First or Third Person LH?

Historic questions, thoughts and other interesting stuff

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ViscontesseD'Asbeau
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First or Third Person LH?

Post by ViscontesseD'Asbeau »

This is one that has caused ructions in the past, (in certain groups) but is for me central to the whole living history thing.

First or 3rd person? Do you have a character/persona/call it what you will? If not, why not?

One of my pet hates has always been third person *They did this in the So-and-so C* and *They did that* and *Of course, 100 years afer our period X was invented....* (Although I've done it loads of times when that's been the prevailing ethos). And it's struck me that all the very best practice I have seen has been first person. I was always happier with it because it was how we did it at the start of living history, and it was only after a break and returning to do a different period that we were taken by surprise it had evolved, in our time away, into a sort of school-teachery *They did this* exercise, rather than an immediate thing.

I think first person is much harder in that you have to drop certain inhibitions, and also just do stuff and be stuff, rather than launch into display mode where you are demonstrating or talking about, rather than just doing. It means a lot more research, and thought in developing your character and it doesn't come overnight. But that's an observation, looking back at LH over years that to me is a key difference between groups of people who have an ethos to do first person and groups where they don't - that it makes the whole thing fundamentally different, and probably in my case would be a factor in deciding whether I wanted to be with a group or not.

There also seems to be different approaches in entire groups, even periods. Some period re-enactors seem to favour third, some first, too - different ethos for different periods, or so it seems so that I have met 15thC re-enactors who haven't a clue how to do first person, for example, and other folk doing other periods who wouldn't even attempt to do anything other than first. I have switched between the two in the past but never liked the feel of third person if I'm honest. It's less fun, apart from anything else! But we've worked with groups of people who we haven't even attempted to switch over to doing first person knowing they'd feel so uncomfortable with it, they'd be put off the whole thing.

So which do you prefer, and why? If you do first - at what point do you come out of character? Does everyone feel most comfortable with whichever is the predominant method in your own group? Or do you like the approach you learned first?

And should groups think clearly from the start, whether they want to do first person or not? Does it even matter to you?

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Post by Dave B »

I think first person is great in 'theatrical presentation' but in small group or one on one Q&A I think it's very limited.

you cannot answer perfectly valid questions if the answer in any way depends on you making comparisons to the modern world or another period, nor can you put anything in context.

So for answering peoples questions then 3rd person every time for me.

one-on-one first person re-enacting is a tremendously impressive skill done well, like unicycling or 5 ball juggling. But the fact that it is more difficult and impressive does not make it more appropriate.
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Post by Scottish Lady »

I think for things to be done in '1st person' takes a particular sort of confidence It does limit the amount of information you can pass on, for example you cannot make comparisons or put things in context. For most periods it would, if you were being completely authentic, mean that the language you were speaking, and the words you were using, would not be understood nowadays. I use 3rd person always, because I'm not an actress, and most of the time, with some notable exceptions, people trying to act a part are mostly rather stilted and awkward in what they are trying to portray. I have a charactor, and a plausible explanation of who I am, and why I am where I am, if anyone wants to know. I have found that a lot of MOP's are a bit bewildered when faced with someone acting a part and would rather have factual answers. My partner uses both 1st and 3rd person. As the regimental 'meenister', and sometime nun, (you had to be there!), he does a lot of shouting and sermonizing, but prefers to use 3rd person when speaking one to one. There's a place for both
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Post by Lord High Everything Esle »

First person is quite hard to adapt to if you are not a practised actor. I suppose those of us who use it eventually pick up the acting bits but it can take quite a long time depending on your inhibitions.

I only use first person exclusively at Kentwell where it is mandatory for all participants. At other times I can swap when I wish to compare modern and ancient practises or discuss a point or ask for questions. If you are not in appropriate surroundings first person is useless because your audience find it much harder to suspend disbelief.

