Bringing the Past to Life
to hold workshop at
Lanier on character re-enacting
historian aids educators
by putting a face on history
Lela Jane Bradshaw
(February 2013) For historical interpreter
Mike Follin, history is not a dry list of dates and battles but the
laughter and tears stories of everyday people not so different from
those of today.
In 1976, he was approached to do a series of staged scenarios
at Colonial Williamsburg as part of the Bicentennial Celebrations and
was struck by the potential those small plays had to connect with visitors
to the historic site. After that experience, he went to England to study
and was told, You have to understand Mike, you have a mere 200
years of history, it would fit in a book! For us it is easier to tell
it as a story, we tell it from the heart not so much from the head.
Combining a background in anthropology, communication and theater, Follin
began working with the concept of creating first person characters as
a way of bringing history to life. Meticulous research, authentic costuming
and a flair for improvisation helps him take on a character from the
time and place he is seeking to help his audience learn more about.
Follin believes that in the past, educators and historians have not
always been successful in bringing to life the human stories that give
museum artifacts their true meaning and importance. For years
and years and years what we avoided was the human aspect, he reflects.
What first person characters allow is a real down to earth common
Serving as an Artist-in-Resi-dence for Ohio in the fields of Storytelling
and Creative Drama, Follin teaches museum guides and workers at historic
sites techniques to give their visitors a memorable and educational
On Thursday, March 7, Follin will take part in the Lanier Mansions
popular series Mixed-Up Lectures! Exploring the Unrelated.
Performing in character as Sean OShaughnessy, Follin will take
visitors back to the time of the Irish Potato Famine and the hardships
and triumphs of Irish immigrants to the United States during that era
with his talk Saints Preserve Us!
The Irish in America. In the evenings other lecture, Nick
Ellis will present Community Supported Agriculture. The
entry fee is $3 and the lectures will run from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
with time included for audience questions. For those intrigued by his
performance, Follin will offer a two-day workshop teaching participants
ways of using first person characters as a way to explain history and
add extra interest to historical sites and tours. The Friday, March
8, workshop will cover some communication and interpretation basics
and discuss ways of developing effective tours and interpretative talks.
The Saturday workshop will include a discussion of how to research and
develop a first person character and ways of using props and visual
aids effectively. Registration for the two day event is $75, or $50
for one day.
Follin developed the persona of Sean OShaughn-essy as a composite
character drawn from research using primary sources such as diaries
and letters of Irish immigrants who crossed the Atlantic seeking a new
life in America. The character is a personal one for Follin as his own
family came from Count Roscommon in Ireland. Follin recommends the performance
for all history lovers but suggests that it is best for ages 10 and
up due to difficult themes.
This one will take you on a roller coaster of emotion,says
Follin, explaining that the story is one of both sorrow and hope.
Anne Fairchild, Eastern Region Program Manager for the Indiana State
Museum and Historic Sites, said she believes that the talk serves as
an excellent introduction for workshop attendees. We are going
to use this performance on Thursday night to give an example of what
type of character they can develop for themselves.
The Interpretative Refresher Workshop will offer lessons that many different
historical educators can apply to give people a deeper, more personal
connection to history.
Fairchild says, This is a way for both newcomers and longtime
professionals to freshen up on their presentation skills for giving
tours (we call that interpreting the site) and developing a first person
character (as if you are talking to the person from history).
Fairchild, who attended one of Follins conference presentations
on interpretation, says that, As a seasoned interpreter, I found
new tips and techniques that will help me in my job. If you are a weekend
re-enactor, it will help you prepare a better character. If you want
to support our community and give weekend cemetery tours or be a character
on the street during summer festivals, this workshop will offer insights
Follin estimates that he currently has five or six characters that he
performs as including an innkeeper and an old-fashioned medicine showman.
Over the course of his performances, Follin has been asked many varied
and occasionally shocking questions. But he says that most commonly
audience members ask his characters things that one might ask of any
person when meeting for the first time with family, home, and politics
being common topics of conversation.
The who objective of the show is to involve the audience in a
dialog, he explains.
Follin speaks movingly of a woman who came up to him after a performance
as Sean OShaughnessy and said, I want to thank you
for telling my great grandmothers story. The lady explained
that her relative had made the crossing from Ireland and, like OShaughnessys
wife, lost a child during the voyage who was buried at sea.
Follin hopes that people will take away from his work One, a sense
that history is very much rooted in human nature. Very much about the
story of survival. Second of all that it gives people a sense of identity.
History, community, is like a jigsaw puzzle. Your part fits into the
For more information or to register for
the workshop, contact Anne Fairchild at (812) 273-4531or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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