Reliving The Lives Of Someone Else’s Ancestors…

I used to take a great delight in the re-enactment hobby. I discovered it in the 1980’s as an adjunct to the activities of our local muzzle-loading rifle shooting club.

We’re in Australia, but a section of the country that has little colonial history of note – few battles and none of them famous. Re-enacting colonial times would mainly involve hard work, dirt, and discomfort. It is an unattractive prospect compared to the pageantry and bloodshed of  the United States, Britain, or the European continent. There is little in the way of glamour to it all.

So I reached out – gathering materials to pretend to live in 1860’s America, 1800’s England, and various areas during the Middle ages. There were a lot more things to wear and do when one concentrated on these cultures. At various times you could have seen me as an ACW soldier of either side, a British soldier of 1815 or 1860, a medieval dentist or crossbowman…it was a varied picture. But none of it was a picture of my own life …or of the lives of my ancestors.

Ultimately, this is where the activity failed. It introduced me to like-minded individuals here and now, and I value their friendships….but it had no valid connection to my life.

So what has taken the place of this once all-consuming passion? What fire burns in the grate now? And why is it producing a better heat for me? Read the next post and see.

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Are There Truly Humourless Societies?

We often think of the Puritans in New England or the mullahs in Persia as sober-minded kill-joys. People who cannot be amused and who would not be happy if their life depended upon it. Perhaps this is so, but I can’t help feeling that there must be a quintessential  Puritan or Persian joke that cracks ’em up regularly. We might never have told it but it exists nevertheless.

How about more primitive groups ( Though there will be a little discussion later amongst the cynical about the Persians and primitive behaviour…)? Do the Hottentot laugh it up? The Orinoco Indians? The Inuit? You bet they do. I’ve seen pictures of them yukking it up over songs, dance, and theatre. The humour might be local and pointed, but it’s there all right.

Are there humourless professions? You’d think the funerary ones would be sober, and they are… mostly whilst working…but I’ve seen ’em off duty and they laugh as well as they weep. My own previous professions had their own forms of humour – in one case involving blood and pain and in the other troublesome customer relations. Occasionally they would cross jurisdictions. It will likely be the same with welders, court process servers and people who stuff sausages. And you don’t want to know what they stuff in there…

I think that any group of people – a nation, a society, a club, or a family – must of necessity have some comedy or humour in their makeup. If they don’t they would go mad – perhaps this explains the ones that have done so in the past. As soon as the fun evaporated, so did they.

 

A Very Slightly Grand Tour – Part One

We have all read of the Grand Tour – the coming-of-age tradition for those of the wealthy classes from Western Europe in the 18th and 19th century. France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, and then back again over several months. Sometimes it extended to years if side trips could be made to the Ottoman empire or to eastern Europe. Tourists came back with a wealth of art, impressions, and diseases.

Of course it can all be done very much more rapidly these days, and from anywhere in the world. A quick whisk through all the capitals is no more than a Eurail pass away, and you can cram several cathedrals and palazzi in a day – with time to spare for the bar and the duty-free on the way home. If I wish to meet foreigners and hear the exotic patois of their languages I need not leave the comfort of my own city – they’ve come here these days. A smart-card bus ticket and a day will let me see Europe, Asia, Africa, and parts of South America all spread out over Perth.

But where can I go to tour grandly? If not in culture, and not in pure distance travelled, I think the southwest of my own state is a very good place to start.

It is possible, by dint of grind and caffeine, to use the modern freeway and highway system to circle the southwest from Perth to Bunbury, Busselton, Dunsborough, Augusta, Walpole, Albany, then back to Perth in a day. You won’t get to see all the sights and you won’t have fun, but you can do it. But if you add a few days to experience all the stops the tension goes and the fun seeps back in. Food, drink, trinkets, art, scenery, yokels, it’s all there. And I am looking very hard at adding another factor to the equation: theatre…the theatre of living history.

It won’t be public theatre – so much of the best living history is played to an audience of the actors alone. It won’t be dramatic theatre – because the WA southwest is not the cockpit of anything. But if it can be done right, it may prove to be as delightful an experience as anything that 18th century Europe could throw up. More plans to come…

Returning To Somebody’s Roots

I am prompted to write today’s column by an advertisement that appeared on a Facebook timeline. It touted some form of cultural cringe session entitled ” Return To Roots “. The images fronting it suggested that the participants would be from Central American jungles, but I suspect that this was nothing more than graphic designer’s code for ” Come along and get drunk on expensive beer. ”

Nothing wrong with that, as many of my friends will attest, but using it as a catchphrase was damnable. If you REALLY want people to return to their roots, you are going to have to accept that the roots that they return to are neither exotic, erotic, or interesting. The crowd you are going to get is going to have to revert to being teenagers in the 1980’s in outer city suburbs…and you can get fresher versions of that at any servo on the Albany Highway right now.