It took me quite a while to build up confidence in the use of first person. Fortunately at Kentwell newcomers are put with more experienced participants so that they can hide in the background saying "Aye" and "Nay" on occasions. I found it useful to rehearse a phrase and use it and pass the visitor quickly on to my "master". This works quite well because the confident people do the interaction with the public while the timid get on with the activity. I found that there were three phases:

1). Short sentences and then duck back into cover.
2). Getting together lots of things to talk about to visitors.
3). Full first person interaction with visitors and re-enactors.

Only on one occasion have I dropped out of first person at Kentwell. A Doctor had arrived at the "Hospital" "station" at Kentwell and told us about a manuscript handwritten medical book that had come into his family years before that he was trying to decipher. John Lawler and I took him into a private place and dropped out of first person to make arrangement to meet up with him later to look at the document.

Which bring me on to a third alternative - the "Prologue". 8)
In medieval and renaissance plays, one actor (e,g. the role of Chaucer in the the Canterbury Tales) plays the prologue. It is their job to set the scene, to explain the actions (e.g. Quince in the Mechanicals' play in Midsummer Night's Dream) and move time on. In the same way some museums use a type of "prologue" where there is a "21stC uniformed" member of staff who can talk to the public and make comparisons while the re-enactors get on with their activities and their first person presentations.

I can understand re-enactors being reluctant to use first person for various reasons - too much inhibition, wrong situation, a need to make comparisons between now and then.

I can also understand the visitors feeling a little out of their depth when faced with first person. I felt like that the first time I had to use role playing on a training course. With some effort you can get over your inhibitions but it can be difficult for "timid" personality types like mine. Hoho!! I hear you laugh, but before I became a re-enactor I was a quiet timid grey accountant. :shock:
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Post by gregory23b »

Depends on the brief, not all situations are suirtable for 1st person even if you had peopel who were good at it, as has been said above you cannot hope to make comparisons between then and now, and those comparisons are what get asked about a lot. I have lost count of the times I have heard
"did they have that then?"
"when did those things come into use"

For really good 1st p you need to ignore the leading modern oriented questions about aeroplanes and breville toasters, the audience has to buy into it.

Also there is an assumption that 1st person means mock medieval/viking/tudor language etc, it does not have to have the language of the period, it can be of today, the different vocab adds flavour, but faking it up is not a prerequisite.
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Post by ViscontesseD'Asbeau »

LOL Yes, it's possibly easier post 1600 than pre. I was lucky enough to spend 3 years learning Old Norse and Old and Middle English, in the days when degrees weren't vocational but were gloriously useless, and even I wouldn't attempt to fake it! :lol: I suspect the trick is to spend some time immersing yourself in primary sources, but then working in a fairly modern idiom when it comes down to it - more to do with mindset than dropping in the 'gadzooks'. :D That said, it's one reason I'd love to do 18thC because the language is a fluid and colourful thing, at that point and the variety of insults just astounding. :lol:

The Breville Toaster Factor is usually best handled by looking at them as if they've a screw loose. :D

It was only when someone asked me this q, directly, recently that I really realised what I think about it, which is odd because it's kind of fundamental. And I realised that I've <too> often compromised my own beliefs to keep others in their comfort zones. But without exception, everything outstanding I think I ever saw, was first person and I only realised that when I thought about it, a bit. I'm glad to be back with a group of people whose views coincide ... and it's only now I'm thinking that was really more important to me, as an issue, than I realised at the time. :lol:

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Post by Tuppence »

I prefer third person - mainly cos I hate acting - also cos I can count on the fingers of one hand those I've seen do first person well - and most of them are professional actors.

also have seen too many members of the public excluded and shut out by the dodgy first person.
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Post by Phil the Grips »

First person works well if the event dissociated fom the public- ie a joust or tournament or other matter where the audiencce are observers and can't get in the way of the fuss but are still involved as th eperformers can get on with it withoutfear of being tripped up or being asked annoying questions- this is when reenactment comes closest to mainstream theatre though.

