Create an Easy First-Person Persona

“I'd love to participate but I don't have a character.”

I've heard this a lot since beginning First Person Interpretations Day at the C. Black Coffeehouse back in 2010 and feel the need to address what I think is a common misconception. There is this idea that you have to have a “character” in order to do first person reenacting. This is simply not true.

There is nothing in first person reenacting that requires us to take on anything fake, from the accents to the personal backgrounds and everything in between. The simplest and most honest persona is the one that you already have: yourself. There is no reason that whomever you are in your modern life, can't also be who you are when doing first person, only with a little historical twist.

So, in order to help others prepare for the upcoming reenacting season and the ongoing first person interactions offered at the coffeehouse, here is a simple guide to turning your modern self, into your historic self.
Self-Portrait by Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin, 1771.
The Basics

Name: Use your real name. That way you don't have to remember to respond to a new name while at events! It is also easier for your fellow reenacting friends, especially if they are also doing first person and having a hard enough time remembering to call everyone “Sir” or “Mr.”!

Age: Subtract your actual age from the year you are portraying to get the year you were born. Stick with your real birth date, it's easy to remember & face it, no one is going to ask you when your birthday is while in character anyway. However, knowing the year that you were born historically, does help with the types of experiences you might have had. More importantly, it helps you to remember just how much of the era you've lived through! I am sometimes surprised to discover just how much of the late 18th century my Regency self would have experienced, or maybe I'm just older than I realize.

Occupation: What skill or trade do you already have? Do you typically demonstrate, sell items or do certain tasks around camp? What do you do in the modern world & how does that translate historically? When in doubt, be someone generic. A street seller, a sailor or a solider, a servant, anyone that is one of a large group is easier to portray. This is doubled if that generic person is also of the lower classes. Remember, there might only be one General Washington, but there are hundreds of Private So-N-Sos.

City or Country: This is probably one of the things that scares people away from first person reenacting the most, having to decided where to be from. I will let you in on a little secret, unless you are in a very organized event, with a focused time & location, no one really cares where you choose to be from!

Want to hear another secret? Only the super hard-core folks will notice any little flaws in the match between your personas location, clothes, accent etc. If anyone comes up to you while you are doing first person and starts nagging that (some picky little detail) wouldn't have been used by a (whom ever you are portraying) in (where ever you are from) in (what ever year it is), you have my permission to tell them to get stuffed, especially if they are not making the effort to do first person!

When ever I am asked where I am from, or more often where the coffeehouse is located, I always tell them we are “3 miles from town”. What town? Well “the” town of course, don't they know what town is just 3 miles away? Being vague, yet specific, is a great way to be flexible as event locations are always changing while our personas do not.

Self-Portrait by Marie Louise Elisabeth Vigee le Brun, 1800.
Class Level: Most of us are lower class, even those of us portraying business owners or tradesmen. Just like in life, start at the bottom and worry about working your way up over time. This goes along with your choice of occupation as well. It's easier to portray one of the masses. Don't be afraid to be a generic, lower class nobody! Want yet another secret? Portraying the lower class is also cheaper; less accessories, simpler clothes and no fancy duds to try and keep clean while in camp. This means more time to really enjoy not only the events, but the first person interaction as well.

Spouse & Children: If you have them, great. I'd suggest using them, especially if they are doing first person with you. If they don't reenact, or you don't have one, there are lots of reasons a spouse could simply be “someplace else”. The war, sailing, at work, in “the” town etc. The same goes for children. Indentures are another great way to get rid of your children, whether you actually have them or not. I frequently mention my own daughters “indenture” to various (and constantly changing) individuals, when in reality she is just at home.

As morbid as it sounds, death is another good way to explain someone not being there. One point of caution however, especially for widows, be prepared to explain how your husband died, the public always seems interested in that detail when you least expect it. As with everything, stick with simple, understandable modes of death, a fever, injury or that ever so helpful “war”. They are easy to remember should anyone ask, easy for the public to understand yet vague enough that no one will be unintentionally hurt by hearing the story.

Other important things to know about yourself: Can you read or do you just look at the pretty pictures? Do you play an instrument or sing out of key? Have a gambling habit? Like coffee but think tea is for wimps? Go to church regularly? Do you love gardening but the names of every single general in the war bores you to death? Think about your modern day personality and interests and how that translates into your historic persona.

Many people new to first person reenacting think that they have to know “everything about everything” when creating a persona, every battle, every politician, every tool etc. The truth is, if it's not something that you'd care to know about in the modern world, why would your historic self want to know it in their time? I can relate the recipe for a double chocolate mocha brownies by heart, but heck if I know the name of my senator; my historic self is no different!

Self-Portrait by Benjamin West, 1758 or 1759.
I hope these simple tips will help many of you develop first person personas and encourage more participation in the first person interactions being offered at the C. Black coffeehouse. Remember, be yourself. The easiest way to create a historic persona, is to use as much of your real life as possible. Don't fall into the trap of assuming your first person persona has to be entirely different from who you are naturally. This just makes doing first person more difficult and creates unneeded stress, keeping you away from the fun of actually doing first person.

After all, who do you know better than yourself?


  1. Excellent post, and very good points!

  2. I am a Colonial Reenactor and i just found your blog, your suggestions for developing a persona were very helpful! I will have to take a look at a few of your older posts, it looks like you've gathered a lot of very useful information. Thanks so much!

  3. Hubby and I are long time reenactors of 17th and 18th centuries in New England.
    Just found your nice blog!


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