No – what the advertisement was calling for was for a to return to someone else’s roots. What exactly it wanted us to do there is questionable. Root around? Dress up? Play act? I can do that in the traditional garb of my forefathers – a shirt and trousers – while drinking the mystical potion of the tribe – the highball. I do not need to put warpaint on my cheeks and shake a spear to be warlike. Our tribe put on khaki clothing and shook rifles…and it worked.

I’m as guilty as the next re-enactor of aping something that none of my family ever remotely enacted in the first place. As far as I can tell, none of the Steins or Sheedys were ever at Waterloo – except me – and I was 180 years late, thank goodness. What I did then and others do now is not re-enacting…it is acting. If we were better at it we would be paid money and solicited to give our political opinion on CNN.

But as far as returning to roots? I hardly remember some of their names, let alone addresses or faces…I still have a rash, however…

Featured Image: Fake Petzval lens effect. Real geezer.

Not All Little Worlds Have To Be Real…

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A great deal of artistry and hard work is expended by miniaturists to make their little worlds real. Of course they are always real in the mind of the builder – that goes without saying – but there is a driving urge to make the viewer see the realism as well.

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This leads to ever more attention to detail, whether the little world is a motor car workshop or a Victorian parlour. There is always something that can be added. The makers of scale cars, aeroplanes, dollhouse furniture, etc. have long realised this and have taken to supplying food, tools, computers, packages, weapons, spare parts, and decorations for all the different scales. You can get lost in the contemplation of this as you look at the miniature.

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Note: the ladies who do dollhouses hold a yearly exhibition that is well worth seeing. They have had the bright idea of putting the delicate and detailed miniatures and dioramas at a little distance behind a barrier to prevent damage from hands  and then supplying small sets of binoculars as viewing aids so that you can go over the displays centimetre by centimetre. Good thinking!

Okay, here is where we leave Kansas, Toto. My Little Studio has always prided itself on the combination of real human figures with car scenes and now is going to start doing the same for historic scenes. If I was a competent model builder and miniaturist I could make detailed dioramas and structures  for backdrops and then pose real people in them – alas my miniature building skills are rudimentary, and my purse not deep enough to afford the ultimate in detail that the real hobbyists do. Things would look fake.

And yet…and yet…there is a division of reality that is fake and everyone knows it…and applauds it. It is …the theatre. The theatre and the photo studio. In both these environments reality is truncated, reduced, suggested, and edited for effect. The solid wall of a house becomes a theatrical flat, and a stage set is comprised of many different elements butted up beside each other and nailed together. Joins can be visible and no-one feels bad. Architecture can be implausible, as long as it allows the actors to move well and produce the action for the audience. The audience is always in the front and frequently a little higher than the stage.

Conveniently, this is also the position that a still camera occupies on a miniature set.

So, I have taken stock of the 1:12 scale furniture that I already have, and purchased some more. I’ve scored big on 1/2 price 1:12 scale window frame and door kits and started painting them in suitable colours. I even have 1:12 scale hurdles and enough stairway to make a fake movable stage stairway. I am going to start cutting stage flats to accomodate these elements out of 6mm foam core board and covering it with the appropriate scale wallpaper or brick paper. I already have a medium sized 1:12 stage upon which these elements can be erected and taped together. Like a real theatre, once one production is finished, the flats, stage furniture, and props all go back into storage until needed for the next one. The joy of using 6mm foamcore board is that a 30 cm x 20 cm basic flat is light, cheap, and rigid, and can be faced on either side with a different finish.

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First Hazel Leaf Theatre stage production will be ” The Duchess Of Dartmoor ” and I will start casting as soon as the sets are done. I think it can be completed in three sets; Milady’s boudoir, Milord’s study, and the garden. It is a romantic melodrama.

Remember that miniature theatrical producers are superstitious about opening nights. It is traditional to wish them ” Break a fingernail…”.

Heading Image: Goldfische Studio’s production set for The Pearl Of El Paso. A 3-d film set and detailed as the motion picture camera is unforgiving.