Quite the Conversationalist: Some Basic Tips for First Person Discussions.
First person interpretation is a unique and different approach to conveying information across to spectators and reenactors alike. First person allows you to step into the shoes and the mind-set of an individual of the 1860s. However, first person is often disdained, disliked, and downright hated. But, doing first person does not have to be a painful experience. It is actually not as hard as you would think. All it takes is a little practice and some practical sense. The following tips should help start you off on the path to having wonderful 19th century conversations.
In order to do first person, you must first understand that you have to be a conversationalist. You will never improve at it if you don’t join into the conversation. Don’t get yourself into the trap of simply nodding your head "yes" or "no". The first signs of inexperience at first person are the typical agreeing and disagreeing of topics in the conversation. Speak up and let us know why you have these feelings. A statement like "I disagree with you because…." is so much better than a simple reply. Once that you have learned to break the ice and make your opinion known, jump right into the conversation and make yourself heard. You’re never going to learn about first person conversation unless you have tried it.
After you have joined into a conversation and have decided to make your opinions known, make sure you are in the right mindset. Your beliefs in the 20th century might not hold true to the 19th century. Try to look at it from their point of view. Certain words and ideas are totally unacceptable today, however, they might be perfectly fine for the 1860s. So, based upon your impression or character, you will need to alter your modern day opinions.
When conversing in character, there are definitely some pitfalls to watch out for. First, your speaking voice should really not be any different from what it is now! Quite often you will hear people who alter their voices while in character. They might try to sound dramatic, louder or more poetic. Does this mean that everyone in the 1860s spoke like an actor??? No, so why should you?? Speak in your everyday voice and you will sound fine. Second, the biggest mistake made by individuals doing first person is to use an accent of sorts. I’m sure everyone has heard a "lucky charms" Irish accent, a "Colonel Klink" German accent, or a "Gomer Pyle" southern accent. A fake accent is nine out of ten times done very badly. Leave the fake accents to someone who has either lived there or who is from there. Unless you can really sustain a fake accent all of the time, and have a believable one, it should not be attempted. This is something that far too many reenactors attempt and it really shows. So, please be easy on the ears of your pards and leave the lucky charms at home.
One of the other most common problems with first person, is the use of modern words or slang. Not only should we try to put ourselves in the 19th century mind set, but we should also try to follow their vocabulary. Do your research and study what words or phrases were commonly used or what is period to say. If you are not sure about a word being period correct, then don’t use it until you know. This especially applies to slang. Quite often period slang can be used to highlight a period conversation. But, one also does have to remember that even if it is period slang, it might not be used all of the time. For instance, "Why that nancy boy has me just plain peedoodled, he ain’t no huckleberry above a persimmons.". Obviously this is over use of period slang, more or less an individual from the 1860s would be scratching their head over that one!! Slang would be appropriate to use, but would be interjected into your vocabulary at certain times and not all at once.
Lastly, when trying first person, be natural. Really the best first person is that which is not noticed. Someone who is good at first person should always keep you guessing. "Is that fella in character right now or not?" If the conversation is natural sounding and can’t really be distinguished between your everyday conversation, then it is getting better. In a good conversation, the use of period words, or lack of modern phrasings, will really be the way to tell if the person is in character. But, first person should be both spontaneous and natural. It should not sound canned and dramatic. So, as you can see first person conversation is really not as difficult as you thought, it is just simply a matter of putting yourself in the right mind set and acting natural. With that in mind enjoy your next conversation around the fire.