Thursday, April 7, 2011

Dramatis Personae: Who are you at reenactments?

Having so much fun during a first person event like Reagan got me thinking about doing a post on my impressions with the various eras I reenact. Some eras have more detailed and concrete impressions than others, because of the nature of the unit I am with, and the types of events they go to.

Civil War:
Sadly in Southern California, there are not many immersion events or other events that call for highly specific personas. For 1860s events, I am a member of the 18th VA Cavalry. More likely than not, there were no women in this unit during the war. More likely than not, there were not many women in most regiments during the Civil War, period. For various reasons that I could write a master's thesis on (hmmm there's an idea), the set-up and functioning of the army in the Civil War did not easily facilitate camp followers the way armies of the past did (i.e. Rev War). This being said, what is a girl to do at a reenactment? Who am I?

I am Adah Mehitable Ridenour, a resident from the nearby town of Winchester, where some of the local regiments have camped (Winchester sent a huge number of troops to war). While the army is encamped there, I bring what aid I can to the soldiers, whether it's food, water, or services like mending. Adah is just a middle class girl who is easily adaptable to any event. Although I have written her a highly detailed backstory, I save those details for my enjoyment, unless the public asks. Having a backstory helps create a level of reality for you and the public. However, if your backstory (or persona, for that matter) is too complicated, or specific, you'll find yourself in a real rut at events which themselves are specific, and your particular character just would not have been present there. But in Southern California, we rarely have battle-specific events, and you see a wide variety of different people being portrayed at them.

Currently, I am developing two other specific personas, both based around the vivandiere (one Confederate, one Union). I will post about both these girls as I get started on the uniform (which I'll be doing this weekend!). I am fully aware that vivs were rare, and mainly present in the early years of the war. So while I'm portraying a viv, I'm going to make sure to let that fact be known. The last thing I want is for the public to think that every unit had a vivandiere; what I do want is to honor the vivandieres who did serve with units and let their stories be known.

Revolutionary War:
One of the exciting things about 18th c reenacting is that there were camp followers, to a much greater degree than during the Civil War. The British army regulated the number of camp followers (as did the Americans), often by a set ratio. Women "on the strength" (wives of soldiers who were allowed to marry) received half rations. Women following the army were expected to help with nursing. Some also decided to profit from the war by selling food or liquor or other luxury items (contrary to popular belief, prostitution was not tolerated, and a woman could expect to be drummed out of camp for soliciting). They could also mend, wash, sew, and cook.

With Lord Cornwallis' 33rd Regiment of Foot, I portray an indentured servant who is in the employ of the head cook, Mistress Emily, in the officers' kitchen. I love the idea of being an indentured servant, because it gives me even more to talk about with the public, and I can shed light on a very interesting class of people. Samantha Bullen was born in England and is the oldest of six children. Her father died, leaving the family in considerable debt, so her mother arranged for her to be sent to the colonies where she would become an indentured servant until the age of 21. Her mother required that Samantha's contract include six months of education. Upon reaching her majority, Samantha will be freed from her indentures and given her "freedom dues", which include "two complete suits of clothes, also a good bed, Bolster, Pillows and Blanket worth at least twenty-five Dollars."I generally play that I am freed, and am employed in the officers' kitchen fresh out of my indentures, in order to support myself and put my skills to good use. My boyfriend, Michael McCarty, also portrays a servant with the 33rd, although not an indentured one. He is the Ensign's personal manservant.



Sarah W said...

Very interesting to read!

Is this where you want your readers to tell who they portray at reenactments? ;) Either way, here's who I am: I'm a camp follower in a small company of late 14th century mercenary hand gunners, in employ of Swedish king Albrect from Mecklenburg. My husband is (well, will be) a common warrior in the company. I help with the tasks I can; cooking, sewing, spinning, nursing (which I do for real, since I'm a nurse IRL).

We don't really have any first person reenactments here, so the story, simple as it is, is mainly there to give me a notion of what clothes and other gear would befit my status, so I can give a genuine impression :)

Maggery said...

Does it seem to you that the "younger generation" of reenactors seems more interested in doing first-person events? Maybe, given a few more years, we'll be seeing more immersion Civil War events as people our age move into leadership roles?

I always say I'm going to do every event in character - sigh - Vista was probably the closest I got. One really needs the cooperation of a majority of the troop for it to work properly. That being said, maybe posting our correspondence on The Winchester Canon will help people in the troop to get to know us well enough to help us stay in character at future events? ;-)

Here's a precis of my character - which you know well enough by now I'm sure! ;-)