So you wanna be a re-enactor?

Re-enactment has been ever increasingly grown in popularity over the past years.  Every period imaginable has its own re-enactment group and it draws a wide variety of people, regardless of age, race, gender, sexuality and religion.  According to the Re-enactor’s Directory, there are currently 130 different groups (ranging from Iron Age to WW2) across the UK.  This list does not include every and there are a lot more re-enactment groups out there, (for example my own re-enactment group has not been listed) and the number varies from country to country.

Becoming a re-enactor can be a terrifying prospect, with so much choice out there.  This post hopes to help alleviate any fear by offering useful tips and pointers.

RESEARCH! RESEARCH! RESEARCH!

Often becoming a re-enactor is a spur of the moment decision.  I joined Normannis at my university’s fresher’s fair purely because I saw people in historical dress and thought ‘that looks fun!’  Sometimes, people have a friend or colleague who already re-enact and so are brought to the re-enactment world that way.  Some people never experience any of this.  Any case, it helps to be prepared by researching on the internet as much as you can.

What to research

  • Who are the local groups are and what periods they re-enact.
  • When and where the group meets.
  • Whether it’s battle re-enactment, living history or a bit of both.
  • Any videos of the group on YouTube to see the group in action.  (This will give you a sense of what the group looks like and how the re-enactment looks as a whole and what you would be potentially get involved with.)

Choosing a group

Finding the perfect group for you is important.  There’s no use joining a french revolution re-enactment group 20 miles from your home when you’d rather be a medieval seamstress for a more local group.  Re-enactment is only fun when it’s something you enjoy because, boy, shows can really take it out of you.  There’s no point doing something you do not enjoy at all.  Some things you should consider are:

  • What periods you would like to re-create.
  • The location of the group.
  • Whether you want to participate in battle re-enactment, living history or both.  (If you identify as female and you want to take part in the battle re-enactment ask the person in charge of the group.  Usually, groups will allow women to fight, however, they would have to have to dress up as a male for any fighting during shows since women for a majority of history were not allowed to fight.  Although banning women from fighting is extremely rare it is something worth checking.)
  • If battle re-enactment is your thing what weapons you would prefer fighting with.  Are guns and pistols your thing? Or would you rather fight with swords and shields? Is archery more your thing?

(Note: Try not to be too set about what you expect.  You might surprise yourself.  I would thoroughly recommend having an open mind and try new activities.  Admittedly when joining Normannis, I thought that the medieval craft was going to be my thing but I went to the first battle training and never looked back.  After 3 broken shields, and 5 badly cut pieces of clothing I can safely say that craft is not my forte.)

Your first training session

Congratulations! You have chosen a group and are attending your first training session! Whooo! (If you are more interested in making craft then there will be a section for you straight after this one, I promise!)  It can be a scary prospect but there are a few little things to remember

  • Wear sensible footwear and something you wouldn’t mind getting dirty or torn.
  • Bring a pair of gloves (preferably something with a bit of protection even if they are a pair of old leather gloves or a pair of gardening gloves)
  • BRING WATER!
  • Try out as many weapons as possible to find out what is best for you.
  • You will come home with some injury (usually small bruises).  It’s a dangerous hobby.
  • Accidents will happen.  Again, it’s a dangerous hobby.  If you accidentally hurt another, do not freak out.  Simply apologise.  Most people are incredibly understanding and will offer tips to avoid making the same mistake again.
  • Re-enactors love new people and will happily tell you everything about your weapon. It will be information overload so don’t worry about not being able to remember everything.
  • For a majority of cases, you will not be the best fighter first time.  The best fighters in the group took years to get where they are.  Listen to any hints they may give and don’t beat yourself up about not being good at your first session.
  • Re-enactors love questions.  Don’t be afraid to ask!
  • If there is something wrong, please do tell someone so the issue can be fixed.