Third person is best for actually educationg- especially as I talk mostly in comparisons- ie armour=cars, jousting=F1 racing etc etc- to get ideas across as it removes barriers and allows room for error, conversation and being able to admit i simply don't know.

The most I normally do to concede to my period is to use my middle name when doing c16th as being called "Phil" in Tudor England would get the same amount of hassle as being called "Adolph" in 1940s Britain! (which rather neatly, though unexpopectedly, makes my point on how I get ideas across- this would then lead to an explanation of politics of the era etc etc)

My number one grouch though is simply that when doing 1st person it seems inevitable that anyone portraying lower classes automatically puts on a west country accent that'd make Pam ayers sound like she speaks RP or, if high status, sound like Peter Sellers doing his Richard III does "A Hard Day's Night" sketch for some reason.
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Post by Sophia »

Compared to some I am a relative newcomer to this debate.

I currently

- C15th which is generally 3rd person

- C16th which is at Kentwell and is 1st person.

I have no experience of first person outside the rather special context of Kentwell where I find it works very well as even at the so-called mini events offer a range of activities both inside and outside the main house and across the classes.

I thought it was particularly effective when we had the schools in during the main event. Obviously the individuals vary in the quality of their performance/interaction with the audience, but the overall effect of 300-500 bodies dressed as Tudor's and not acknowledging anything after 1584 (the year being re-enacted this year) is quite impressive. (Note your presentation can be affecteed by the audience, there were certainly some groups who were easier to work with than others.)

During the main event Kentwell has the advantage of being able to close all its modern public facilities for the school visits (the loos are positioned outside the time tunnel) and minimize their impact at weekends (catering areas are not visible from re-enactment areas with the exception of the Alehouse which is part of the re-enactment). Also modern money is not accepted on the Tudor side - if you want to shop you have to use reproduction coins from the Tudor exchange.

This being said I am not the world's greatest actor, though I have discovered a talent for improvisation (schools are wonderful are they not :roll: )

In spite of all this I am not about to launch into 1st person for C15th. Why? Well for one you need everyone to be singing from the same hymn sheet at your event. It would look bloody silly if I was doing 1st person while everyone else was 3rd person. The other reason is that I think it needs a proper backdrop and your average C15th re-enactment just can't provide it - too much canvas, not enough buildings, not enough contrast is social rank, etc.

Sophia :D

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Post by Dave B »

Phil the Grips wrote:and being able to admit i simply don't know.
You've hit a whacking great nail on the head there. I hadn't thought of it like this but i'm always saying things like 'there aren't many pictures but we're reasonably sure they would have done because the burgundians did.

the 1st person alternative is to dodge the question or pass on possibly duff assumptions, When you get right down to it we work with a lot of educated guesses in medieval and earlier periods.

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Post by Calendula »

I've often heard people repeating duff info or wittering dreadfully rather than saying they don't know or are not an expert on that particular bit. As a terminal witterer I have to make myself say I don't know if I don't - or if what I am saying is an educated guess - but the range of questions you have to field on an average LH day is sometimes very wide (and I don't mean the "is that a real fire?" type ones). I have found MOPs often expect you to know about everything, even about periods outside your own.

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Post by Lord High Everything Esle »

Calendula wrote:I've often heard people repeating duff info or wittering dreadfully rather than saying they don't know or are not an expert on that particular bit. As a terminal witterer I have to make myself say I don't know if I don't - or if what I am saying is an educated guess - but the range of questions you have to field on an average LH day is sometimes very wide (and I don't mean the "is that a real fire?" type ones). I have found MOPs often expect you to know about everything, even about periods outside your own.
"I know not", usually suffices for most questions.

Or you try a little "One-upmanship" - "ah, but not in the south(*)",

*or substitute any location/event/object etc that you wish.

Looking at the range and variety of opinions on this forum might also allow a first person presentor to have a singular opinion rather than having to give a balanced historians' answer.
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Post by Calendula »

Ta for that LHEE. I should have said I'm strictly 3rd person - for all reasons above and more, not able to dream of doing 1st person!

