No, this isn't an entry about how to publicize yourself, or become famous. I'm fairly rubbish at that, so I'm in no position to give advice. No, this is an entry about how the public perceives you. Me. Us.
Last weekend, my friend Erinn and her husband & daughter joined us for a day at Greenfield Village, as visitors. It was really interesting to get their perspectives as first time reenactment-attendees. The biggest thing Erinn commented on was the different attitudes between reenactors. She found some of them to be very forthcoming and welcoming, and some of them to be downright off-putting.
When I was little, I loved visiting historic sites. The moments that meant the most to me were when the living historians took a few minutes to talk to me. The tours, the exhibits, they didn't mean much. It was the personal connection that left a lasting impression with me. When I was working in the living history field, I would semi-routinely invite women and children to touch my body when they asked me about my corsetry. I vividly remember a family of three small children and their mother running their fingers over the ridges of my stay laces in back, eyes wide with wonder and exclaiming in delight. I showed more than one family my hoops last weekend, and I definitely had a discussion about fake hair a couple times, as well as inviting strangers to touch the fabric of my skirts more times than I can count. For me, convention, dignity, and personal space go straight out the window as soon as I put on the trappings of yesteryear. If I can help someone make a connection with the past, even if it means stepping out of my own comfort zones, then so be it.
Maybe that says more about my comfort zones than anything, but there you have it.
Conversely, Erinn found that several reenactors with whom she came into contact barely managed a civil "hello," much less giving her a chance to ask any questions, or open any dialog. Some of them, unfortunately, were even people that she'd met before. Fortunately, that wasn't her sole impression of the event--being ignored--and she had several positive things to say, too, but it got me thinking. What's the difference between how one person comes across to the public vs. the next guy (or gal, if you prefer)?
For myself, I've put a lot of time and thought into cultivating an approachable persona both in person and online. I fervently hope that people aren't afraid to say hi to me, or to ask me questions. Reenacting is something I do partly for myself, but also because I like to share cool stuff with interested people. Personally, I'd be crushed to think that someone went home from a reenactment and told a friend, "She was really unfriendly. I didn't feel like she wanted to talk to me at all. Didn't even say hi."
Now, to be fair, there are two sides to every argument, and I've had plenty of rude questions and semi-arguments from inappropriate people, too. Not everyone is polite or interested, and some of the visitors I've talked to honestly shouldn't have been allowed out in public. However, is that really an excuse to cold-shoulder anyone before they've had a chance to ask a question? I try to think not, although I'd admit if pressed that I have fairly strong misanthropic tendencies. That doesn't mean I shouldn't put my best foot forward, especially in a situation where I'm in a position to share something I love.
So, I guess the question is, for all my historically-inclined friends--how do you want the rest of the world to see you when you've stepped back in time? What kind of persona are you putting out there?