Saturday, April 30, 2011

Royal Weddings and Colonial Williamsburg

When I was growing up, I watched a lady whom I much admired become a princess. Several years later I watched her funeral, as her sons bravely walked behind her flower bedecked casket in the procession down the streets. Yesterday I again woke up at 4am, like all the other times, all alone in the dark house, to watch her son's wedding. Memories of Princess Diana in Prince William was what originally tugged at my heartstrings.

Prince William's smile, so like his mother's. The pensive biting of his lip at the alter, so like his mother's. His shyness, so like his mother's. His duty to the people, so like his mother's. His desire to include the people, so like his mother's. His regal dignity, yet down to earth presence, so like his mother's.

This time I was struck by a few things. I appreciated the history so much more than before, since we've been intensely studying world history in the last 5 years. My son joined me to watch yesterday's wedding around 630am and caught on to the history as well. The Queen Victoria Monument. The grand cathedral of Westminster Abbey. The room where Edward the Confessor is buried, where the wedding papers are signed. The archbishop at the ceremony.

Then I started making Colonial Williamsburg connections. While I enjoyed listening to the message from the Archbishop, I realized he was standing in a floating balcony to deliver the message. I do not know what these are called, but I know where I can find out. There is one 2.5 hours away from me, at Bruton Parish Church in Colonial Williamsburg.

Then the horses arrived outside the cathedral for the grand procession to Buckingham Palace! The commentators used the term "landau." Colonial Williamsburg uses that term in reference to some of their carriages, in which guests can ride around the historic area. (You can read about the carriage riding experience and see dignitaries who got to ride in them. You might be surprised at a few!) As Prince William and Princess Catherine entered the historic landau, an open air carriage, I watched to see where the carriage driver would sit. On top of the horse! A postillion! Colonial Williamsburg has that too! Some carriages have nowhere for the driver to sit, so they sit on top of the horse. This landau had 4 white horses pulling it, so there were two postillions. They wore the same hats as the postillion at CW does too!

Then I noticed the two footmen wearing historic costume, sitting behind the newly wedded couple. Did they have thread covered buttons?

Even Princess Catherine's gown I felt had some touches of colonial detailing. The lay of the skirts, to me, gave the impression that she had a petticoat with the outer skirt, when in fact, I believe it is all one piece of fabric. Then there was a detail in the back of her skirt, at the waistline, which looked like the swallowtails on the 18th century jacket I am making for myself now. Then the rest of the gown reminisced Princess Grace's gown from the 1950's.

The poor horses didn't look as though they were faring too well in the crowds. Having been spooked, one even fell, got up, and ran away. The Colonial Williamsburg horses are trained to deal with crowds. Although they don't normally deal with the numbers of the masses that these horses had to endure, horses did get to pull Queen Elizabeth through the streets of Colonial Williamsburg in 2007 for the 400th anniversary of English settlement in America.

Through the pageantry of the procession, I gained a new appreciation for British tradition and history. I made connections to Colonial Williamsburg. Williamsburg was a colony of Great Britain before the American Revolution. As you walk down the streets of the historic area, you'll see British flags in front of all the opened buildings for the day. The day to day history that is portrayed in the historic area is 1774, the point of time when America was still comprised of 13 different *colonies* of the British Empire, yet rumblings of revolution were rumbling. Hence the name, *Colonial* Williamsburg.

When guests visit Colonial Williamsburg, they are getting more than an immersion in the American Revolution. They are looking at British life in the colonies: clothing, trade, religion, carriages, paintings of royal monarchs, the Governor's Palace, government at the Capitol, opinions of the residents. Some are loyalists, others are patriots, some are undecided in the uncertain, yet troublesome times.

Princess Diana, much loved by the people, reminds me of someone I have heard about often in Colonial Williamsburg, Lady Dunmore. As much as the burgesses of Williamsburg had political differences with Lord Dunmore, ultimately resulting in the American Revolution, the people adored Lady Dunmore. She was so adored, the House of Burgesses had a ball in her honor, even though their political assembly had been angrily dissolved by Lord Dunmore the day before. This was always one of my favorite Revolutionary City scenes, which I think truely set the tone for the message the actors are trying to portray in their retelling of the causes and effects of the American Revolution.

Although Colonial Williamsburg is on a smaller scale of Great Britain, the connections are definitely there. Today, Colonial Williamsburg is the only place where guests can totally immerse themselves in the history and culture of the era that impacted a world. Sometimes we get to see glimpses on a grand scale in a grand wedding for the future king of England. My kids were wondering if Prince William will come to Colonial Williamsburg when he becomes king?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Mysterious Secret Sister Easter from New York-Part V

...when what to my wondering eyes should appear in my mailbox but a mysterious, giant 11"x17" white envelope!??! The return address said...New York. New York?