I find it helpful to work alongside my friend - if one of us doesn't know or can't think what to say, the other can often help out. Comes in handy for dealing with the inevitable nattering bores or weirdos as well as one of us can go for help!

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Post by Marcus Woodhouse »

Along with Mike from the Black Maunch I have been experimenting with some acted out scenerios where we just talk to each other about matters of the "day" ignoring the MOPs who are listening in on us. We then drop out of character to answer questions or even better just wander off blind to all in our wake and leave it up to everyone else to explain to them what was going on. this all started because we were having a very intense discussion about Our Lords Hastings and Rivers which started when we were on our own and ended with us being surrounded by curious guests one of whom finally asked us what we were talking about. Needless to say it has never been as good since that first time.
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Post by Lord High Everything Esle »

Marcus Woodhouse wrote:Along with Mike from the Black Maunch I have been experimenting with some acted out scenerios where we just talk to each other about matters of the "day" ignoring the MOPs who are listening in on us. We then drop out of character to answer questions or even better just wander off blind to all in our wake and leave it up to everyone else to explain to them what was going on. this all started because we were having a very intense discussion about Our Lords Hastings and Rivers which started when we were on our own and ended with us being surrounded by curious guests one of whom finally asked us what we were talking about. Needless to say it has never been as good since that first time.
Hi Marcus
One of the critiscisms from visitors to Kentwell is that they are sometimes frozen out of the interaction by the participants. If you are going to ignore them there should be someone on the "prologue" role to explain what they hear.
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Post by Sophia »

Would agree with LHEE - best thing to do is work out a series of outlines which allow you to draw the audience into your discussion - solicit their opinion, explain the merits of your point of view, etc.

1st person works well if you can get them to join in and suspend disbelief. :D
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Post by Chris, yclept John Barber »

I'm in agreement with what I feel is the general feeling of this thread: if you are trying to interact with the MOPs third person is best, if you're interacting with each other and 'letting the MOPs eavesdrop', first person is the way to go.

For example, as John Barber doing my 'medieval surgery' talk, I wouldn't dream of staying in first person because I do my best to get the public innvolved and responding. To do this, I ask questions like "How should I stop this hurting?" and have to respond to all their suggestions with reasons why it wouldn't work - the blank 'Breville Toaster' reaction would alienate the crowd, but an explanation that they couldn't do that because the technology hasn't yet been invented educates the crowd as well as entertaining them.

But for something like our C13th tournament, staying in first person works. We don't respond to questions from the crowd, only sneer insultingly at them (well, I do anyway!).

Another use for first person is in our Medieval Murder Mystery (next one is at Healing Moated Settlement near Grimsby, 15th & 16th September - don't miss it!). Although that involves extensive interaction with the investigating public, we don't have to explain anything in a 'modern' context.

As the barber-surgeon, I will be the nearest thing we have to a forensic expert, but where something's out of my character's knowledge I can use the blank look and ask "What are fingerprints?". The MOPs get the point - we will only answer questions about something muddy-evils would understand. [/b]
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Post by Fox »

I'm happy to do first person for stuff that is not stictly historically accurate, in other words I'll do pantomime, for combat displays, battles and so on.

But for "show and tell" it's third person every time. From the first person it's simply impossible to use modern references to help explain stuff.

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Post by Wiblick »

I have a strong aversion to first person as both a potential performer and as an audience member. First person makes me cringe on every level. I hate trying to do it and I hate seeing it done.

Scripted stage acting is a whole other ball game.

Third person pontification for me.

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Post by Cat »

Hah, no, YOU do a poll! :P

Wouldn't have the guts to do a dodgy first person, but quite enjoy chatting with MOPs as a third person, if y'see what I mean...The only really good 'first person' I can bring to mind at present is Myk when he is being either the hellfire preacher or Tabor.
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Post by Lord High Everything Esle »

maybe that should be a class at David's boot camp!!
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Post by Colin Middleton »

When I first started, we seemed to do first person all the time, but that seems to have fallen away to third person as standard now in our group. I'l a little sad about that.