Your first craft session

Craft is an important part of re-enactment (we have to get kit somehow). By making kit ourselves it gives chance to keep costs down and chat with your fellow re-enactors about anything! Some things to remember include:

  • Have a go at everything.  There are a plethora of different crafts.  At Normannis you can make clothes, embroider, make shields and weapons, make shoes, and make sheaths just to name a few.  By trying different crafts you find what you have some competency for.
  • Again, don’t expect to be fantastic first time.  Often you will start on scraps so that nothing will be ruined.  Again practice is key for success.
  • Do not hesitate to ask questions.  People would rather help you than you mucking up.
  • Don’t sew your hand to whatever you’re making.
  • Talk nerd to your fellow re-enactors.  We are all massive nerds and often there willbe at least one person who will share passions for whatever nerdy thing you’re interested.

I hope this has been useful for you and wish you all the best with your new hobby!

Beth

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The Negatives of Re-enactment as a Hobby

I adore being a re-enactor.  It’s part of my identity and it’s something I will proudly tell every new person about (admittedly it’s a little self-inducting because part of me enjoys the utter look of confusion and bafflement it causes.  I am 5 ft 3, have a resting worry face and typically wear tee shirts proclaiming my love for various cartoon characters.  I do not look like your stereotypical re-enactor).  However, there are negatives to re-enactment and as a way to practice what I preach, this post is a way to remove any bias.  I hope you enjoy the list!

BETH’S LIST OF FIVE NEGATIVES OF RE-ENACTMENT

  1. Hella Expensive

p1000174I’m not gonna lie but re-enactment is an expensive hobby.  For each training session you attend (with my re-enactment group at least) there is no cost.  However, it’s quite an investment buying all the kit, getting to shows and yearly membership fees.  Prices vary hugely between period, rank and gender.  For example, because I participate in both fighting and living history, I have to portray two genders (because women weren’t allowed to fight) so have twice the kit.  I also have ranked up a couple of tiers in the past 3 years so have had to make my kit match.  It should be pointed out that I am quite stingy (I have the bare minimum kit) and others jump ranks much quickly and to higher ranks.  Below is a breakdown of all the costs I have spent over the past 3 years. It excludes all travel costs.

Membership (Since September 2013 including group and university costs)- £39

Weaponry (shield, spear, knives, Spear haft replacements) £118

Armour (helmet, arming cap, gambeson, maille, gloves) £245

Women’s kit (dress, underwear and stockings, wimple, wimple pins, shoes, belt) £128

Men’s kit (tunic, under tunic, hood) £55

Linen sack for kit £5

TOTAL COST: £590

It is possible to keep costs down a little by buying second-hand kit and selling on old kit but it still may be more expensive than other hobbies.  I certainly chose to become a re-enactor at the wrong time, student budgets don’t easily stretch to accommodate expensive hobbies.  However, my parents were very pleased that I wasn’t getting stupidly drunk every night because I simply didn’t have any money to do so.

2.  Hella Dangerous

p1000154Re-enactment is not the safest of hobbies.  You are going to get hurt fighting others in line battles whether you like it or not.  Yes, the weapons are blunt but they are still made out of thick steel and wood.  You will normally get hundreds of bruises from a single session (my only quibble with the bruises I get is that I get most of them on my upper thighs and cannot show off my battle wounds without getting arrested for indecent exposure).  However, because it’s a dangerous hobby more serious injuries can occur- usually accidents nobody goes out to inflict actual harm.  Examples which have happened at the sessions and shows I have attended include knee dislocations, spines been trampled on, concussion and little fingers being sliced off.  These accidents have been extremely rare but they can happen so it is worth being aware of the dangers.

3.  Extreme Heat Differences at Shows

p1000160Shows usually take place between April and October and because the shows take place across the United Kingdom the weather changes a lot.  This means that the temperature can vary a lot, even within the same show.  There was a weekend show I attended last year where I awoke to ice on the tents and by midday, I was melting because it got so much warmer during the day.  It also does not help that a lot of my kit involves being wool so wearing wool in the summer is nobody’s idea of fun.  (It’s also not fun if, like me, you have eczema which flares up when if you wear a lot of woollen clothes).  Wool is only so waterproof as well, so if you’re at a show where it constantly rains you are going to get cold very quickly especially if it’s blowing a gale because the water slowly soaks through your clothes and doesn’t dry.  Some people are ok with this factor but I don’t really cope well with being too cold or being too warm.