Then this little typed note fell out...


Secret Sister struck again! Thank you, Tambrie!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Greek Masks: Their Elusive though Long History and How to Make Them

 When we started our study on Classical Greece, we knew we wanted to perform Euripedes' tragic play, "Trojan Women." We knew we wanted to make masks and try to make them as historically accurate as possible. With great enthusiasm we began our, which didn't yield much. It took longer to find sources than it did to actually read the information they contained. I asked a friend. I looked for reputable web sites. I checked our local library. We went to the Rockefeller Library at Colonial Williamsburg, which turned up a historical document, but not much added information.

My last hope was a one-on-one interview with someone in the know, someone at Colonial Williamsburg. As soon as we arrived, I had my husband drop me off at Botetourt so I could quickly get to the Mary Stith house before the Playbooth Players closed "The Actor's Trunk." This is a come and go program where you can meet with the actors to ask about colonial theater. Being that theater has its origins in the Greek theater, and that the actors are always doing research, they would be my definitive source. I arrived 20 minutes before they closed, just enough time to ask a few questions. One of the actor's there is loaded with information on theater history and he's getting used to my asking him a lot of questions. It was so funny, when I told him that we wanted to put on a Greek play and were trying to research Greek masks so that we could make them correctly, he laughed and said he had just been reading about that. (See, I told you they are always researching!)

In the course of our conversation, he asked me what I knew. That didn't take long! We agreed that information is rather incomplete since most extant examples have decayed over the centuries because they were made of linen. He filled me in on different aspects from early theater, to later Greek theater, to Roman theater. By the way, many of the ancient masks you might think are Classically Greek are more than likely from a different era, even early Roman. Eventually the Romans quit using masks though they became part of masquerades. There is an entire informative history of masks. It's just that their origins are a bit blurry.

When I ran out of questions, I told him that I guessed we had some free parameters to explore and make final decisions on. We should just have fun with it. He agreed. He did give me an excellent tip though. He suggested that I use paper clay with the masks, because he was concerned that otherwise they'd get too heavy. I don't remember if I had told him or not, but I had originally purchased regular clay. In the end, I am so glad he recommended the paper clay. I had never heard of it before. It was a great product to use, yielded more than the same price of regular clay, was easy to sculpt and form with, and was super light. Incidentally we got a $10 box at AC Moore for free, because of points I had earned in the 2 years we have lived here.

Before starting the masks, we read through the play, "Trojan Women" to get a feel for it. The masks needed to be painted according to the personality of the characters in an exagerated way. This is a Classically Greek thing to do. We thought we could at least try to achieve this. After going through the play, we talked through each of the parts and discussed ideas of how the masks should look. What were the different personalities? What was the mood of each individual? What was their situation? All of that would factor in to the look. This was my only input into the final look of the masks. My son took it from there.

The next weekend the kids got to work on the masks. We needed 8. My son took 4 balloons and blew them up to head size. Then the kids paper-mached those with magazine strips and liquid starch. Although I had wanted these to be paper-mached in linen, I was busy using the linen to make the Alexander the Great linothorax armour. Linen is too expensive for me to buy more for scraps, especially when we'd have plenty of scraps after completing Al's armour. We had to start the masks before I was done with the linen for the armour.

Once dry, my son popped the balloons. Next he cut the shells in half and trimmed them down a bit so they weren't too much like a bowl. Then he cut out eyes and mouths. Next my son used the paper clay to form facial features like beards, eyebrows, noses, etc according to each of the unique personalities. By now I had the linen scrap pile of strips and considered paper-maching them at this point to get the "look". However we simply ran out of time. Besides, as my son said, it wouldn't have laid nicely over the formed elements from the paper clay facial features.

When that was done, my son worked on gluing his Alexander the Great linothorax armour while my daughter painted the faces. Based on my son's research, he decided that the women's faces should be white (because they were indoors all the time) and the men's should be dark tan (because they were outdoors all the time.) My son mixed the paint colors for the tan and then my daughter started painting. After that dried, my son painted facial expressions, etc on the masks.

I had talked to the actor about the proper manner to hold the masks, because we couldn't find anything definitive. Some masks tied on the face, some tied both to the front of the face and another to the back so the actors could simply turn around to change character or expression. After much thinking, we decided the best course for us would be to use handles. I had seen them used once held out a bit from the face and asked the actor about that, but again there is limited information. Soooooo, I made the executive decision we'd use handles and hold them out from our face a bit. My son took some paper clay and moushed it inside of the chin area on the back. After that dried, he super-glued dowels onto the dried paper clay.

