Last month I was at Old Sturbridge attending the 2010 ALHFAM (Association for Living History, Farms, and Agricultural Museums) conference. While there I was privileged to see a truly great example of live interpretation done by a master of the trade – Jim O'Brien. Jim, who is Coordinator of Special Events at Old Sturbridge Village, presented “Tales of a Yankee Peddler” and told stories about his encounters while traveling. It was an engaging, fun way to present stories and information about the time period of 1830s Massachusetts.
Jim incorporated many interpretive techniques, but some of the ones that shone were:
- Movement: Jim’s use of movement made his presentation visually interesting – bouncing and rocking in his chair to simulate riding on a stage coach; leaning forward to stress a point; standing for emphasis; and using hand movements effectively. He used movement vertically and horizontally and also provided almost pantomimed actions that supported his story.
- Stories: His presentation unfolded through short, well-told stories.
- Historical plausibility and authenticity: Jim’s background research on peddlers was apparent through the stories that he crafted in historically plausible ways – they were excellent extrapolations of solid research.
- Expressive voice: He used variation in volume – loud when necessary contrasted with soft and quiet; his expressiveness in both his character and in character’s voices that he created was engaging; pacing – parts of the stories were fast, others slow. All of those combined to create interesting stories that were enjoyable to hear.
- Audience involvement: Jim directed attention to specific people in the audience with comments and questions and let the whole audience feel involved by doing that.
- Practice: Jim’s presentation – his stories, voice, and physicality had clearly been done before – perhaps not scripted, but well-practiced.
There were other factors contributing to Jim’s success including accurate clothing and a peddler’s box of reproductions that he could refer to and use, but it was Jim’s skill that pulled it all together into a great bit of live interpretation.
ALHFAM is a wonderful organization of dedicated professionals. For more information, visit ALHFAM at alhfam.org