Conference Sessions

This blog post was published in late January, an up-to-date session listing can be found here.


Keynote Session: Further Up, Further In: Visitor Inclusion and Elevation in Cementing Legacy Loyalty
Speaker: Ann-Elizabeth “A-E” Shapera, author of Easy Street: A Guide For Players In Improvised Interactive Environmental Performance
Description: History is made of people. Ann-Elizabeth “A-E” Shapera, author of Easy Street: A Guide For Players In Improvised Interactive Environmental Performance, Walkaround Entertainment, And First-Person Historical Interpretation and Milwaukee’s Official Municipal Jester, takes professional and personal joy in building bridges between ages, teaching visitors who want to learn – and tricking the rest into learning with a laugh. Drawing on a quarter of a century of her own history learning and teaching Tudor court life, A-E’s favorite people in history are the ones who arrive at events and exhibits as visitors, get included, get engaged, and leave as fierce living history devotees – or perhaps never leave at all, joining events as longtime patrons, event advocates, docents or even interpreters themselves. Infinitely fascinated with court jesters and fools throughout world history, A-E was among the first three Americans (and was the first woman) invited to compete in the International Festival of Fools’ Jester Tournament in 2007 at Muncaster Castle in England’s stunning Lake District, which was the home of the original Tom Fool, Thomas Skelton; among her most prized possessions is a bowl carved from the wood of Tom Fool’s Tree. A-E’s performance at that Festival of Fools earned her an open invitation to fool at Muncaster whenever she returns. In a world of passive entertainment masquerading as interactive, where enormous corporations count reTweets as “engagements,” A-E trains event participants and interpreters worldwide in true personal engagement, through the principles of inclusion, elevation, building the bridge and making it worth it – for visitors, for event organizers, and for interpreters themselves.

Title: Yes You Can! The nuts and bolts of creating a first person interpretive program
Presenter: Kandie Carle, K & C Enterprises, Victorian Lady, East Haddam Stage Company
Description: The nuts and bolts of creating a first person interpretive program from the ground up. We’ll share how we did it, and get participants on their feet to go through part of the audition & application process used to staff the newly launched First Person program at the Strong-Howard House Museum, Windsor Historical Society, Windsor CT.  Attendees will take away an understanding of what might be expected of potential candidates for first person jobs, from both sides of the table! Program Director, Kandie Carle (and hopefully the two actors cast in the roles of Captain and Ann Howard) will share everything from the audition process, (which will include a mock audition with guinea pigs from retreat attendees in the room), to the challenges discovered during rehearsals, and evaluation of the program going forward. The structured tour format presented in Spring of 2015 as well as the new format of improv “at Home with the Howards” non-structured tour launching in March of 2016 (just before the retreat, so it will be fresh!) will be discussed.

Title: Say What? Dealing with Uncomfortable Questions from Visitors
Presenter: Sarah Vedrani, Strawbery Banke Museum
Description: “What are you wearing under that?” “What do you mean, you don’t celebrate Christmas?” “Do you actually live here?” At some point in your career as a first-person interpreter, you are bound to collect volumes of questions from visitors that are strange, uncomfortable, or just plain rude. The question is: what do you do when such a question is asked? This session will explore visitors’ various motives for asking such questions when interacting with first-person interpreters, and how to turn those questions around and use them as teaching moments. In the first part of the session, a compilation of typical “visitorisms” will be collected and discussed in terms of their origins: is the visitor joking? Do they have any misconceptions about the history being presented that led them to ask ___? In the second half of the session, the group will come up with solutions for how to answer these different types of questions. This session will be discussion-based, with the opportunity for participants to share ideas and anecdotes.

Title: I Feel Your Pain: Using Emotion and Empathy to Enhance your Interpretation
Presenter: Patricia Bridgman, “Abigail Adams” for Adams National Park
Description: Wore the bumroll. Fired the musket. Drank the shrub. Dried the herbs. We’ve all been there and done that. And that’s a good thing — pulling back the curtain so that modern folks can see what life was like in the past. But what if they could feel it, too? That’s where emotion and empathy come in. By imagining and revealing our characters’ emotional lives, we unleash audience empathy. It’s a powerful thing, and you don’t have to be a Pacino or Streep to make it happen. This session looks at examples and offers tips on why, when, how … and how far to go. Let’s spend some time together thinking about our personas and digging a little deeper.

Title: Unconventional: Interpreting the Forgotten, the Unusual, and in Unexpected Ways
Presenter: Norah Messier, Plimoth Plantation
Presenter: Christopher Messier, Plimoth Plantation
Description: No one is surprised to meet a famous person in the parlor of his preserved or recreated home, discussing his familiar story. There’s nothing wrong with that – but there is also an opportunity to use first-person techniques to uncover forgotten people and unusual twists in the record, especially in unexpected ways. Ever considered interpreting from a tree limb? How about side-by-side with someone speaking from a modern voice? What about taking your character to a brewery to have drinks and play cards? Join us for this interactive demonstration-and-discussion session and consider all the ways you can un-convention your interpretation!

Title:  Using First Person Interpretation Techniques in the Classroom
Presenter: Malka Benjamin, Plimoth Plantation
Description: Doing first person interpretation in an historic setting is hard enough, but taking the show on the road and interpreting in the midst of a modern environment can be quite intimidating, even for a seasoned interpreter. In this session we will discuss tools and techniques for doing first person interpretation in modern settings, specifically in the classroom with students. The session will also include the performance of an excerpt from a curriculum-based first person classroom program.

