Why New Reenactors Should Try First-Person

There seems to be a misconception among reenactors, especially new reenactors, that first person interpretation is for more “experienced” participants. First person has become a goal. Only those who have exhausted their interest in material culture and building the physical materials of an impression, reach for it.

But the truth is, for new reenactors, first person should be the first thing they do. Not after hours of reading countless historical books, hand sewing endless miles of linen, weeks camping in every imaginable weather condition, but first thing.

I know. Some of you are thinking I’m crazy right now. But it’s true. New reenactors have the most to gain from participating in first person reenacting and here’s why.

5 Reasons New (and Old) Reenactors Should Do First-Person.

1. First person reenacting is one of the few truly free things in the hobby.

All the gear, the clothing, the cookware, the tentage, the weapons, everything else costs money. The higher quality an item, the more expensive. The more stuff you “need” for an impression, the more money you have to invest in the hobby. The more time periods you do, the more money spent on gear that works for 1814 but not 1914. First person interpretation, on the other hand, doesn’t cost a cent and works for all time periods. All it takes is an honest willingness to try, a willingness to stick your neck out and let go of that tiny bit inside that worries about looking foolish. (We all look silly in some ways anyhow!).

2. It’s not only easy to change but those changes are immediate.

Good reenactors are always researching, always learning something more. The worst part of this constant learning is finding out that something you thought was OK, something you spent months making, or saving to buy, isn’t as accurate as you hoped. When that happens, what choices do you have? Go without, spend another chunk of money on something else, use the inaccurate thing until you can get something better? It’s no wonder so many people resent “improvement”.
First person interpretation is not like shoes or a gown that may take months to make or save up for. It can be changed immediately, because the event changes, because you’ve learned something new or just because you feel like changing it. So you said that the war started in the wrong year (done that!), or you forgot the name of the battlefield (definitely done that). So you decided that you don’t want your fictitious deceased husband’s name to be John. Whatever! Next time the topic comes up, say something different. Viola, instant improvement.

3. Even better, there is never any lasting proof of the mistakes you made!

How many times have you seen the “everyone starts somewhere” photo thread on social media? This is the thread where everyone who has been reenacting for a while drags out the old, embarrassing photos & laughs about how far they have come in their impressions over the years. These threads are meant to help new reenactors feel better about their mistakes because “we all made them”. They are also a bit embarrassing. Photos don’t lie and it’s hard to pretend you didn’t wear that horribly undocumented bodice for 5 years when there are pictures to prove otherwise.
Thanks to first person being entirely interactive though, unless you are being followed around by an MTV camera crew, who is going to remember what you said a month from now, much less years later?

4. It really isn’t as hard as everyone would have you think.

I know I’ve harped on this topic before, but it’s seriously my biggest pet peeve about other first person reenactors. All the common advice, all the popular articles and books on the subject, make it seem so much more involved than it has to be. My least favorite are the huge laundry lists of every last life detail that they say you “have” to know about your persona. Sure, for some people (*cough* me), those details are part of the fun but let’s be reasonable. Do you really need to know if your persona puts on his left sock or right sock first? Do you even know how you do it in your modern life? Is anyone even going to ask? (Trust me, they probably aren’t)

5. Ever wondered how to meet people at an event? 

First person is the best way because it is, by nature, interactive. This is especially great when you are new to reenacting or more introverted. Walking up to a total stranger can be nerve wrecking! But who can resist a stranger who walks up and asks “good afternoon sir, would you perhaps know when the next train is to arrive?” First person is a built in icebreaker. But perhaps the biggest reason first person is such a great way to meet new people, is because everyone doing first person is doing it for the fun! There are plenty of ways to reenact, but in my experience, the people that are really having fun, laughing, smiling and really enjoying an event, are doing first person. First person interpreting means letting go of modern worries & stresses, embracing every aspect of history beyond just the material goods & really losing yourself for a weekend. Who doesn’t want to spend a weekend with other people that are really enjoying themselves despite crazy weather, funny clothing & strange food?

I honestly believe that any new reenactor who tries first-person interpretation early on, will have a better & more enjoyable experience at events than one who waits until later.

How long did it take you to try first-person?

See you in the Past!