About “living history” storytelling describes formats for living storytelling, from historical reenactments to live-action role playing. The opportunities for variation and program alternatives within the “living history” type of “edutainment” are substantial. Consider just a short list of the possibilities:
- Interstitial storytellers, where role players are placed here and there throughout a facility, are the most popular means to stage living history programs. In this staging, actors are dressed for the time period and trained to speak, interact, and otherwise conduct themselves in a manner that is true to the historic period. The actors oftentimes tell stories or demonstrate some skill or tradition from the particular era. The storytellers are part of a series of interstitial moments throughout a facility combining with the physical facilities to create some sense of the era. The nature of interstitial programs implies regular operations. In Arizona, Old Tucson (Studios) is an example of a facility that features interstitial storytelling.
- Historical reenactments, are hugely popular around the world; more of a special event circumstance than the effect created by interstitial storytellers. The most popular forms of reenactments are great battles. Such staged conflicts, with the weapons, uniforms, horses, and sounds of shouts, voices, weapons, and the like, make for a rousing visitor experience. Puy du Fou Medieval Park (in Les Epesses, France) is a wonderful example which specializes in such reenactments that are hugely popular with European audiences.
- Live-action role-playing (“LARP”) games, are a form of role-playing where the participants physically act “in characters.” LARP experiences are participatory (immersive) unlike the performer/audience formats of most other living history formats discussed here. The players pursue goals within a fictional setting represented by the real world while interacting with each other in character. The outcome of player actions may be mediated by game rules or determined by consensus among players. Cosplay conventions are a part of this type of “living history” storytelling, as well.
- Scripted immersive experiences – We have all been to visitor destinations where a historic gunfight is reenacted, or a trainer robber and gang descends upon a train of a bygone era. These are short immersive experiences, scripted, and are highly entertaining. In the age of mobile phones, social media, Instagram feeds, and the like there is still no replacing the thrill of a live performer, acting close-up to an audience member, and fully in character. Of course, the same mobile smartphone technology also allows for augmented reality layers to such scripted experiences. An amazing time for consumer experiences. Longer forms of such scripted immersive experiences are the famous “Tamara” and “Tony and Tina’s Wedding” productions. With the popularity of Westworld (HBO), it is likely that such scripted and immersive living story experiences will remain popular. AEC’s StagePlex Living Stories facility is new kind of scripted “live” experience in R&D, slowed in its first unit opening due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
- Living pictures (also known as tableaux vivants) are yet another form of living history where great classical and contemporary works of art are recreated with live “still” actor performance, costuming, fantastically-rendered scenic backdrops, and lighting. In the U.S., such performance of art and event has been made famous by the Pageant of the Masters produced each year in Laguna Beach.
- Immersive overnight experiences, finally, are an alternative staging that can include all or part of the sensibilities described in the foregoing. In the western U.S., such overnight experiences are often based upon locations and eras of the American West.
Living history programming is more bound by creativity than anything else. The more complex the living history format, the more audiences seem to revel in the experience. In our increasingly isolated lifestyles borne of the Internet and social media, living history experiences have the potential for offering up the exhilaration of human interaction as almost a new form of entertainment.
There are non-profit organizations about “living history” storytelling, including the Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums (“ALHFAM“). The ALHFAM serves those involved in living historical farms, agricultural museums and outdoor museums of history and folklife.