Every year, I advise each of you individually and in groups in different rooms, have a "default conversation" or two. I suggest to you that each individual have two or three opening questions or salutations; each group needs at least one, preferably two or three, topics that your characters would logically be discussing.
Every year we discuss what we are going to discuss, then we practice discussing it. This the reason Shelley and Aileen insisted that everyone had to attend all six rehersals leading up to candlelight. Shelley and Aileen paired us in as many combinaitions as possible, in order that we would be prepared to cover all rooms and move throughout the event. This is why Colonial Williamsburg insists that all first-person interpreters also be docents, thoroughly knowledgeable about each room and the individuals associated with it.
There is a bounty of conversation material in each room. Our collection is rich and diverse. What object in each room is most associated with your character? Why? Know your character; know why you are here; know how you fit into the complete tapestry. And do not wait for your audience to initiate the conversation. I have told each of you, "The best defense is a good offense." You talk first and direct the conversation where you want it to go. If you are stumped on a question, veer off to something you can converse about in character.
I was once called in for a walk-through group. I went to the third floor, because I know that it is hard for many of our docents to get up there. I began talking about the bed key. After about 30 minutes, some folks came up and inquired, "Are you the person talking about the bed key?" I was startled, but pled guilty. "We met some people downstairs, and they said we had to make it up to the third floor. The lady was telling about a bed key and we needed to hear it!" Flattering as it was, I chalked it up to a one-off thing; pleased that some of our guests had had such a good experience. By the time the sixth group came up, saying that they had been told the same thing, I was glad that I had contributed to a memorable day at Locust Grove. A large group of visitors are at large in the world, perhaps telling people how much they enjoyed their visit.
I have eight years' experience in theatre; 25 years' experience writing and editing; about 40 years' experience teaching. I use all of it as I put together my first person interpretations. It boils down to...I am interested in what I am saying. If I pick the person, it is because they excite me. If I am assigned a person, I must find something that excites me. If you are excited, your audience will be. If you have fun, your audience will. If you are not excited, your audience will not be. If you do not have fun, your audience will not.
Who are you? What did you do? Why should I care?
I can grant a 30 second performance, a 30 minute presentation, or a three hour audience. But the questions remain the same, and if they are not answered, your guest will not remember you. If they are answered, it does not matter what context you happen to be set in. My first graders remembered what I told them when they happened into the library and heard Ms. Dick, in modern clothes, and context, tell them a story of Lucy, George or William. They asked me questions the following year - they heard, they understood, they remembered, and they thought about it. For a teacher, this is nirvana. I have held audiences of several hundred people for more than an hour. Many of these audience members came to me later, amazed at how I had enfolded them in my time period and experience. "You had me convinced that you really are Lucy Croghan?" They had just one question...maybe two questions, er, one more thing...The audience had a good time and wanted more.
Who are you?
What is your name? Is there any significance to your name; i.e., are you named for someone else, or in commemoration of an event? Is someone named after you? Why? What are your family connections? Are you the eldest, youngest, middlest? Do you have shoes to fill? Are you trying to gain the admiration of someone in your family? Are you trying to prove that you are worthy to belong? Do you feel that you have every right to be part of this family? Have you already earned your place? How? Are you loved by your family? Why? Are you more loved by one particular relative? Why? Do you love your family? Do you have a favorite relative? Are you distanced from your family? Why?
Do you have standing in the community? If so, how did you achieve it? Do you think you deserve it? Do you think you have more to accomplish? Do you feel yourself enjoying well-deserved retirement? Do you feel left out, or sidelined?
What did you do? [Why are you here at this function?]
What events led up to the need for your action? When and how did you become aware of this chain of events? When did you decide to become involved? Why - duty, glory, money, responsibility? Did it turn out anything like you foresaw?
How did you get involved? Was anyone else in your family with you?
How old were you? Were you married? Did you have children? Were you concerned about leaving dependents behind if you were killed? If you are female, did you encourage your husband/sweetheart/brother/son etc. to go? Were you miffed when he left? Did you view his mission and your sacrifice as part of a noble cause? Did you see it as just part of life to be faced and endured? Did you have a contingency plan, in case he did not return? Were you concerned about nor being killed, but maimed?
What was the weather? Was it usual weather? Are you accustomed to the outdoors, or was it a hardship?
Were you hungry, or satiated? Were you usually hungry, or satiated? How about now?
How did your service/accomplishment impact your personal relationships? Family proud of you? Resent your time away? Are you now in a partnership commitment, or do you have to care for someone?
Have you been rewarded for your service? Have you received honors, money/land/etc., prestige? How do you feel about it?
Do you live in comfort now?
Do you think that service such as yours will be neeeded again? Why/why not? Would family be willing to go through it again?
Why should I care? [How does it impact me?]
Do you think that future people will know what you did? Why/why not? Should they know? Why/why not? Emotionally, how do you feel about this concern, or lack thereof? What do you think your contribution to history is? How does it affect future generations?
The storyteller is the teacher, and the historian, and the keeper of the fire of light and warmth. The storyteller spins the thread of life. The storyteller keeps us alive by saying our name and relating our deeds. We are storytellers.