4.  Being a Female Re-enactor

p1000322This is another personal reason.  I find it personally very annoying having to take two sets of kit to shows because I just have so much more stuff to take in comparison to male re-enactors.  It also means where I could take a blanket or two for camping, the space in your bag is taken up by re-enactment clothes so you have to make the choice of being warm at night or fighting in the line battle at the show.  If you do decide to not fight in the show, things get super boring.  There’s only so much women can do at shows.  They can either cook, do chores, or braid, embroider or weave if they are the right tier.  As someone who has to do something and lacks a lot of drapery skills (my cloth making skills are very well known in the group, so much so people are scared whenever I cut cloth out) I often rush about collecting water or do the washing up every five minutes until I get told off because I’m doing all the chores and somebody else has to do them because people don’t understand that I need to have something to keep me busy.  Also, as a female re-enactor, it is inevitable you will experience a show whilst it’s that time of the month (which is not fun, believe me!)

And Finally…   5.  Saying Goodbye

It’s true when they say saying goodbye is hard and I absolutely hate it.  Because I joined re-enactment when I was at university it meant that there was a large student turnover as third years leave and are so replaced by freshers (*starts singing* IT’S THE CIRCLE OF LIIIIFFFFEEEE!)  You spend a year, two years, even three fighting with people who share similar interests and a sense of humour.  They become your closest friends pretty quickly. I always say that my re-enactment group were my university family, a home from home. One by one, people leave because jobs are in the cities and people’s degrees end.  Goodbyes must be said sooner or later and one day it is your turn to leave.  I have joined another re-enactment group since and I still see my friends when visiting or at shows however, goodbyes are still hard and they don’t get any easier.p1000295

The Positives of Re-enactment as a Hobby

Three years ago, I made one of the best decisions of my life and joined Historia Normannis, a re-enactment group specialising in 12th to 13th Century British life covering all aspects from warfare to religious life.  Back when I was a fresher looking around the society fair my University held, I came across Normannis and thought it sounded something ‘cool’ so I signed up in an instant and never looked back.  Some of my best experiences have been thanks to re-enactment and it has become an integral part of who I am.

Love it or loathe it, re-enactment has grown in popularity in recent years.  For example, last year, Historia Normannis had 600 members in total.  This is the biggest the group has grown in membership and it’s still growing to this day!  I thought it would be interesting to write series of four posts on re-enactment, covering the positives and negatives of re-enactment, the impact of re-enactment and why should we bother, and tips for anyone wanting to start.  Knowing me, there will be undoubtedly more posts about re-enactment in the future, so watch this space!  Let’s get on with what we aimed to start off with

BETH’S LIST OF 5 POSITIVES OF RE-ENACTMENT

  1. You feel like a badassp1000141-y-2

Learning to fight with (blunt) weapons and eventually fighting in chainmail is unbelievably badass.  It feels like being an extra in the Lord of the Rings films.  You get to brag your epic battle stories, even the ones where you ‘died horrifically’ to everyone and people will view you forever more with awe.  My friend has many.  She is known as the Destroyer, and one time she managed to create a large dent on the top of a knight’s flat-top helmet with her mace in full contact fighting.  (I, unfortunately, do not have this honour.  The most ‘epic’ tale I have achieved that I got in a hug of death with one of the most outstanding members of the group.  Sounds impressive until the rest is told.  I forgot that I was fighting with a nine-foot spear and no knife and so basically hugged this guy who was charging towards me sword in hand. He killed me in one foul swoop and then proceeded to take out the rest of my team. Least to say it was not my finest moment).

Another reason is that it gives you a totally legitimate excuse to own a lot of weapons and armour.  My boyfriend has a pretty big collection, a majority of which he uses for re-enactment purposes. He honestly owns two nine foot spears, one long knife, one hilted knife, one balled mace, one 15th century longsword, one bow with six arrows, one nasal helmet, and one full gambeson.  He is still waiting for one bearded axe, one winged spear, one lance, one round shield, and one light gambeson.  Having a lot of weapons means having an armoury which is another badass feeling.  The Destroyer currently has an excellent display of her weapons and chainmail casually chilling in her room.  The display looks like a soldier ready to fight immediately and often gets decorated for Christmas and Halloween.

