If you go to the cinema you know what to do: buy overpriced popcorn, sit through a half hour of loud ads, and watch the show.
If you go to the live theatre you know what to do: buy an overpriced program, sit through a thin overture, and watch the show.
If you go to a re-enactment you also need to know what to do. Here’s a list of suggestions to make the thing pleasant:
- Read up a little on what the re-enactment is of before you go along. Really, just a quick glance at wikipedia will do if you are not a scholar. Just get an idea of where the place depicted was, what happened there, and when it occurred. Find out who the people were. That’s all you need to do – the re-enactors will do the rest as long as you are receptive.
- Arrive early. You don’t have to assault prepared positions at dawn, because most of the re-enactors are old, fat, and lazy, and they are certainly not going to do so. But there will be a definite start time for everything and if you find it out well in advance you can be there to see the kickoff. Be aware that many re-enactments start better than they finish – just like the wars they feature…
- Be aware that car parking is problematical. If someone was re-enacting in the middle of the Gobi desert the car parks would be full…If you can get dedicated public transport that drops you off at the gate you will be happy.
- Dress appropriately. As a spectator you are not expected to be in correct period dress ( though if you are you may be delighted to be given especial treatment ) but cheesy fluoro clothing and ripped tops do nothing for the scene. In comparison to the magnificence of the costumed re-enactors you will feel tacky and foolish.
- Eat and drink at the facilities provided for spectators – not at the camps of the re-enactors. That is their life – you have yours. If your polystyrene tray of cheese fries topped with chocolate lard is less attractive than the spit-roast joint of beef in the soldier’s camp you can reflect on it later as you sip the Gaviscon. Wise spectators pack a sandwich and a flask.
- Take your camera and a couple of spare batteries. Take a spare card. If it has facility for an interchangeable lens, take the wide-range zoom. Don’t take multiple lenses that compel you to change in mid battle because there will be a lot of particles in the air. Put on your highest usable ISO and a good fast shutter speed and then follow the action.
- Be aware that you could be hurt on the day. Things can, and have, gone wrong. Don’t ask for details, but trust me on this. If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. You can’t sue anybody for anything.
- Bows and crossbows kill people in front of them at mid-range.
- Pistols kill people in front of them at close range.
- Rifles and muskets kill people in front of them at long range.
- Artillery kills people all around it up both close and far away. It also kills them when it is being moved into place and when it is being towed away. It kills them when it is being made and when it is laid up in a museum.
- Horses kill people and then stamp on them.
- Airplanes kill their pilots right in front of your children and faster than you can react.
- Camp food poisoning rarely kills but everyone affected wishes they could die.
- Don’t expect the re-enactor that you see on the field or in the camp to have the right age, shape, colour, sex, or attitude. These are modern times. They may, however, look exactly like an Osprey illustration.
- Don’t expect all the equipment you see to be 100% authentic. At a recent open day I was twitted about the historic camera I was using. The visitor jeered at the anachronism…until I pointed out that the heart arteries I was wearing at the time were not in their original place on my body. He took the hint and scuttled off with his tail between his legs.
- The thing will be noisy. NOISY! GUNS ARE NOISY! SWORD FIGHTERS ARE NOISY! ALE QUAFFERS ARE NOISY!
- When things go awry, words will be spoken. If the re-enactors are scholarly they will be period pieces of abuse. If they are modern athletic types the language will be similarly robust. This is what happens.
- Feel free to be offended by something but do so silently. You’ll see that our ancestors operated the planet with slavery, sex abuse, venality, religious savagery, murder, genocide and really silly recipes. You need not follow in their footsteps, but you are not invited to bleat about it. Go home and be self-righteous over a cup of vegan tea.
- All the food has lard. All the food has gluten. All the food has meat, peanuts, seafood, gunpowder, snot, and fingerprints in it. No-one has the especial pills/needles/inhaler that you need to survive. If you eat, you take your own risks.