Past into Present: Effective Techniques for First-Person Historical Interpretation

Past into Present: Effective Techniques for First-Person Historical Interpretation

Past into Present: Effective Techniques for First-Person Historical Interpretation

Past into Present: Effective Techniques for First-Person Historical Interpretation

Synopsis

First-person interpretation -- the portrayal of historical characters through interactive dramatization or roleplaying -- is an effective, albeit controversial, method used to bring history to life at museums, historic sites, and other public venues. Stacy Roth examines the techniques of first-person interpretation to identify those that have been most effective with audiences while allowing interpreters to maintain historical fidelity.

Past into Present focuses on first-person interpretation's most challenging form: the unscripted, spontaneous, conversational approach employed in "living history" environments such as Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts, Conner Prairie in Indiana, and Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. While acknowledging that a wide range of methods can touch audiences effectively, Roth identifies a core set of practices that combine positive communication techniques, classic interpretative philosophy, and time-tested learning theories to promote audience enjoyment, provoke thought and inquiry, convey important messages and themes, and relate to individual visitor interests. She offers numerous examples of conversation and demonstration strategies, visitor behavior profiles, and suggestions for depicting conflict and controversy, and she provides useful character development guidelines, interpretive training advice, and recommendations for adapting first-person interpretation for diverse audiences.

Excerpt

We don't want to seem like we're acting.

Lisa Whalen

We want to educate, but if you are boring, what's the point?

Moira Turnan Hannon

I go down there, I dress in clothes I'd never wear anywhere else, talk in a way I wouldn't talk anywhere else, [and] I tell people I believe in things that I think are wholly full of shit. If that's not acting, I don't know what is.

Larry Erickson

The combined effect of evocative setting and persuasive interpretation can be labeled dramaturgy, atmospherics, and mise-en-scene. If this is entertainment, it is entertainment with purpose and coherence, whose elements -- focus, bounding, physical and sensory accuracy, story line, worldview, critical mass -- give visitors a powerful sense that all the pieces fit together, that the presentation is all- encompassing, coherent, seamless.

Yellis, "Real Time," October 1, 1990

It is an acting job. . . . The performance goes on all day.

Peter Cazaly

I am not an actor and resent being called one.

George Chapman

Raising the subject of the relationship between theater (or entertainment) and first-person interpretation around a group of interpreters can be as incendiary as bringing up politics at the dinner table. Interpreters at one end of the spec-

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