I am quite impressed with my son's interpretation of the masks. And yes, I know there are 8 masks and 3 of us, but that's how thespians did theater in Classical Greece. Now we will never forget that!

To access the masks, we laid them out on the coffee table in the middle of our stage. We simply made it part of our display. We turned our display into part of the staging area for changing character.

Without further ado, here are the masks in action during our Ancient Greek history presentation with my two favorites at the end.



Hecuba, Queen of Troy, which is now fallen, full of woe...

Talthibius, Greek soldier who is actually kind and understanding to the captive Trojan Women...

Cassandra, daughter of Hecuba who is thrilled that she will be given in marriage to King Agamemnon. "Mother, get a grip. I'm going to be married happily ever after!"

Andromache, heartbroken that she has to give up her baby...

I think these last two are my favorites. This is ANGRY Greek King Menelaus, husband of the beautiful Helen, who 10 years before ran away with a Trojan to live with him, starting the war...

Helen acts perfectly innocent, "Who me? But darling, where have you been all this time? It's so good to see you again!"

Now I can't bear to throw these masks away. I'd like to keep them awhile and display them somehow.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Bell, Winston Churchill, and Colonial Williamsburg?

A bell, a simple instrument used across the ages to sound forth peals of rejoicing, or discord forwarning alarm. Manufactured in various sizes, some hang from bell towers while others are held in the hand. A town crier's bell was an expected timely herald for the citizenry, hoping that "all was well" yet mindful of the need to arm. One such bell rung forth from the halls of Parliament in England during the dark days of Hitler's foreboding advance through Europe. The British people looked to their leader, Winston Churchill, as the world listened in and ultimately took action.

Reputedly Winston Churchill was a man with quite a character, which he confirmed. "I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the ordeal of meeting me is another matter." Churchill is infamous for his words that resound through history. Was his key thought each day to say something people would remember 50 years from now? I rather doubt it. Some may dare to dream to influence history when peace reigns. Yet when trouble brews, the need for presence of mind, clarity of focus, and strength of determination cast forth resiliance and decision making on immediate pressing events. But then Churchill is reputed to have spoken these words at some point of his life..."History will be kind to me for I intend to write it."

Indeed he wrote history. I have several books of WWII with pictures of him meeting everyone from statesmen to commoners. His words were renown for speaking forth brilliance, exuding determination, and instilling hope. (Each is linked to the speech from which it came, with an audio link.)
You ask, What is our policy? I will say; “It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us: to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.” You ask, What is our aim? I can answer with one word: Victory—victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival.-Winston Churchill, May 13, 1940

We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and the oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.-Winston Churchill, June 4, 1940

Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fall, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.
Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth lasts for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour!”-Winston Churchill, June 18, 1940

Then WWII ended, but more trouble was brewing. Winston Churchill coined the word picture we will forever link to Communism. "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent." - Winston Churchill, The Sinews of Peace” speech, Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, March 5, 1946
From Winston Churchill's words, "The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see." one can hear the harmonic ringing of another bell, that of Colonial Williamsburg's motto, coined by benefactor John D Rockefeller in the 1930's: "That the future may learn from the past." Coming together in 1955, Colonial Williamsburg awarded Churchill the Williamsburg Bell, made by artisans in the historic area "for his unexampled contribution in our time to the historic struggle of men to live, free and self-respecting, in a just society." You can view the award ceremony the video on this page! (I love Churchill's comments after receiving the bell!)

In memory of that reward, Colonial Williamsburg now honors on rare occasions individuals who represent the commitments of our founding fathers. This is the highest reward given by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, which continues to be tangibly remembered in the form of a bell, now fittingly called the Winston Churchill Bell.

As I've recently read about this bell, I realized that I got to see those bells being made! When the kids and I were in the historic area at the end of March, we got to see a pouring for a bell at the James Geddy Foundry. The artisan told us that he had been commissioned by the foundation to pour a few bells. In fact, when I told the kids about this Winston Churchill story and reminded them of the bell pour, they got excited because they remembered that 2 bells were already finished and we got to see the third bell being poured that afternoon! Three individuals will each receive the Winston Churchill Bell Award at the end of April.

The anticipation to wait for the pour begged patience.


Then he poured into the mold on the floor behind this stand so we couldn't see everything.



Learning about the Winston Churchill Bell Award encouraged and amazed me in that it encapsulated some of my philosophy of teaching. Trying to impact my students with a sense of history, I've often told them to imagine wearing the shoes of the person we are studying. What would they do in that situation? Oftentimes my students consider that type of imagination unrealistic, since they aren't great like the person of history. I have to remind them that people of history were common people like them and you and me. They had to make difficult choices during turbulent times that we now study in history books. While making the decisions, did that person of history consider what students would read about him/her 10 or 100 or 1000 years from then in history books? Most likley not. They were more likely trying to make the best choices during an immediate crisis that we now study in history. As a result, their entire lives are now explored based upon any research we can find.

