How-to Attend Your First, First-Person Event

I have written a lot in the past few years about how to effectively do first person interpretation, finding your comfort zone and ways to be convincingly historical without forgetting who you are in the modern world. However, during all this time, I have had the advantage of speaking from the perspective of someone who had been portraying the same persona for several years. It was an unfair advantage really.

Well aren't you in for a treat. Last year I decided to take my first person interpretation to every event that I attend, not just the tried & true 18th century coffeehouse ones. Again this year, I've decided that first person should be a goal no matter what time period I am reenacting. I am effectively starting from scratch in every new time period I visit, just like many of you are. Luckily you have all my mistakes to learn from!

The Very Basics

The first things to consider when preparing for a first person event are the very basics. By basic, I mean the absolute, barest essentials. Everything else can come later, these are the details of the event itself that will make any and all further research easier. Reenacting isn't a sprint, it's a marathon. Assuming you will be reenacting this era & persona for several years means you have plenty of time to develop the endless little details. But if you walk into an event & don't even know the year you are supposed to be portraying or your own persona's name, well, lets just say you'll look awfully silly when a member of the public asks!

Table Clock with Calendar,
Daniel Delander. 1720. The Met
When is it?

Seriously, this should be the first thing that you think about when preparing for any event and not just one in first person. The year effects everything. It will make figuring out clothing styles or eating habits easier, it effects what other important historical events were happening and even what religious beliefs you might have had. The change in year could mean the change in king, or if your country is even a country!

If the event you are attending doesn't have a dedicated year then it is up to you to choose one. This isn't nearly as hard or frightening as it sounds. One of the best things you can do in this situation is stick with an even numbered year. Not only is a round number be easier to remember but adding an “s” when doing internet searches will lead you to information covering an entire 10 year span.

Where are we?

Again, this is so basic we often forget to learn it before going to an event. Just like in real estate, location, location, location matters when doing first person reenacting. Location can change many of the basic details, details that might not matter for your first few events, but could eventually if you stick with this era & persona.

Map of Candia, Bernhard von Breydenbach. 1486, Hebrew University Jerusalem. 

Why is location so important? The truth is, the public doesn't care where your persona is from. What they want to know is “where is this event supposed to be taking place?” This is especially important for those of us who are reenacting far from where the events we are duplicating originally occurred. If we are pretending that this corn field in central Indiana is France, we need to know this & let the public know it too. While some of the subtle things, like flags or the name of the event might clue them in, it is always better to be extra clear. Get used to saying “In this year in this location” as a precursor to sharing any time sensitive information. Constantly repeating the location & year ingrains the information in both the public's mind and your own.

Self Portrait with Brush & Pallet, Edward Steichen.
1902, Art Institute of Chicago.
Who are you?

This isn't the deep philosophical question that some people take it to be. All of that can happen later, and over the course of years if needed. The public & other reenactors really just want to know your name (real, fake, which ever you are using for the weekend) and what your general position is among all the other people they are seeing. They might have an idea that you are someone important because you are wearing a bunch of fancy clothes & a crown, but don't expect them to guess. Keep it simple. Distill your position at the event down to a job title, a military position or even a family connection. Let the pubic & other reenactors know who you are so that they can organize the people they are seeing in their heads & better understand what is happening around them but don't worry about getting bogged down in personal background all at once.

What is happening?

Now wouldn't you look rather silly walking into a an event commemorating a famous battle & not even knowing the name of the battle or who is fighting whom? If there is a special reason behind the event, for Pete's sake, know what it is! If the reason for the event is completely fictitious at least know what is being made up.

Again, this sort of information might be fairly obvious but don't count on the public picking up on it. Do a little Wikipedia research before hand at least to gain the basics. Depending on your memory for facts, it doesn't hurt to have a mini “cheat sheet” with vital names & dates hidden in your pocket. It is also always OK to simply say you don't know an answer if the public continues to ask questions beyond your very basic knowledge. Smile, admit that they have stumped you & direct them to someone more experienced who might know more.

Whenever a thing is done for the first time, it releases a little demon.


That is it. Everything that you really need to know before stepping into your first, first-person event, regardless of the era, your persona or whether you have ever attempted first person interpretation before. It might feel odd to only need such basic information, but each of these questions asks a vital piece of information which forms a solid first person foundation. Why make first person interpretation difficult or complicated when you can jump in with these easy answers & start having fun right away!