While I agree that the inability to answer the inevitable "did they have that then?" or "how did you get into this?" questions does alientate the public a bit, I find getting asked questions like that (especially the latter) a little insulting. Perhaps I'm just paranoid to hear "why did you join this freak show?", or perhaps it's the kind of people who ask those questions...

One of the best introductions to a site I saw was at Shugbrough Hall. The signs say "please remember that all our interpreters think that they are in 1720. They think that 20d is a good days wage and beer costs 1/4d a pint. Please speaks to them as such", or something to that effect. Entering the house and being greated by the squire who's proudly showing off his grandfather's collection of paintings really put you in the event. he was also successfully answering questions in character too.

To make first person work, though, you do need that introduction that Shugbrough had. That puts the responsability on the visitor to accept the performance and warns them what to expect.
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Post by Wiblick »

To make first person work, though, you do need that introduction that Shugbrough had. That puts the responsability on the visitor to accept the performance and warns them what to expect.
that type of distancing of the public from the performer would make it work, through heading off unwanted types of questions.

But in a field in the midst of a country fair... with a bouncy castle and day-glo safety ropes

I'm more of a debater than an actor.

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Post by Ariarnia »

Doing the local school shows we have found that having a narrator is one of the more amusing ways to make the kids interested, both during a battle and in the LH. You can point out specific things that would otherwise be forced and you can lead their attention to where you want it.

We do it as kind of a snapshot, with the narrator introducing himself and explaining the time period to the audience, then introducing the basic elements and moving on to whatever is to be particularly covered.

This came about as we have a very engaging man who can't wear contacts due to his eyes and so needed to keep his glasses on or be near as anything blind.

He introduces himself as almost a time traveller and we are hoping to expand the LH display so he will discuss what people are doing in a modern context and the 1st persona’s will act confused as to what he is saying and what those funny things on his face are.

We are currently wondering if the LH members should be able to see the audience, or if they think he is talking to himself, or indeed, do it as a David Attenborough, and no one see him and the whole conversation is done in stage whisper.

It will mean that the less socially confident will not have to deal with the public and we can cover in detail particular things the teachers wish to focus on.

One show wanted us to focus on Hastings and the following years so we had ‘historical characters’ (We were asked specifically for an Odo and a William, but then had a peasant, a knight and so on) in a line and introduced them all to describe what they did and what they could ‘see’ from their part of the line (bishop Odo terrified the children, especially when he got a bit carried away describing the harrying of the north). This was all done in first person, but we did have a narrator to fill in the blanks or explain the bits that the characters couldn’t see or the implications they couldn’t understand in persona.

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Post by guthrie »

Wiblick wrote: that type of distancing of the public from the performer would make it work, through heading off unwanted types of questions.

But in a field in the midst of a country fair... with a bouncy castle and day-glo safety ropes

I'm more of a debater than an actor.
Thats what I thought, too. If youa re in the correct settings, it would be much easier.

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Post by red razors »

Wiblick wrote:First person makes me cringe on every level. I hate trying to do it and I hate seeing it done.
me too. there is something about first person that offends me [if that is the right word]. i do think it has a place, and it works pretty great with kids, showpieces, etc, but i have never seen it done remotely well; and i think unless you can do it perfectly and keep it up without slipping out of character then there is no point doing it at all.

after torm, myself and aislinn went to warwick castle and had a lovely [albeit very, very long] conversation with a lady working there about the portraits of henry viii and anne and mary boleyn, and about the introduction of electricity to the castle. it was only spoiled by her referring several times to being governess to the lady of the castle. i felt that mentioning it was completely forced, having talked for so long without her being obviously in character; and it almost insulted my intelligence on some level. i couldn't help thinking, "i'm 27, i'm a reenactor, i KNOW you're not so why bother saying it?"