Then I have my students consider if they might be in a history book someday. How are they writing history today? I ask if they are keeping journals of significant events of the current events on the news and how that impacts them? What are their opinions of that? Are they saving letters and records of significance for future primary source documents? What's significant? Today CW looks at primary source inventory listings to see how to outfit buildings like the Charlton Coffeehouse. Archaeologists dig up scores of glass, pottery shards and even seeds to piece together the lives of people of history. Letters between people of the past give details for reenactments, interpreters, and even historical costume makers. The simplest detail to us today becomes a treasure to history hunters in the future. It may seem silly, but part of the impact I want to make, is that people 100 or 1000 years ago never considered this either. Yet we explore them today. I am merely trying to get my students to understand that the great people of the past were everyday people like them and you and me whose daily writings which might have seemed insignificant to them but comprise the primary source documentaion for our secondary research sources today. Whose to know if someone we know or you or I might impact history? Time will tell.

Significantly, the choices historic people made in the times they lived cause us to study them today and to choose either to stand alongside what we percieve as their greatness or confront them to debate their choices. What lessons can we learn from them to help us make hopefully wise choices in the seemingly insignificant details of today...which in turn might influence tomorrow in some way. One never knows.

"We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give."-Winston Churchill

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Ancient Greece Rhetoric History Presentation

After many weeks of reading, thinking and writing, we finally had our history presentation on Greece, the Cradle of Democracy.

We began with a feast! Greek salads, stuffed grape leaves (hand made by me and the kids), pita chips with red pepper humuus, shrimp cocktail and mussels with garlic and wine, spinach/feta pastries, red pepper cheese pastries, and baklava.


Then we performed Euripedes' play, Trojan Women (over 50 pages so not all of our lines were memorized). My kids made the masks.  Yes, we had all those parts!  Nine of them! Performed by three of us!  Crazy? Perhaps, but it's historically accurate!  The Greek thespians did this...why not us? Hecuba is the main character and remains on stage for the entire play. My daughter decided she'd rather do the other 4 female parts, which come on stage at separate times and have me do Hecuba. My son played the 3 male parts.  My husband isn't into acting, but we told him he had to be the chorus. This is a democracy after all! (Despite our fears that he'd rebel, he willingly took on the part while taking pictures.)


Remember the Iliad? Our story picks up after the city of Troy has fallen.  The women are taken captive. What is their fate?  The queen of Troy, Hecuba, lies on the ground...


as Poseiden speaks.


Athene enters...


Hecuba laments the loss of Troy, the loss of her husband and children. Her hair has been shorn due to mourning.  (Hence my shorter hair was in keeping with period accuracy, down to all the curls!)


Talthibius, one of the Greek soldiers, enters. He tells Hecuba of the fate of the women.  For an enemy, he is rather compassionate.


Hecuba discovers she'll be given over to that vile, slippery Odysseus.


Her daughter, Cassandra enters, rejoicing that she will be the wife of the Greek king, Agamemnon. Hecuba despairs over her daughter's unfortunate marriage.


Hecuba collapses, after Cassandra is taken away by the soldiers. She knows she'll never see her daughter again.


Then Andromache enters with her son, Astyanax. Her husband, Hector, son of Hecuba, had been killed in battle.  Andromache tells her she watched Hecuba's other daughter, Polyxena, be sacrificed the dead Greek, Achilles. Andromache gave her burial rights and together she and Hecuba mourn the death of Polyxena. Andromache will go to the son of Achilles.


Hecuba shares hopes that Astyanax will grow strong with her in the home of Achilles' son, and when full grown, will return to rebuild Troy.


Talythibius breaks the news that the baby is to be killed, dropped from the walls of Troy onto the rocks below. (Did I tell you this is a tragedy?)


Andromache kisses her son goodbye...


Talthybias takes the child. However he cannot do the dastardly deed himself, so he hands the baby over to his men.


Enter Menelaus.  Outraged.  He has come for his wife, Helen, that harlot who started the war.


Enter Helen...who acts perfectly innocent.


Irate Hecuba argues that Menelaus should kill Helen, telling how Helen ignored Hecuba's previous attempts to help her return to her husband. Meanwhile Helen embraces the knees, an ancient Greek custom to beg for mercy.


A soldier (portrayed by my daughter) brings in the dead Astyanax on Hector's shield. (I told you this is Greek Tragedy, right? Where's the kleenex?)


