Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Using Social Media to Create Cohesion Before a Living History Event

This post will focus on how to use social media, and other digital media, to create cohesion between groups and individual participants before one-weekend living history events. I will also be talking about how we can reach out to the public to help them feel comfortable engaging when they walk through the gate. These strategies should apply whether you are working in a first-person or third-person environment. 

The Problem
There are some living history events and groups which are able to meet regularly to rehearse. Events which run for several weekends in a row, such as The Great Dickens Christmas Fair, will rehearse for several weeks leading up to the run. This creates group cohesion and helps to keep everyone lined up with the goals of the event or site.

But what do you do when everyone involved can't get together ahead of time? Many living history events are only one weekend. They typically consist of several independent groups and individuals which come together for the weekend, and then go their separate ways. These folks may live several hours apart, making any kind of physical group rehearsal impossible.

If your group meets regularly to rehearse, drill, etc., you may have excellent internal cohesion, but you may still face challenges interacting with other groups for the weekend. It can be too easy to remain in an insular group with the people you know all weekend, instead of cross-pollinating with other participants.

"Who the heck are those people over there? Do they bite? Am I allowed to go talk to them? I better just stay over here where it's safe...."

Sometimes this can even be a matter of fear, or intimidation- we think 'Oh, So- and -So is so cool, they couldn't want to talk to me!", etc.  Of course this is usually not true, but it is still a perfectly understandable reaction around people you may not know very well yet.

So, What to do?
This is where our modern communications tools, including social media, can be extremely helpful. Facebook, for all its many troubles, is a good meeting ground for reenactors and living historians. You tend to find active groups with lots of people there. Instagram could be a good place to start too, to get the word out about what you are doing and how others can come interact with you, though it may not foster the same kind of interactive discussion.

I was actually inspired to write this post by watching my friends in the Guild of St. George, Inc., prepare for the San Jose Renaissance Faire. The theme for the event is fairies, and the Guild has chosen a scenario to support this where they are putting on a court masque based on Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. I know this from 2,300 miles away, because I've seen Rydell posting this EVERYWHERE the last few days. As Guildmaster, he's been using social media to explain what his group is doing, and invite folks from other groups to come and interact with them. This way St. George is supporting the theme of the event, and encouraging interaction between participants, to create a better immersive experience for attendees.

Members of other guilds came to perform for the Queen.
Photo by Angelica Roque

Readers of this blog may have also noticed several posts leading up to the Jane Austen Festival.  At the event, I was running an environmental area where festival goers were invited to come, sit, and enjoy some Regency-era hospitality. However, this is not the only such area at the event. Carol Jarboe also runs a wonderful salon as Caroline, Lady Linnington. My goal was to add something to the event which complimented what she was doing, but did not copy it. I think of us as the Longbourn to her Rosings.

So I reached out to Carol on Facebook, and we talked about what she was doing, and how I could be sure to add something different. It turns out that Lady Caroline does not enjoy games of cards in her parlour, so cards became a major feature in our area. By coordinating this way, Carol and I made sure that we weren't stepping on each other's toes, and that festival goers would have a broader immersive experience by visiting each of us.

Lady Linnington would prefer that her guests attention be focused on her, not whatever ace they may be holding.
Photo by Jen Jarboe

It is very easy for us to forget how overwhelming it can be for people to walk through the gate and into our world. Members of the public who come visit may not know how to approach living history performers. Remember, these good souls are the ones who keep the playground alive by showing up!

In the particular case of the Jane Austen Festival, there is less of a divide between "public" and "participants" than at many other events. The festival has a particularly active following on social media, including a very large Facebook group. This made it possible to reach out directly to attendees prior to the event by putting my blog posts up in the group. I was able to use this to invite festival goers to come and interact with us, and tell them how to do so. I even included a link to a Whist tutorial, and was extremely gratified when a few ladies showed up having practiced!

Some delightful, well-mannered company, at a game of whist. 
Photo by Janet Abell

However, it is rare for event goers to be conveniently herded into a Facebook group heading into an event like that. More of the time, I have found that Facebook events can be very good for recruiting and coordinating participants, but they are not ideal for promoting the event to the public. The event planners themselves may wish to incorporate what you are doing into their promotion, which is why it's important for group leaders and event coordinators to stay in close contact. 

In the old days, where event advertising was limited to costly print media, it could be hard do much about this. However in this brave new world of nearly limitless, often free, media leading up to an event, we can get really specific telling people what they are able to do, and how they can go about making it happen.  The organizing body may wish to share blog posts you have written. Or they may prefer to put up easier-to-digest graphics with quick blurbs, telling visitors how they can interact with you, "You may present yourself to the Queen!" or "Lady Caroline would love you to introduce yourself!", or "Don't forget to check the schedule to see where and when to sign your kids up for militia drill!"  If possible, it is also a good idea to include specific times and places to direct visitors to.

Kids militia drill, being lead by a visiting reenactor at Locust Grove's 18th Century Market Fair. Photo courtesy of Historic Locust Grove.

I always want to support the theme and goals of any living history event, while creating an immersive environment for our guests.  All of these things are possible when we take the time and initiative to reach out and communicate with each other and with the hardworking folks who organize and produce these events.

1 comment:

  1. Very enlightening and presents wonderful ideas for improving the experience for everyone.