For those who don’t fight and participate in the general everyday re-enactment, otherwise known as living history, you can still feel badass and still means re-enactment is a legitimate excuse for weapons. Another friend of mine who doesn’t fight owns four knives and a long bow with 24 arrows (all sharp).  Or if you don’t want to own any weapons there is a huge spoon which is commonly known in Normannis as a battle spoon.  During show season there is a well known Abbess who will threaten any wrong doers with her big old battle spoon.  It’s surprisingly scary, especially if you have been caught playing football on Easter Sunday!

2. Unexpected Exercisep1000183-y

Once I had left school, I vowed that I would steer clear from any forms of sports and exercise due to bad experiences of PE and a self-defence teacher who was more of a hindrance than a help.  I decided at university I wasn’t going to do any exercise whatsoever because there was nobody to tell me otherwise.  (This was a terrible idea looking back and this blog no longer promotes that idea, exercise is important, even in small amounts!)  And then I took up re-enactment and I did not realise that I was exercising because it was fun.

The re-enactment which I participate in is both aerobic and anaerobic exercise.  I’m not quite sure for other types of re-enactment, undoubtedly there will be crossovers.  It is aerobic exercise because you are running around fighting and charging into line battles thus increasing cardiovascular endurance.  It is also anaerobic exercise as it involves weight lifting which is great for building muscles.  A lot of the kit used is heavy and so you are exercising when carrying kit to and from sessions.  Running around in chainmail also counts towards this as chainmail can be about 8 to 10kg in weight (and this does not include any leg armour or helmet).

3. It’s like time travel without all the hassle 

A weird point, I know but please bear with.  Personally, I don’t think I would be able to cope if I had the chance to be able to time travel even though I would give anything to do so.  I lack any useful skill for day to day life in the past, for example, building fires, ploughing, and understanding old money.  I  also constantly have a cold and there would be the possibility of me destroying past civilisations or bringing the bubonic plague back to the 21st century.  Things would also be difficult for me because I identify as female.  For a majority of the time in western civilisations for sure, women have not been allowed as many (if any opportunities) which men are granted so I prefer living in the present day for that reason alone.p1000696

Time travel is not possible but re-enactment shows create an illusion of a time in the past.  You experience key aspects of day to day life from ages past.  You eat period foods, wear period clothes, experience the impact of warfare for those on the front line and those defending the encampment, and experience the impact of the church on day to day life.  It’s an amazing feeling as it brings the past closer to home.  The best bit about it though is the fact an average day when participating in a show is from about 8 am until about 6 pm.  After six you can return to the modern world, to central heating and modern technology, to modern clothes you feel comfortable wearing and shoes you can actually wear, and finally piping hot meals which end hunger for a short while.  It’s sheer bliss.

4.  Re-enactment attracts fellow nerds

As re-enactment is usually not considered as a ‘hip and cool’hobby, you don’t see Kim Kardashian running around in peasant’s clothes wielding an axe chasing Benedict Cumberbatch who had lost his sword in the fight.  (Although it would be something I would love to see!)  Re-enactment, therefore, has a tendency to attract a lot of nerds ranging from a broad scope of different backgrounds and fandoms and it’s beautiful!  Unsurprisingly to anyone, I am a massive nerd and I find it so exciting when you have a collection of fellow nerds.  Discussions on a variety of topics are full of passion and there is usually someone who has some knowledge about the fandom you are part of.  It also makes you feel part of a family.  I remember my first ever session, during one of the games, a couple of people started quoting Monty Python references and I instantly felt more comfortable because I knew from that moment on I was not going to be judged for being a nerd but accepted.

Finally 5.  Friends!

Following from my previous point and to end on a sappy note, the friends made through re-enactment are some of the greatest you’ll ever meet.  Although, I am particularly biased on this point because I have been incredibly fortunate to have met my best friends through joining Normannis.  Through fighting, re-enacting and all nighter craft sessions I have found that friendships have grown stronger and the people I re-enact with, I now cannot imagine not being in my life with them.  They are my second family, a home from home, and people I want to know even when my hair has turned grey and I have a face full of wrinkles.  p1000263-y