Recreating 1816: Costumed Interpreters at Locust Grove

It’s an exciting time of year here at Locust Grove, as we look forward to all the fun events coming up in 2016. Our intrepid volunteer cast of Costumed Interpreters are looking for a few good men and women to join the cast of Croghan and Clark family members, neighbors, and friends. Today, Amy L., the corps’ Theatrical Director who portrays Emilia Clark, is our guest blogger, presenting 10 Frequently Asked Questions About the First Person Interpreter Program. Take it away, Amy!

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The 2015 Costumed Interpreter Corps at Christmastide. Photo courtesy of Fox and Rose Photography.
#10 Are you hot?
It’s Kentucky in July. Next question.
#9 What is the First Person Interpreter program, anyway?
We are an amateur cast of volunteer performers who combine our love of interactive theater with a passion for history. First person interpreters are cast in the roles of members of the Croghan and Clark families as well as other notable Louisvillians with a connection to Locust Grove.
Interactive theater means that we are in character any time we are out and dressed on the property, but unlike going to a play, we are interacting with Locust Grove’s visitors. Most of what we do involves improvisational theater. The goal of this program is to bring Locust Grove alive the way it would have been in 1816; full of sounds, movement, and people!
Interpreters are present in the house and grounds of Locust Grove at many events such as Gardner’s Fair and Antiques Market. We are also able to take center stage on the Fourth of July and at Christmastide. Our goal is to continue integrating ourselves into Locust Grove’s programming- but to do that, we need volunteers!
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Charles and Nicholas survey Locust Grove from the porch with their cousin, Eloise Bullitt, Summer 2015.
#8 Is there a script?
Many people ask us if we have a script. Since most of what we do is improvisational, in the strictest sense the answer is ‘no’, but that does not mean you are on your own or that we just ‘make everything up’.
The closest thing we have to a traditional script would be the wonderful transcriptions of the letters and other documents the Croghan and Clark families left behind. We study material culture and day to day life to present the frame that important historical events took place in.
Many interpreters also take on individual research projects on an aspect of material culture which interests them, such as painting, sewing, or games of the period.
During rehearsals and workshops, we practice taking this information and discussing it in a natural, conversational style. For example, since we interpret the year 1816, we spend a good deal of time talking about the process Indiana statehood as it unfolded throughout the year.
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Amy as Emilia Clarke speaks to guests to Locust Grove. Photo Courtesy of Fox and Rose Photography.
#7 Are you wearing stays?
Yep! See #3
#6 How do I get involved?
Locust Grove will be holding auditions for the program at 6:30 pm on Tuesday, April 5th. If you absolutely cannot make that time but would like to participate, we can schedule another audition time for you. To set up an audition email Locust Grove’s Program Coordinator Brian Cushing at bcushing@locustgrove.org.
After you have scheduled your audition we will send you a few monologues to choose from. These are taken from letters Written by members of the Croghan family. At your audition, you will read the monologue of your choice.
There will also be an improvisational component to your audition. We will ask you to pretend that you are an interpreter portraying a member of the Croghan family, and a member of the audition panel will pretend to be a Locust Grove guest who asks you questions. This is NOT a history test- we just want to see if you are comfortable interacting with visitors in an improvisational environment.
Since we are recreating 1816 at Locust Grove, we are limited to a set cast list based on who we know was in Louisville at the time. As with any audition process, we cannot guarantee anyone a place in the cast.
Charles and William at chess
Noah H. as Charles Croghan and Sam L. as William Croghan, Jr. face off in a game of checkers. Photo courtesy of Fox and Rose Photography.
#5 Do I have to have a background in theater?
No! Many of our performers have extensive amateur resumes, while others had never acted before joining the cast. Some of them have joined the program in order to push themselves past their comfort zone by doing something new.
#4 What happens if I am cast?
Then grasshopper, your training begins.
Before anyone performs as an interpreter, they must complete a series of workshops. These are designed to prepare you to discuss historical events and daily life in 1816 Louisville. All interpreters are required to complete six workshops per year, and new participants must complete workshops on the history of the home, clothing of the period, and physical characterization and character development before they can perform at Locust Grove.
We actually offer far more than 6 workshops per year, so cast members with different schedules have the opportunity to fulfill these requirements. You will also have to have approved clothing to venture out in.
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Amy works with Jocelyn and Noah H. during a CI workshop.
#3 Are costumes provided, or will I have to make my own?
All clothing worn in this program has to pass approval by the Costume Director. Since we are a living museum display, our clothing has to meet the same standards as any static display in the house.
Most first person interpreters provide all of their own costumes. We are able to provide some costuming for first year participants to help you get started, though this is limited to what is available in the Locust Grove stash and available on a first come, first serve, basis.
We want to empower our volunteers to take ownership of their impression and clothing is a significant buy-in that accomplishes this.
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Brian Cushing and Brandon V. work on a piece for the reenactment of the 1822 wedding Ann Croghan to General Thomas Jesup.
#2 Do I need to know how to sew?
No! We are also committed to helping our folks learn to be self-sufficient and create their own clothing. We currently have several workshops scheduled on the clothing of the period and how to create it.
For those of you who choose to ‘sew with your wallet’, we will help you find an approved tailor to work with.
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Mia S. works on a wardrobe piece.
#1 And the most important thing to know about this program- We work hard, and we play hard!
We recognize that we are asking a lot of our volunteer interpreters, so possibly the most amazing thing about this program is how consistently our cast continues to raise the bar and surpass even our expectations.
Being a part of this program really is an amazing rush, and at the end of the day, even if we are tired and our feet hurt, none of us would trade one second for a quiet day at home.
such silliness