After the play, my husband asked a million questions, all of which we answered!  Then we took him to Athens, for a tour of Greek democracy.  This is Athens and the Agora, which is the open air, stucco roof covered marketplace supported by pillars. Can't you just imagine it?


Imagine the food that is available for purchase (pantry).  Imagine the fountain where women collect water (kitchen sink).  We could definitely here the water from the fountain (the furies outside was unleashing a storm that caused a tornado to the west of us.) Here is yarn...(thanks to the Colonial Williamsburg sheep and weaver, except for the purple).


My kids really got into the act with me, as we acted like Ancient Greeks with these props.


I had made up cards telling the story of Greek democracy on these blue strips.  On the front I labeled them in ABC order, according to the Greek alphabet.


They were placed around the house, each with a broken piece of pottery.


Here is my cheat sheet!


Alpha-We asked my husband if he thought democracy was a good thing. Oh dear, he was worried.  He remembered this conversation somewhere not having a positive spin.  We assured him (because we were in character) with gleeful grins, that we liked democracy! Didn't he?  Then he lit up, because he thought so too! The card told him to define democracy in his own words. He said, "rule of the people." We could work with that.  Why did he think it was good? (He doesn't like all of my Socratic questioning. In fact, I drive most people nuts with all of my questions, so I usually hold back. But for this, he needed to answer!)  After we pumped everything we could about democracy from him, we allowed him to follow the final directive on the card, to collect an ostrakon (pottery shard). He picked up the broken pottery and noticed a word on it. He tried to decipher the word but I told him that wasn't important and moved him on. Uh oh, he had an idea it was important.

Beta-This card explained the setting of the Agora and told him to collect an ostrakon because he *had* arrived!

Gamma-This card talked about the history of kings in Greece.  Then it said that he grew up with his mother telling him he was descended from one of these kings. Because he was so important, he could have another ostrakon. My husband cheerfully said that it is true, he is descended from a king. I told the kids, "I told you he'd say that." My husband always reminds me to treat him like royalty, so I knew this part would be a thrill for him.

Delta-This card talked about the history of the government moving from kingship to an oligarchy, led by the aristoracy. Since he was one of the aristocracy, he could collect another ostrakon.  My husband was feeling really good about being aristocracy, which I knew he would.  The plot was unfolding well. ;)

Epsilon-This card talked about Solon's reforms. The card said he was descended from Solon, so he could have another ostrakon. By the way, all these ostrakons have the same name scribbled on them. ;)

Zeta-This card talked about the first tyranos, which was a good thing.  Now my husband was really puzzled. We stood there explaining how wonderful the tyrannos was, at least the original one. We told him our ancestors needed this wonderful individual leadership to save Greece.  He was highly supported, even though he made all of the decisions.   When he died, his two sons assumed leadership one after the other, only for one to be murdered and the other ousted.  (Over time, because of the way democracy ended up, the meaning of tyrranos took on a negative connotation and denotation.)   Because my husband's family obviously survived these turbulent times, he could have another ostrakon. He was sort of scratching his head at this point. ;)

Eta-Then my husband got this card:
By 487BC, a law was passed specifying that archons were to be selected by lot, rather than election. Eventually selection by lot became the way of filling the other offices. This opened the door for the poor to become part of the democracy, reducing the power of the aristocracy.  Eventually the Council of the Areopagus becomes a law court for murder trials.  You are one of the aristocracy. Collect an ostrakon. 

Wait a minute, he questioned.  No more elections?  He looked concerned. "Oh", we assured him, "elections were a bad thing. The people did not have a say, because only the aristocracy was voted in to any of the offices. Now anyone can be in office. Well, not us women," I lamented, as I looked at my daughter. She agreed, we had no part in government. Nor did slaves or people who lived outside of Athens.  But my husband was in government with the poor people!  They were in government together! Something led my husband to ask how much education the poor people had.  "None," I cheerfully replied. "What do they need education for? They have opinions and that is what matters. Their opinion should count. This is a democracy, rule of the people, despite amount of money, despite level of education, despite social position. To be part of the democracy they have to be a male citizen of Athens and not a slave. That is all that matters.  Isn't that good? You said democracy was a good thing and that it is simply defined as "rule of the people."   Um, at this point he was guessing it was a good thing.  He was glad to collect another ostrakon, though.

Theta-This card explained that tax money now pays the officeholders, so that the poor have no closed doors to their being a part of the democracy.  Of course my husband was the aristocracy, so he could have an ostrakon.  My husband wasn't so sure.

Iota-This card said:
Because it’s too difficult  to prove before a court that a particular individual posed a threat to democracy, ostracism is instituted. Once a year a person who appears to be a threat can be banished from Athens for 10 years.  Collect an ostrakon.    

