Acting and Re-enacting – Part Two – How To Address The Players


The title of this second post would seem to draw no distinction between actors and re-enactors. There is only one real distinction between them: actors act for pay – re-enactors pay to act. It is as simple as that. When it is done well, both groups are happy.

But they both are often approached by members of the audience and engaged in conversation, and frequently the public does not know how to do this well. Here are a few tips to make the contact a pleasant one:

  1. ” Who are you supposed to be? ” is a rude form of address – It presupposes a right to demand identification. The actor so accosted may have been trained to give a set answer or may make it extempore. Beware asking this sort of thing at the end of the day because some actors are very good at the latter form of response.
  2. ” What are you supposed to be? ” is even more dangerous. ” Polite. And you? ” has sometimes been heard in reply…
  3. ” Is that a real musket, sword, helmet, dress, syphilitic sore, etc  ? ” may seem like a good way to start a conversation but really isn’t. Not if you wish to appear intelligent. The actor is utilizing costume, makeup, and prop to support a part – to create an impression. As a spectator, you too create an impression…
  4. ” I had one of those when I was in the Army “. Indeed. If the item you are pointing to is a shirt button we believe you. Of you are pointing to a Baker rifle, we do not. Conversely, if we are representing a Vietnam War-era rifleman and you are 70 years old we are prepared to believe everything. Re-enactors study the impression they present in microscopic detail. Don’t try to bullshit someone who studies bullshit scientifically.
  5. ” Are those your medals” is actually a good question. If the impression requires a Waterloo medal and it is worn on the left breast you can take it to be a costume effect. There are NO Waterloo veterans left – save those of us who have gone to Belgium at intervals to re-enact the battle. By all means ask about that, but fall in with the game and ask about them in context.

Real modern medals and medal ribbons worn correctly on the left breast are indicative of real service. If you ask about them ask carefully and with respect. There are often good stories there, but the stories may be told, not demanded. Military personnel know not to mix uniform elements or wear their real honours in an inappropriate manner.

If you see foreign medals and ribbons you must be careful what you ask. Some can be real, but in the last few years there have been instances of false colours being flown and it is as well to avoid these situations entirely. Let the service and police organisations deal with the problem.

Occasionally you’ll see medals that have been presented by private clubs and organisations worn as service medals. Generally people do not mean ill with this – indeed I have a pewter gaud pinned on me by the ” Commander ” of the Scottish Brigade at Waterloo ’95 ( pinned on in a restaurant…) that I treasure as a souvenir. I’d wear it happily at a dinner for old comrades of the trip but not at an open event.

Honours to be paid to medals? Saluting a theatrical MOH winner? Ditto to a VC or Croix de Guerre ? Leave that for the real military on real military occasions.

Wretched excess? I have no advice here. If someone wishes to re-enact a Soviet or North Korean Field Marshall with a coat and pants full of brummagem honours, it might well be seen as theatrical dedication or madness. Teat it with awe.

6.  ” What are you supposed to be doing? ” is a rude way of asking ” Please tell me what is happening here? ” You’ll get a sad answer to the first and a happy answer to the second – which would you prefer?

7.  ” I suppose you think that’s good fun…” is a statement heard rarely, but it always indicates smart-aleck aggression. The simple answer ” Yes.” is not an invitation to continue the abuse.

8.  Now to counter the impression that this is just a list of ” don’ts “, let me suggest some good approaches. Try ’em – you’ll be surprised how they open the door to good conversations and good times:

a. To the well dressed lady. ” What a marvellous gown. You look radiant”. No woman wearing a crinolined confection will take this amiss. Smile.

b. To the guard standing there at attention in the sentry box. Say nothing. Touch your hat as you pass, but leave him to his duty.

c. To the officer at his/her ease. ” Good morning. I couldn’t help noticing your uniform/troops’ appearance/ medals. Looks splendid.”. You will not be ignored nor abused.


d. To the driver of the veteran car/preserved tank/biplane. ” What a splendid vehicle! Can you tell me more about it? ” Beware – they can – they will – you may not get away until sundown…Fortunately most old cars have dim headlamps and you can escape in the darkness.

e. To the re-enactor 0f religion. Priest, minister, mullah, rabbi…whatever.” Bless you in your work “. If they are a Salvation Army re-enactor put a coin in the tin.

f. If there is a horse nearby. That horse is not re-enacting being a horse. That IS a horse. They kick at the back, bite at the front, and cost money in the middle. Beware – they are not required to be tolerant of fools.

g. To the organiser of the day. ” Thank you for the display. I particularly admired the ( something…). I’ve enjoyed myself. ” You will be welcomed next time.



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