Such silliness! Photo courtesy of Fox and Rose Photography.

Thanks so much, Amy! Check here for the full audition notice, check us out on Facebook, or contact Brian Cushing at bcushing@locustgrove.org. Break a leg, everyone!
Theatrically yours,
Hannah

Life is a Garden: Happy Anniversary, Sarah!

Spring is in bloom around Locust Grove, and with that comes a very special anniversary. Locust Grove isn’t just known for the historic house and the people who lived there–we also have 55 beautiful acres that are lovingly cared for by our wonderful gardener, Sarah S.. Today, March 17 is Sarah’s 15th anniversary at Historic Locust Grove! Thanks to her, our gardens flourish, our Hemp Program is full of promise, and the occasional chicken pays us a visit. Sarah is originally from Ohio, and earned an Art History degree from Berea College before getting into gardening. She is notoriously attention-shy, but she graciously agreed to answer a few questions before donning her bandanna and heading back outside.

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Sarah plants her first crop of hemp at Locust Grove.

How did you become involved at Locust Grove?

Little known fact: I came here with the Little Loomhouse (where I was a volunteer) to help set up (put threads on) the jack loom which used to be in the girl’s bedroom. A few years later, after I got into gardening, I saw an ad for Locust Grove in the paper, looking for a gardener…

What is your goal for the gardens at Locust Grove?

Besides eradicating all weeds? I would like to have a more agricultural setting for the site. This was a farm, first and foremost.  If we’re going to track down the exact shade of verdigris for the farm office, or the correctly dated piece of furniture for the parlor, the same effort should go into the plantings and grounds to fully restore the grounds of Locust Grove.

How did you become interested in historic gardens?

I was already gardening using modern methods and plants, but I developed an early interest in heirlooms through my father. When I saw the job listed, I saw it as a chance to unite my love of gardening with my researching skills from my art history degree. Did you know the plants, nuts, flowers, fruits and trees artists put in paintings can tell you so much about the painting and the people of that time?

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Sarah cares for the kitchen garden, which contains herbs and other plants used for cooking and medicinal purposes.

What are the resources you use for the LG garden and grounds?

I’m still Luddite enough to use books! Ones written now, by such authors as William Woys Weaver and Peter Hatch, as well as books written in that time period. I also enjoy digging into an old garden diary on a rainy day! I have contacts at other historic sites, where I can ask those “what do you do when…” kinds of questions. For plant material, I am a member of the Seed Saver’s Exchange and swap material all around the country! And of course there’s the internet, but as always “trust but verify” applies to online searches.

What does your typical day look like in each season?

