Getting the most of historical reenactors - Part I

Historical re-enactors can give an aesthetic to Heritage Open Days unlike anything else. From a single period costumed person to an entire encampment of a dedicated historic period group, be prepared to experience the breath of the past in a way unlike any other.

© Tim Prevett - Maximio the Roman Medic at Chester Roman Festival

If you are one of the 4,000+ venues taking part in Heritage Open Days this year, read on. If you are planning a visit to a living history event, then you may want to skip this one and wait for the sequel to this post.

So, back to you, fellow organiser. A few points might just help you to get the most of reenactors. Feel free to add your own.

1. If you haven't got the budget to bring in reenactors, get some members of staff to dress up. Speaking as a costumed guide myself, it looks good, feels good and gets attention!

2. Make sure you let your visitors know there will be re-enactors present. It looks memorable and people love taking photographs. That will in turn generate publicity for your property within and outside the context of Heritage Open Days.

3. Have the re-enactors well placed within the venue. If possible have them positioned within the property so that good elements of the venue form a backdrop for a more compelling aesthetic and photogenic feel.

4. If you are organising a larger scale historic re-enactment (such as a battle) think about how visitors will experience the feature events. Can they see? If there’s a loud speaker commentary, will people hear that tinny tannoy? Certainly for a battle re-enactment, commentary is needed to interpet the various groups manouvres and skirmishes. Ensure that PA system works well!

5. If there are more than a few reenactors, is the ‘living history encampent’ accessible? Does it invite access? Does it help give safety for the public and security for the re-enactors' gear?

6. Health and safety. Yes, the obligatory health and safety. Groups will be zealous about this anyway. Weapons were obviously intended for maiming and injury. Space is needed, especially if mock combat is used. Many groups need an open fire to demonstrate aspects of their period. If this is part of a group’s remit, help facilitate it. I have been at an event as part of a group, and the site security landed, very heavy handedly demanding the fire be extinguished. Usually it’s for cooking; the smell and smoke of the cuisine give airborne marketing for the event, looks good, creates a lot of opportunity for discussion. After awkward discussions the fire was allowed and demonstrations of Roman military cooking could continue.

7. If there are historical themed traders, make sure there's a good footfall past their tents. Support the individuals and families looking to make their livelihood doing something different - and helps people depart with meaningful mementos of their experience of your property.

So, if you’re having reenactors, or just costumed staff, use them well. The look, the music, medicine, the aesthetic of ages past can all work for you. Don't take it just from me, here are a couple quotes from folk doing such events:

" I think good living history makes a huge difference in telling the rich stories of our past to everyone in an inclusive way. I have worked with some great teams which have put across real historical events and stories in a way which captures the public's imagination and interest." Adele from Segontium

“If I had to stress one thing about re-enactment though it is that it is not about how soldiers in history looked but about how people lived. If I can make people feel squeamish, great. If I can make them see how the public of that era felt though, even better.” Maximio, a Medicus with the XIIIIth Gemina [Note the use of XIIII for 14 is correct - though the XIV is more often used!]