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Post by Lord High Everything Esle »

red razors wrote:
Wiblick wrote:First person makes me cringe on every level. I hate trying to do it and I hate seeing it done.
me too. there is something about first person that offends me [if that is the right word]. i do think it has a place, and it works pretty great with kids, showpieces, etc, but i have never seen it done remotely well; and i think unless you can do it perfectly and keep it up without slipping out of character then there is no point doing it at all.

after torm, myself and aislinn went to warwick castle and had a lovely [albeit very, very long] conversation with a lady working there about the portraits of henry viii and anne and mary boleyn, and about the introduction of electricity to the castle. it was only spoiled by her referring several times to being governess to the lady of the castle. i felt that mentioning it was completely forced, having talked for so long without her being obviously in character; and it almost insulted my intelligence on some level. i couldn't help thinking, "i'm 27, i'm a reenactor, i KNOW you're not so why bother saying it?"
I know what you mean and first person presentation can be badly done, but anything can be badly done even third person. Experience comes from practise and at first the presentations might be quite wooden and unconvincing. First you need to know your stuff and then you need to be able to pick up the "acting" skills. Sadly very few of are like Pegasus, the immortal, winged horse, which sprang forth, fully formed, from the neck of Medusa when she was beheaded by the hero Perseus.

Secondly, the visitors need to be able to, and be encouraged to, suspend their disbelief. No presentor can say, "Ah, I recognise that that person is a 27 year old re-enactor, so I can drop this pretence". Visitors need to be led to the conspiracy and be "part" of the presentation otherwise you do get the reaction you describe. Both presenter and public need to be able to drop their inhibitions. "Loosely scripted acting" does not come naturally to everyone, some persist and gain the skill eventually, others are best to avoid it at all cost. The problem comes when a group has a mixture of these skills amongst their members. Those who do not shine at the talking are best left happily in the background demonstrating with very little verbal interaction while those with thespian skills should do the public interaction. Which is why the "prologue" technique I think is a winner. This can be done either with one of the costumed presentors being the "prologue" or a "uniformed" guide doing the descriptions.
Will/Dave, the Jolly Box Man and Barber Surgeon

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red razors
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Post by red razors »

Lord High Everything Esle wrote:the visitors need to be able to, and be encouraged to, suspend their disbelief.
see, i think that was the issue more than anything. she was one of a handful of costumed interpreters we saw during several hours there [the only one we had any real interaction with], and after talking with us for nigh on an hour out of character, it just made me wonder was she trying to convince us or herself. she didn't begin our conversation as the governess, so why try to finish it as such? it came across as disingenuous. i think that sign at shugborough hall is the best idea. slightly tongue in cheek, but totally getting the message across and preparing the visitor.

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Post by Mad Mab »

I remember going to see Past Pleasures (Who are, I think, admittedly professional historical interpreters) at Berwick and Warkworth during the 400th anniversary of the Union of the Crowns. They did 1st person the whole day and it was fantastic fun to talk to them. They did occasionally break character if you approached them with a direct question that required it but they always made sure that no-one else could hear them and they slipped back into character so effortlessly that it didn't jar at all.
I know I could never do that, I just don't have the people skills (Given the choice, I wouldn't speak to MOP's at all :oops: ). The closest I came was at Kentwell, when I had an 'in character' rant about pedlars from the north and the awful horses that they sell inspired by a shetland pony that was doing my head in. :lol: :oops:
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Lord High Everything Esle
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Post by Lord High Everything Esle »

[quote="Mad Mab"]I remember going to see Past Pleasures (Who are, I think, admittedly professional historical interpreters) quote]

Past Pleasures use trained actors. We are not that, but we can improve by practise.
Will/Dave, the Jolly Box Man and Barber Surgeon

"Physicians of all men are most happy; what good success soever they have, the world proclaimeth, and what faults they commit the earth coverest." Frances Quarles (1592-1644) Nicocles

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