Now we explained ostracism to my husband. He understood what it meant but didn't realize this was common in Greek government. We assured him it was a good thing. "Isn't it a good thing to get rid of trouble makers?" He couldn't argue with that.  Well, he went looking for his ostrakon, but couldn't find any.  I exclaimed, "What? What do you need with more?  Look, he's hoarding all of these!"


 My kids jumped into the foray and we gathered really close around my husband.  We started picking up the ostrakons from his hand and I cried, "Look!  They have writing on them! What do they say?" My son declared, "They all have  Kallixenos' name written on them!" I cried out, "He's trying to ostracize one of our good friends!  He's going to make people use these when they vote for the ostracism! I think you should all ostracize him!" My kids were all talking about the same thing at the same time and my husband said, "Why don't I know what is going on?"

I told my husband he was set up, just like he could have been in Greek democracy, if they were trying to get rid of him. "Ohhhh, I guess democracy isn't a good thing after all."  This is when we stepped out of character to explain it to him. That is why the Colonial Williamsburg Patrick Henry got all fired up when someone suggested that he was helping to form a democracy. In a nutshell, Patrick Henry angrily told us that democracy led to dictatorship.  Now things are clicking that we have a republic which is different from a democracy, but that's our next unit.

Then my son started his Alexander the Great presentation,


 but he was stumbling over information (it was late) and my husband was literally cracking up (it was late).  My son gave up, so we decided to go up for baklava. My husband made a pot of coffee, so that gave time for everyone to settle down. I encouraged my son by saying that he could do an informal conversation with us, just like the interpreters do at the Colonial Williamsburg Tucker House.  When we finally sat down to dessert, my son was having a hard time starting things up, so I asked, "So Al, what's up?  Where are you at these days?"  My son laughed and eased into a presentation that amazed me.  His believable audacity shocked his father. Alexander the Great had been told by his mother that he had descended from a god. He was self-assured and invincible.  My son was highly believable. Both of my kids shared their informal presentations at the table and did a great job.

Monday, April 11, 2011

CW EFT: Making History Live part II

Last week was the final CW EFT of the school year, "Making History Live."  We originally saw this excellent production two years ago.  The history component of "Making History Live," focused on African American programming at Colonial Williamsburg.  Although there are AfricanAmerican special programs each week, we got to see an entire weekend's worth when they celebrated their 30th anniversary at CW.

One fun aspect of "Making History Live," was the opportunity to go behind the scenes.  This was like a door opening to us a few years ago when we first saw it.  We were living in Texas at the time and had recently come home from vacation in Colonial Williamsburg.  We had trouble shaking the 4mph society bug from our systems. I was dreaming of living there and working there. What would it be like? My imagination soared.   My family thought I was a little crazy, but even they had a blast watching what goes on behind the scenes to Make History Live.  Now that we live in Virginia and visit CW quite often, we've had first hand opportunity to see a few things behind the scenes and get to know some of the employees.  Watching the program again was fun on a different level.  We recognized people this time that we didn't know last time.  We've been to the Costume Design Center several times and have gotten to know the people that were featured there, Tom and Jean!  My son recently had a part in shooting with an EFT for next season.  He can testify first hand that he worked with the same costumers who helped him dress appropriate for his War of 1812 costume.

As discussed during the live Question and Answer, the actors do enjoy staying in character.  When Gowan Pamphlet (whom we met in the EFT and whom we've seen in person on numerous visits to CW) sees us, he cheerfully says hi and one time even said we were members of his flock, because we do attend and enjoy his meetings! Amen, brother!  Saying little things like that makes the historical experience, for which we wanted to visit Colonial Williamsburg in the first place, real.   Books that we've read come to life because of the actors' thorough study into their subject matter. In the EFT, the actor who portrays Gowan Pamphlet showed us how he chose his topics for research at the Rockefeller Library.  When we first saw this EFT, it inspired my kids to dig deeper into their books for researching historical people.  Now that we live in Virginia, we visit CW often and took a special tour to the Rockefeller Library.  Now we use the library ourselves somtimes!  My kids know to be especially quiet in that library, since employees (sometimes in costume) are sitting quietly in hidden corners and studying.

A few weeks ago I came in costume (for the first time) with my kids.  One of the employees stopped me to make certain I knew not to do anything 21st century-like so I wouldn't make them look bad.  (gulp)  I would never want to make them look bad.  I had everything appropriately hidden, but unlike the employees, I have nowhere to hide if I need to do a 21st century thing like rehydrate myself, pay for an item, use my cell phone (in one of the gardens where hopefully no one sees me, of course.)  It's one thing to be aware of these things, but it's another thing to try to accomplish it when you are a guest. I think it helps one to appreciate what the employees do so much more, and to understand their need to separate from us to become modern behind closed doors.  By doing so, they keep the 18th century alive and well on the streets. Huzzah to the first and third person interpreters who do this for us!  It tremendously makes the guest experience.

