April 25, 2011

You're Exhuasted?--Reenacting and Spectators

After reading Ken's post on reenacting (found here), made me want to stomp off and pout in the corner like a three-year old. I felt it really is a problem many reenacting groups need to address. :D It's not that Ken was unfair to us civilians, no, he was right and we always feel guilty about it.

I feel that civilians often wish they could do more with the public but many of us have real-world responsibilities to take care of when the public is present. Many of us are watching children, cooking food, mending uniforms, cleaning dishes and we have deadlines to make. The soldiers spend a lot of time waiting around for battles to start that I feel they forget that we work nonstop from breakfast to dinner. Many of us, if we see the battle at all, can only spare a few minutes to do so.

If we stop for ten minutes to talk to spectators, the men will go hungry, the children will run around on fire and the dishes might never get done. :D At least, that's the way it works in our minds.

Keeping this in mind, I feel like Ken is absolutely right and it is not good for civilians (men and ladies) to snub the public. I know we feel like the "production crew" whereas soldiers are "the show" but the reality is that we are all on the stage and need to stay engaged with the show for the show to be good.     

So what can we as groups do?

- Arrange for a few low or no preparation meals and let everyone know you are content with meals like this.

Sometimes I think we feel if we don't make a nice meal that everyone won't have a good time. When I first started reenacting, I was told that the men were sick of soup and stews so we never cooked them. Cooking takes up most of our time and we are relieved when group members say "sandwiches are good."

-Designate people to speak with the public beforehand.

If your group is large enough, pick a few people whose only job that morning is to talk to the public. Frequently, spectators will walk by and everyone will look at each other to see who is going to talk to them but no one stands up and the spectators walk by. If you are someone who does not want to interact with the public or doesn't want to, let the other members know so they don't think you are ignoring them and follow your lead.

-Choose a topic to talk about or have a display that might inspire questions.

Many people feel off-guard when spectators come and they don't know what to talk about. Make sure to pick a few topic before hand and have materials ready. Alternatively you can put a display out that may inspire questions. This doesn't and probably shouldn't be a museum style display. Something as simple as having eggs being preserved in a bucket of ashes can lead to a discussion on preservation methods on the home front and their adaption on the move.    

-Evaluate what exactly is being done by the people in camp.

This seems like a no-brainer but there a lot of jobs the camp-followers are doing that aren't obvious. My least favorite job is "watching the fire."  We frequently have to look after fires if no one feels like putting it out and restarting it later, normally it is needed to boil water during a battle so the soldiers can clean their rifles. This is the most boring part of reenacting for civilians. There is no one to talk to: soldiers and spectators are at the battle. We finish cooking dinner quickly due to the lack of interruptions.  Many of us are so exhausted from the morning, we cherish this hour if only to take a nap (which you can't do if you are a fire-watcher.)

Sometimes the soldiers forget that there are things the civilians want to do too that we never get around to at events. I always bring a pencil and paper to draw but have only had time once to do this and It was when I was "watching the fire" when everyone else was at a barn raising :( . During reenactments we frequently ask ourselves "Why am I doing this? I can cook and clean at home."

So remember--if you want happy spectators, make happy civilians. Let them sit around the fire and drink tea with the ladies in the next camp. Don't overload them with tasks and then wonder why they avoid spectators. If you are a soldier, perhaps you might even assist them with some of the tasks like-- cleaning dishes or boiling your own water after the battle so the ladies can take a nap--hey, I can dream... :D Our soldiers know I'm just being hard on them.

Gentlemen of leisure. :)
I am definitely biased. I have never been in a battle, but I imagine it must be better than being a civilian as many women choose to be soldiers instead instead  and men cry when they are forced to be civilians. But I also realize that the battles are physically hard work. I'm waiting for the day when Andy decides that we should switch places, then I know I'll complain that the soldiers deserve those naps they take under trees. :D

You're exhausted? I saw you taking that nap during the battle.
Just remember, even if you don't like spectators, spectators help make reenacting possible. If we treat them poorly, we will eventually have our options limited, especially since a lot of government and state funding is being reduced. We need to keep people interested so battlefields and parks aren't turned into apartment complexes.


  1. Agree! This is a problem that needs to be fixed!

  2. Methinks I unleashed something here...
    This is a wonderful addition (2nd part?) to my post. I love your ideas and would like to add them to my own for my next article in our unit's newsletter - co-writing credit, of course (if you don't mind!).
    I see am awesome future in recreating the past, Stephanie Ann! Thanks!

  3. Thank you so much for your ideas! We only have a few civilians in our group but I feel like the principles that you outlined could be applicable to everyone. I'll definitely be bringing this to my unit, thanks!

  4. Thanks Sophia,

    Ken, :D You may use anything you'd like. I'm sure there are many other ideas and I'm glad you brought it up.

    Mary, we only have 2 civilians in my group so we do a lot of running around. But it is always good to have topics prepared.

  5. Thank you SO MUCH for this post! It's really a topic that needs to be addressed by a lot of groups :-) Our group is a little "civilian heavy" at the moment - we're trying to figure out ways we can give everybody a job so that it doesn't look like the 18th VA was constantly overrun by layabout-women . . . ;-)

  6. I count 4 Civilians Miss Steph.


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