In 1995, Kate Moore, recently laid off from her restaurant job, responded to a newspaper ad soliciting “time travelers” to work at Plimoth Plantation. Moore, who lives in Dennis Port, is now in her 18th season working in 1627. Although there’s no established training path to follow if a career in historical interpretation is calling you, there are a few traits and abilities that Moore feels are essential to success.
At the start of every new season (or character), Moore makes a timeline of the major events in her character’s life: where she grew up, when she moved, whom she married. To develop historical context, reading primary-source materials–Of Plimoth Plantation by William Bradford and by Edward Winslow, for example–is a must. “Being an interpreter is less like being an actor memorizing lines,” Moore says, “and more like a professor teaching the same subject each year.”
Speak the Language
The inhabitants of 1627 New Plimoth represented 17 different regional dialects, so getting the speech down requires a lot of practice. As part of their pre-season training each spring, interpreters listen to tapes and gather in small groups to rehearse aloud. That’s important, Moore says: “I want to make it come alive for others the way it has for me.”
“You must like people and you must like talking to people,” Moore says. “If you can’t get that part right, you’ve got nothing.” Serving different visitors every day means a lot of repetition for the interpreters. The same questions, the same jokes, the same routine: Keeping things fresh can be a challenge. “One of the things you learn early on to save your own sanity,” Moore notes, ” is to come up with different responses” for common questions.
Dress the Part
One of the best parts of her job, Moore says, is that she gets paid to play dress-up, one of her favorite childhood games. “We have sort of a running joke that we’re all just in it for the clothes,” Moore says. “I don’t think I’d do this if it weren’t for the role playing and the clothes. But they’re not always very comfortable, especially in summer.”
Make Peace with Modern Conveniences
“I’m never actually in the 17th century,” Moore explains. “I’m working. I’m making you think that you’re in the 17th century.” Put another way: Historical interpretation is, to a large degree, about creating the best possible illusion. The modern world doesn’t always cooperate, however. Airplanes fly overhead, legally mandated fire extinguishers are tucked behind doors, cell phones ring, cameras flash. Moore has a simple technique for dealing with them all: “I just don’t see or hear them.” If a visitor pushes the issue, she redirects the conversation as soon as possible back to the 17th century.
Plimoth’s interpreters strive for period accuracy, but within the context of the museum as a tourist attraction. “There are places where you have to walk a fine line to avoid being offensive [but] without soft-pedaling it,” Moore says. “Occasionally teenagers, young people of color, will ask me whether I’ve ever seen anyone like them before. I’ve had similar questions from people with physical handicaps. You have to go at those head-on. My challenge is to get honest answers across in a way that will make them think that they’re talking
to a 17th-century person.”
For visitor information, go to: plimoth.org