Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Visual "Desperation"

Last year, right before I left the Plantation to go to England, acting-mania hit the staff, and hit it hard, with the introduction of the Lone Wolf documentary company into the late-season insanity. In order to "make ends meet" (and certainly not to make some extra money with which to pay the staff something approaching a "living" wage), the Plantation got itself involved in a few "side" projects that would allow us some more extensive exposure as a museum. The first of these projects was Colonial House, a PBS series following in the extremely successful footsteps of Frontier House and 1900 House (English Victorian theme) whereby a group of volunteers are whisked away from modern life and into the "times" and "environments" associated with the show's theme. Colonial House, obviously, had a New England, 17th century colony setting. Our staff built their houses, made and gave them their "props," and supplied them with appropriate food stores. In fact, the spring/summer of 2003 was so wet that our wardrobe department was called upon to throw together appropriate coats for the participants. The show aired to moderate success. Instead of being the bastion of representative history that the previous series had been, it instead acquired the reputation of being "Survivor" in the 17th century given the structured conflicts that emerged between the carefully selected "liberally minded" and "conservatively minded" volunteers. After the show appeared on TV, we hosted a number of functions associated with it, inviting cast members to visit for "meet and greets" with the visitors and devoting an entire exhibit to their show. The result was lukewarm at best, but the staff was less than pleased because it pillaged our resources for the sake of the project. We had half as many objects in the Village with which to work, including tools, and the ones that were returned to us weren't in good condition at best and severely damaged at worst. Our artisans, who should have been actively on site repairing the Village, were all called up regularly to assist Colonial House's colonists instead. In the end, those of us most disadvantaged by the whole project were the last ones to be acknowledged for working through it.

The latest Plantation side project, due to air this Sunday, is the new History Channel Documentary, "Desperate Crossing". It's a combination of drama and historical commentary centered on how the "Pilgrims" went from living in England to living in Holland to travelling to America and stops around the time of the first "Thanksgiving." It is certainly up to History Channel standards, although I'll only question the inclusion of some of the varying "experts" on the panel (it seemed as if some of the professors consulted were simply asked because they taught American history at some point in their lives and not because they are 17th century experts). You'll notice some overacting, certainly, but thankfully that sticks out rather than establishes a rule followed by the sum total of the actors, including the interpreters from our staff who got a chance to participate. Among their number are the characters of Captain Miles Standish, Elizabeth Winslow, Stephen Hopkins, Master Christopher Jones, The Billington Family, Elizabeth Hopkins, William White and his wife, a few of the sailors, and a number of the Native Americans, including "Squanto." They all did very well and seemed to have enjoyed the experience very much. Of course, in some cases, the epidemic we call "starstruck" is still raging, which doesn't come as a surprise. Overall, it is worth a view, although I will warn the masses that it is about three TV hours long and will air in its entirety rather than being broken up into "episodes" to air several days running.

At least this production did not ultimately pillage Plantation resources in the way Colonial House did, and the film makers asked our staff to talk about the history they were intending to present, too.

One and a half weeks left...

6 comments:

sitsonchair said...

Sanity? What's that? Life is more fun on the other side of the straight jacket! Haha j/k great site!!

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Gem said...

I didn't see Colonial House, but Frontier House was shown in England back in 2002, and was very enjoyable. I'm not sure who sold the idea to whom, but the series has had several English versions as well - the 1900 House, which may even have been the same one you saw judging by the description you gave, and the 1940s House which was set during the war years (I think that was the first).

There was also one which followed the progress of several families from the British Isles to Australia, where they had to be careful to orchestrate a (distinctly forced, from a modern perspective) conflict between the English and Irish settlers, to fit the atmosphere of the time. That series sticks in my mind for two reasons; firstly, because one of the English families hailed from Doncaster (my birthplace), and secondly, because the daughter of that family sadly committed suicide not long after their return, apparently as a result of teenage depression, and it made all the papers. Sad story.

The Frontier House was very interesting in that it actually precipitated the separation of one of the couples involved, and the husband went off to live in the wilderness because he liked the lifestyle. I always wonder whether he stuck at it...

Rose said...

The worst part of those shows is the video diary things - possibly the worst aspect of reality tv. People are too good at talking about themselves ad nauseum, and when they get to whining about not having soap or a hairdryer... it's about time for a giant "DUH" sign to come out.

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