Title: Third Thing’s First: Merging First and Third Person Interpretation at Historic Sites
Presenter: Elizabeth Sulock, Newport Historical Society
Panelist: Malka Benjamin, Plimoth Plantation
Panelist: Nancy Dickinson, Strawbery Banke Museum
Panelist: TBD
Description: This panel discussion brings together interpreters from multiple historic sites that use costumed and non-costumed interpretation for regular programming or special events, to communicate critical aspects of the museum’s mission. We will talk about the best and worst parts of both being in-character, and talking from a modern perspective. Potential questions to discuss include:
What opportunities are available at our sites to use first and third person?
Can these varying forms of interpretation be used simultaneously? And is it confusing for the audience, and/or interpreters, to use first and third person concurrently?
What are the pros/cons and challenges of using first person interpretation at our sites?
How do we overcome limitations presented by using each form of interpretation?
Are there instances when first or third person interpretation is preferable to the other?
What do visitors expect and how do they react to using these different interpretation approaches?

Title: No Mere Actors: First Person Interpretation as a Visitor Resource
Presenters: Maddie Beihl and the Role-Players of Strawbery Banke Museum
Description: Playing the role of an historical character is challenging at any level, but can be particularly difficult when working in an institutional setting. We often find ourselves acting as tour guides, storytellers, and docents in addition to the duties we already perform as a first person interpreter. This can be made exponentially harder if the institution reflects multiple time periods—as at Strawbery Banke Museum. Explore how the Strawbery Banke Roleplaying program utilizes first person interpreters as both entertainers and resources for visitor discovery. Includes a tour of some of the homes of Strawberry Banke Museum.

Title: Kids through History: Gaining Perspective through Youth Interpreters
Presenter: Maddie Beihl, Strawbery Banke Museum
Presenter: Rebecca Bayreuther Donohue, Mystic Seaport: the Museum of America & the Sea
Description: Teaching children how to play an historical role is not always easy, but it can be very rewarding both for the child and the visitors who encounter them. Strawbery Banke Museum’s Junior Roleplayer Program and Mystic Seaport’s Youth Roleplaying Camps are long-running and super popular. Learn how both programs operate to train young people in the museum field through summer camps, educational enrichment, and volunteer opportunities.

Title: The Seven Deadly Sins in Role playing
Presenter: Katie Hill, Old Sturbridge Village
Description: We know good role playing when we see it – and the same  can be said  for bad, cringe-worthy performances.  The Seven Deadly Sins of  Role Playing explores the dark underworld of the role player’s faux pas. Whether a novice or an experienced role player, the objective of this session is to help each of us  recognize the role -playing traps we all encounter – in our own performances as well as in others’. There will be  time for comments and  suggestions, as well as  hands- on opportunities.

Title: Down and Dirty, Interpreting the Dark Side of History
Presenter: Stephen Shellenbean, Autumn Tree Productions
Description: War, Disease, Slavery, Death, there are so many parts of history that are not fun, happy, or cheerful that still deserve our attention. In this session we will discuss how to talk about war without glorifying it, death without wallowing in it, dark periods in history with the seriousness they deserve.

Title: Interpreting Through Transitions: Handling revising Interpretive technique and theory with changes in management direction
Presenter: Ron Carnegie, George Washington, Colonial Williamsburg
Description: TBD

Title: Emerging from the Past, Picturesque & Approachable!
Presenter: Betsy Beach, Mystic Seaport
Description: Using Accessories and Action, become the focus of your audience, as your character deserves. Join  Interpreter/Role Player Betsy Beach (Danvers Alarm List Co., Old Sturbridge Village, Mystic Seaport Museum) to discuss these essential topics.

Title: Building the Bridge: How – and Why – to Connect History to Visitors’ Presents
Speaker: A-E Shapera, author of Easy Street: A Guide For Players In Improvised Interactive Environmental Performance
Description: Visitors are living history as it happens – and interpreters are living a deeper history in the same space. Building a stable bridge between an event’s era and visitors’ worlds means understanding at least some of the terrain on both sides of the gulf. While we immerse ourselves in our events’ eras, a quest for common ground leads to electric and dynamic visitor encounters that cement legacies of visitor loyalty. Participants in this session will examine their own avocations to learn how each interpreter can best connect to contemporary visitor interests while sustaining an event’s era integrity.

Title: Why Does Ma Hate the Indians?: Troubleshooting Loaded Questions in Situational-Adaptive First-Person Interpretation
Presenter: Melanie Stringer, Laura Ingalls Wilder
Description: This presentation would discuss how to address negative aspects of an historical figure’s work, opinions, situations, decisions, or value system by exploring the wider context of the person’s life and era without side-stepping issues of concern nor making light of seriously problematic content. This would cover using alternative source materials such as contemporary news and literature, peer review, published criticism, contemporary reaction to the historic figure’s action, and modern interpretation of such–all while remaining “in-character” and historically accurate. It would also encompass the pros and cons of offering supplemental reading suggestions, out-of-character Q & A sessions, or additional information in various formats such as blog entries or factsheet handouts. The presentation would offer practical suggestions and the specific example of my own experience handling the most loaded and frequently-encountered question I must handle when presenting first-person programs as an adult, pre-celebrity Laura Ingalls Wilder.


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