allows you to arrange your equipment to face the visitor, so they can ask questions and engage, but also so that behind the rope you can have less of a display feel. If all this is interspersed with timed talks or demonstrations, you seem to hit the balance of display and demonstration, versus the tableaux you mentioned.

Sorry I rambled a bit!

Posted: Fri Jul 03, 2009 2:24 pm
by Tom H
Definitely a topic I have been thinking about a lot recently too.

I'm in the position of being an event organiser as well as being a re-enactor and have to think about how this will work for the visitors to the event.

I think what Hazy is suggesting is about right and seems to fit in with my experiences of what works best with the public. Set-dressing in the way to get the items which will give most interest to the visitor near the front is probably better than going for a more naturalistic and "authentic" display.

From several years of visiting events myself and watching how the public react to re-enactors I reckon the biggest mistake is when re-enactors just get on with their activities in their tent and wait for questions. It definitely doesn't inspire me as an event organiser. As I'm sure we all know, most of the public are already unsure about starting a conversation with some people dressed in funny costumes and need a friendly welcome. It is their day out as much as the re-enactors and will enjoy it more if encouraged to come close and get involved in things.

Well thought through demonstrations at fixed times work especially well in my experience and I have seen some great examples of this recently. But we also need to make sure there is something attractive in the meantime. So some carefully selected and displayed pieces of kit placed at the front of the display will look good, with maybe some small craft activity for the interpreter to be getting on whilst waiting for the next visitor makes it look like more relaxed and we're not just waiting to pounce on the next passing victim, er, visitor.

Not sure if this helps a great deal, and yet more rambling. I'll watch for other good ideas.

Posted: Sun Jul 05, 2009 7:40 pm
by gregory23b
Wiblick, good post btw.

Medieval reenactment, esp WOTR has seemed to stay in the stall type for ages as it seems the easiest thing to do, I totally agree with you, in fact a mate and i were discussing this very subject.

One option is to have a guide, ie a third party that tells the public what is happening, the people get on with their activity and talk to the public when a specific set of questions are asked.

That means the activity can continue uninterrupted pretty much. It can be done with a partner that is stationed there if a roving guide is not an option or if talks and walks are not timed.

I will be having this very set at the August event at hampton court, there will be two of us at the 'station', in reality one is an intermediary for the public and the person doing when people are there, when not, they both are working.

From personal experience I find a pair is more efficient than one, I can talk for England, but when deluged with questions you do not actually show much being done.

I would also rather a tableau was set-up with a guide, it means it is being observed rather than intruded upon, this wold work in a proper context, eg an interior event where each room is used appropriately and a 'guide' could walk through each one and introduce and limit questions.


Re: Living History: Tableaux or Presentation

Posted: Mon Jul 06, 2009 12:27 pm
by myladyswardrobe
Wiblick wrote:
I was surprised to see that the Limners station at Kentwell (from the DVD) is presented the way it is - that's what I'm trying to get away from.
Um - the Kentwell DVD isn't really representative of what we all do when visitors are around.

Have you visited Kentwell in person and seen the limners or any other station? Taking the limners as an example, they have all their paints on display etc as per a workshop. I visited in my character of Lady Seymour on Friday and had a limning sketch made of me. The colours were mixed there and then. The station do the same thing when the public visitors appear or the schoolchildren groups.

Going back to your initial question, my station at Kentwell this year has been an outside gentry. The background to this being that on the set route school days (three a week), we have some groups going on the farm route and therefore would not go into the house to see the gentry. Therefore we have a station of gentry and their household outside in a lovely little shady spot.

We have a 12ft x 12 ft pavilion all dressed as for a high ranking 16th century household. A separate pavilion which is acting as our kitchen and service tent. Nothing is roped off. We invite people into our encampment if they are looking interested from the gate (which is a slight disadvantage but we can't remove the gate) and they then start asking loads of questions. One gentleman yesterday was absolutely fascinated with the whole concept of "camping" in the Tudor period and *why* - which is very different to why we camp now.

When I have visited re-enactments, I was struck with how the pavilions were all set in a lovely circle and looked so good BUT I couldn't get in close, there were ropes keeping me on a set path and I didn't feel comfortable talking to the re-enactors as they had their backs to me and were well within the "inner circle". And I was in costume myself in some cases.

When I set up our encampment, I used the "circle" idea, BUT a half circle. Its welcoming, the visitors can see everything. They are safe from the cooking fires as there is a table in place of the rope where the cooks are preparing the food but the visitors can see things close up and talk to the cooks/servants. On the other half of the welcoming circle, I placed the tables lengthwise so no one would be inadvertantly showing their backs to visitors. Games being played, or sewing going on or whatever on the table is visible to the visitors.

It was markedly different to when I was gentry in the house where it was so easy to have a back to a visitor, get into a huddle and generally be unwelcoming without meaning to be.

hope that helps?


Posted: Mon Jul 06, 2009 6:11 pm
by gregory23b
"One gentleman yesterday was absolutely fascinated with the whole concept of "camping" in the Tudor period and *why* "

Probably because Tudor camping was solely based around military campaigning not domestic activities, in the same way as late medieval.