One thing from the initial viewing of this EFT  has been especially life changing for us.  Our outlook on presenting history has completely changed, focusing on the distinction between a 3rd person interpreter and a 1st person interpreter.  Both are incredibly invaluable and have their place and work together like a weaving, one is the warp and the other the weft yarn. While in costume, a 3rd person interpreter talks to the guests about any era, using 21st century knowledge as a comparison.  This is found in the trades of Colonial Willliamsburg.  I appreciate this type of interpretation. While getting a feel of the surroundings of the trade, we can talk to the interpreter with greater ease of asking questions. Comparisons can be made to the modern era, to facilitate understanding.  Every once in a while they do a little 1st person interpretation, and that is fun too.  It gives us a different level of experience, sort of a Johnny Tremain moment. Everyone teases me about our coming to CW so often, but this is one of the reasons why I keep coming back, and my family more than willingly follows. Although CW is a museum, it is a living history museum, not a static museum with the same objects on display. I enjoy meeting the different tradespeople, who each give us a different personal take on their own interpretation yet historically accurate representation of their trade.  I can see a new item being made, a different form of the process, hear new ideas and questions from the guests which I've never before considered, yet find intensely fascinating.  I'm often merely a fly on the wall, merely listening and absorbing and learning and appreciating.

A first person interpreter, in costume, is in the era of the past, speaking as if he lives in the past.  This is the most fun of all!  It gives us an opportunity to actually meet a person in history. There are so few places where we can truely time travel, and I love time travel.  However this can be the most difficult, depending on the type of questions we would like to ask of the historical person.  We therefore have two sets of questions, the ones for the person of the past, and the one for the actor when he steps out of character, because sometimes some of them do. We always leave the choice of stepping out of character up to the discretion of the actor. We highly respect their roles and enjoy them as individuals as well.  Whatever they want though it is great to also talk with them out of character to ask the biggies like recommended books, impact on today, etc, etc, etc. Since we have gotten to know some of the actors, I think we are having an especially fun time staying in character with them.  One of them, while in character, sort of communicates 21st century things in an 18th century way based on past conversations with us.  We like to try to follow his lead.  Fun, fun, fun!   We like both experiences  and we make the most of each type.

However, it's one thing to learn about the different types of interpreters.  It's another thing to "become" an "interpreter," to make history live, ourselves. This is where the EFT most impacted us 2 years ago.   As much as we'd love to work somewhere in this capacity, we have not been able to find a place to do so. We live 2.5 hours away from CW, too far away for anything there. Well at least the Alamo wanted us, when we lived in San Antonio. But the weekend of the big event, the seige of the Alamo, we were moving to Virginia! We can't find anything here, despite leads that had closed doors...except at history class!  Because of "Making History Live," history class is a lot more fun now.

When we first saw "Making History Live," we had already been dressing in costume for oral reports for our quarterly history presentations. Every nine weeks, the kids and I would choose someone from history to base an oral report on.   My parents and husband would sit for the oral reports, a little music, ooh and ahh over historical arts and crafts from the era, then ate period food. We were "in-person" for the report then back to the 21st century for everything else.  This is great but we were ready for a challenge. I knew it but couldn't figure out what the next stair-step should be. Then we saw "Making History Live."  My kids' wheels started turning. Mine did too but I let them think it was only their idea.  "Hey Mom, can we do that for our history presentations from now on?  Let's stay in character the entire time.  We'll be just like Colonial Williamsburg, where our guests have to ask us questions pertaining to our character!"  This idea sort of threw our guests for a loop, the first time we tried it, during our Pioneer history presentation.   What were the results of their attempts?  When did they die? Any good books or movies about them? etc, etc, etc.  My kids were firm. They stayed in character, but had no idea how to hint at possiblities to the future.  My mom looked to me for help, so now I am the bridge between the two eras, fielding all the questions, sort of like the historian during the live question and answer sequence on all of the EFT live broadcasts. Another challenge my kids have run in to, again which we often see at CW, is the guests discussing 21st century topics during our period dinner, during transition points of the program, etc, etc, etc. It has caused the kids  and I to think outside the box to bring them back to the present era, with a good healthy dose of teasing.  All of this is great for the kids (and me) because it entails higher-level thinking skills.  Again, it helps us to appreciate even more everything the actors do at CW, doing excellent first person interpretations.  Doing the first person interpretation has made our projects more real, more personable, more alive!