Winter is a lot of cleaning and “house chores”. Towards the end of winter I begin gathering seeds, soil, tuning up equipment, potting figs, making seed packets, and doing early pruning.

Spring sees a lot of pruning, tilling and planting, orchard work, and the start of weeding.

Summer – watering and weeding, weeding and watering… and tidying up after weddings!

Fall is when I begin gathering seeds, digging up tubers for overwintering, putting beds to rest – but still weeding.

There’s so much that isn’t “typical”, like decorating for Christmastide, schlepping books, the Gardener’s Fair booth, moving split rail, setting up and cleaning up after events, mucking out the springhouse, spraying yellow jackets, etc…

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Winter in the gardens at Locust Grove is still as beautiful as Spring and Summer.

What is your favorite time of year at LG and why?

There are a few days in early spring where you can see, from one day to the next, the hillside by the barn green up vividly, then suddenly the henbit blossoms and the slope is a riot of emerald and burgundy-pink!

What are some of the challenges of your job?

Deer–destructive and vexing.   I find the visiting public (and neighbors) a blessing and a curse. We need them, or why else would we exist? But they really tear the place up, driving 4-runners up the creek, dumping Christmas trees and yard waste at the property edges, taking axes to the trees, emptying hot pans of food or coolers full of ice into the beds, driving EVERYWHERE, putting nails into the trees and broken glass in the mulch, making paths through the beds at will, trash in the shrubbery, bongs in the woods….aargh!!!

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love our volunteers! They’re just the nicest people you could ever meet and I get to see them every day I come to work – what a blessing!

How did you become involved in the hemp program?

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture is hoping to revive our hemp industry and is expediting the revival by encouraging farmers and research institutions to grow hemp using industrial (as opposed to hobbyist) methods. It’s a tightly-controlled, by-permit-only process where detailed notes are kept and reported back to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. This information is then compiled and data extracted. The theory is that eventually we will have a crowd-sourced knowledge of how best to grow and process hemp in Kentucky.

The program had run for one year (2014), and while I was interested, I was put off by the “industrial” label attached to it. I just didn’t think our historic site was what they were looking for, but rather big farms growing acres and doing serious research. When the applications went out for 2015 Carol encouraged me to try, because, after all, the worst that could happen is they’d say “no”. I was very surprised, but also very happy, when we got it!

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Sarah grew this hemp!

How can others recreate historic gardens in their own backyards? Is it even possible? 

Oooh, that’s a big question. Yes, BUT… it has to be specific to your area and climate. As much as I love old-school English cutting gardens, for example, our climate will not support some of those cool weather/moisture loving plants. Also, I am a firm believer our climate is not what it was 200 years ago, and plants the Crogans and other locals apparently grew with ease really struggle in the extreme heat and drought of our summers and the Polar Vortex of winter, which are our new normal. It takes a lot of poking around and asking to find heirlooms that will work, but so worth it.

What do you wish more people knew about historic gardens?

If we don’t plant them, old varieties are gone forever. Why should we care? Because we still need that biodiversity and may need to call on it one day to save the species. For example, for the last 40 years the Cavendish has been the one and only banana variety in our grocery stores, but it is now being wiped out by a very specialized disease. Scientists are racing to develop a new banana using old landrace banana varieties scattered throughout the world. Historic gardens are a joy to look at, hopefully beautiful and informative, but they also serve the serious purpose of protecting genetic biodiversity!

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Anything else you think people should know?

The quads, 4 cutting beds, all around the buildings, the parking island, the herb garden – all areas which need to be kept weeded. This is a lot of real estate for one person to keep weeded, and I’m not even full time! Throw in all the events, planting, research, pruning, “other tasks as assigned”, and keeping Locust Grove looking tidy is pretty daunting! I could use help keeping the weeds at bay, so if you have a few hours a month or a grandchild you can bribe into it, bring it on!

In addition to being a master gardener, Sarah is also available for children’s parties and Bat Mitzvahs. Locust Grove wouldn’t be the same place without her! Thank you for all of your work over the past 15 years, Sarah! Here’s to 15 more!

Gratefully yours,

Hannah