They are incongruous in any setting other than a military or 'pageant' one.
Even Henry's Field of the Cloth of Gold was a display of wealth and prowess, not a camping holiday.

"We have a 12ft x 12 ft pavilion all dressed as for a high ranking 16th century household."

In what context of household?

The reenactment craft tent laager is a convenient tool to show some of the activities of the periods, authentic and in context they rarely are.

Posted: Tue Jul 07, 2009 12:13 pm
by Adam the Archer
This is a really interesting thread - thank you.

there are so many ways to see this. One of the things I have experienced this year was being an 'apprentice' to a painter. I was there at the side of the table getting on with the painting, while my 'master' was able to talk to the public, so they could see the work in action as well as being spoken to. When I came to mixing the paints, I did it while he explained what I was doing. It meant I could concentrate on what I was doing and he could interact with the public, and make eye contact etc.

Posted: Wed Jul 08, 2009 12:06 am
by guthrie
In my experience, it all depends on what you are trying to do.

A tableaux is different from actually doing something in front of the public. Forgetting about the former, the latter is what I have actually been doing for several years now. Pewter casting is easily done, you can repeatedly cast stuff and discuss the technology with people, whether in first person or as a modern person reproducing it. You have to be willing to talk to people though, not everyone will ask questions, but if you watch the body language you can see when people are interested so you can speak to them.

Doing the same with Alchemy is a little hard, but its amazing how many people are willing to stand watching as I fiddle with an alembic, pausing every now and then to say there are only 4 elements, or point at something I have out on display at the front of my (roped off) demo area. The Alchemy is where I really do need an assistant, to tend the fire and hand me stuff when I need it. Numbers are important if you are trying to do some work, as others have said.

I think you just have to accept your lack of context and be honest about it. But if you are in a good place to do whatever it is you want to do, eg a castle and doing some cooking/ woodworking/ whatever, then by all means have some story behind who you are and what you are doing there.

So yes, I say give it a go letting people wander around you whilst you are working, just make sure you have enough people to mind everything that might cause trouble, such as knives. You won't be the first to do it, nor the last.

I think it also helps if you have people working together who know different things, so they can correct and interupt if necessary. Theres just so much to know that it takes 2 or 3 people to be able to cover much of the knowledge.

Re: Living History: Tableaux or Presentation

Posted: Wed Jul 08, 2009 12:14 am
by guthrie
myladyswardrobe wrote: When I have visited re-enactments, I was struck with how the pavilions were all set in a lovely circle and looked so good BUT I couldn't get in close, there were ropes keeping me on a set path and I didn't feel comfortable talking to the re-enactors as they had their backs to me and were well within the "inner circle". And I was in costume myself in some cases.
Definitely a bad way of doing it. At the infamously windy Whitby 15thC event a few years ago within the group I was with, we were joking about having a shopping mall, what with the way we had set up tents etc, such that we occupied a cul de sac for the public to wander into and go past various people doing various things, and then wander back out having gone in a U shape.

Posted: Thu Jul 09, 2009 11:40 am
by Fillionous
The group I am part of requres that all tents / displays etc are roped off with combat stuff double roped. Insurance and H&S...

This could lead to a very closed in mentality, esspecally if people don't pitch thoughtfully. The result is that we have people that know each site we work at and have some kind of ground plan as to where people / housholds will pitch. Most people in the society know this and work accordingly.

The ground plan we normally work on is either a series of rows or use of small islands and horseshoe shapes, to encourage the public to walk through or round the encampment.
We try and pitch the best / most authentic / awnings where people gather / most interesting displays at the rope line and the purely sleeping tents towards the rear as backdrop. And even within those awnings we try and arange things to be facing the public, so they don't get 'shut out'.
The displays themselves are quite a mixture from items layed out on tables or blankets, to full on working craft displayes (pole lathe, leatherworking, forge, cooking, weaving, bow making etc.). We sometimes use guides at fixed times to lead and chatter to the MoPs around the camp - this gives the people doing the displayes to time themselves to be around and 'doing interesting things' and geared up to chat to the public. But generally we try and have people in each camp at the rope who are open and up for answering questions and activly interacting with the visitors.

Hope that helps some.

Be bright, be bold

Posted: Sat Jul 11, 2009 5:34 pm
by Colin Middleton
We typically pitch our tents in a U shape. This allows us to control where MoPs are coming from (we don't want them to trip over our guy ropes), hopefully without 'shutting them out'. We rope off the kitchen, the wood chopping area and my wife's awning (where she's making cosmetics on a fire), this means that the MoPs are less likely to touch fires (or other dangers) while we're distracted. However, the tables are set up near the ropes and facing the public so that the performers can talk to the public. Most of the other tents are kept open to invite people in (save for the inauthentic ones which are closed). We also talk to the MoPs, waving hello, welcoming them to the camp and asking if we can help or answer questions. We can do most of this in character, it just gets a bit complicated when they start asking about modern life.

Best wishes.