Making History Live in our own home for quarterly history presentations has made learning history a lot of fun.  Our guests have always enjoyed them.  My mom's one regret is that we are no longer in Texas where she can see them.  Our audience is now down to one, since moving from Texas to Virginia, but at least we have a committed audience who is willing to put up with our craziness.  I am also finding more ways to involve my husband, who isn't into the acting thing, so we find ways to involve him in a surprising way. We've been Ancient Egyptians!


We've had a Medieval Feast!

Although playing different people in different places during the Napoleonic Era, we had the common theme of writing. Inspired by Colonial Williamsburg's Jefferson and Adams: A Stage Play, my son had this idea to open our program.  My daughter was Elizabeth Bennet who had just received Mr. Darcy's infamous letter. I was Thomas Jefferson's daughter, schooling her children and managing the home at Monticello.  My son was Oliver Hazard Perry, writing an important letter which was revealed later in the program.


We recreated Oliver Hazard Perry's infamous flag...


...which came to life when we saw another reproduction of it in Boston! I think the original is at the Naval Academy.


Then my son "became" Lafayette. No, I had nothing to do with this.  Although I tried to talk him into it when we previously did our history presentation on the American Revolution, he had absolutely no interest in Lafayette until...


...a few months later when he met the Colonial Williamsburg Lafayette!  A few months later when we did the EFT: Yorktown, my son begged me for a Lafayette costume that looked exactly like the actor's.   After meeting this actor, sleeve ruffles for instance, which I kept telling my dubious son were period accurate, were suddenly "in." Now he can't get enough of them for his costumes.


My son was so disappointed in my first attempt at a Lafayette coat, it took a few more years of research and trying to reproduce one to his satisfaction.

My daughter did a great Anne of Green Gables reciting "The Lady of Shallot". I had wanted the kids to portray dual roles, stepping out of paintings to discuss Impressionist paintings but they didn't understand.  First person interpretation becomes a great way for a teacher to model new things for the students. Therefore, I had fun with a dual role as Queen Liliokalani and a French dancer who stepped out of a Renoir to teach about Impressionism. Moi?

Perhaps our best and most fun first person interpretation was WWII.  I wore coveralls and a bandana (just like the war poster) and served a ration type dinner after I came home from the factory.  We discussed the war and remembered loved ones in Poland as I used my Polish ceramicware.  Then I quickly changed into an evening dress for the USO show andwe entertained the troops...appropriately dressed in BDUs!  My son did a dual role as Glenn Miller and corsair flying ace Kenneth Walsh.

I could go on and on. We've had a great deal of fun with them and they store up great memories.  It's not only fun, but we also learn (gasp) and remember a bit of history! Right now we are preparing for our history presentation in the next week on Ancient Greece. I'm researching the costumes.  The kids have paper-mached and molded painted the masks.  We are rehearsing "Trojan Women."    We'll be like the Greek Theater where 3 actors played many parts. (I gave my kids the choice of choosing one scene to portray but they want to go all the way.)  We need help with the chorus, so my husband will have to do that. He might balk, knowing him, but this is a democracy after all. He has no choice. =) My son's historically researched, linothrax armour (layers of linen glued together), is done and looks fabulous!  He'll be Alexander the Great! We made the armour to look like the one in the famous Roman mosaic of Alexander the Great!


My son is trying to finish his sword. Women were not key players in ancient times.  My daughter and I will base our interpretations around what we know to be true for women of Greek society in that time. The rest we are free to make up, as long as it is rooted in historical accuracy. We learned that the African American interpreters at CW do the same thing, because slaves obviously left little documentation as to their lives.  Some primary resources exist (which were written by the slaves themselves), but mostly secondary documentation is all they have to go on (which was written about the slaves).  Again, the EFT has taught us how to fill in the gaps.  Creativity is allowed, as long as it is based in historical fact.

I am planning on writing a script and gathering props to ostracize someone. This is a democracy after all!  Hmmm, what else can we do?  Any ideas? Want to come? Want to "Make History Live?"

At the end of the live broadcast of the EFT, previews of the new programming for next season were shown, including the specific scene that my son was part of in the War of 1812! How exciting!  Stay tuned! Homeschool Buyer's Co-op makes the EFTs affordable for homeschoolers, so stay tuned this summer for when they announce the opening for registration! Also, it's not too late to enjoy this season now.  Although the live events are passed, the videos, message boards, on-line computer games, teacher lesson plans and activities, etc, etc, etc are available through August...24/7. What a great way to let your kids loose on history during the dog days of summer! Colonial Williamsburg does a top-notch job in all facets of their programming.  They have definitely impacted my kids to enjoy history more.  They are a teacher's dream come true!  I encourage each of you to Make History Live in your classroom and to see it for yourself on a future visit to Colonial Williamsburg!