Thehistorygal's Blog

{March 23, 2010}   The Economics of Accessability

In the my first months at the NCC I have been so caught up in the excitement of the fusion of history and theater, that it was hard to problembitize it. With my niffty intern pass giving me access to all this amazing work it was easy to forget that people do generally have to pay to access these things. So how accessable is museum theater really making history, if it’s still housed in venues that are to expensive for many to access?

What is the price of history?
To clarify this line of questioning, I am not simply talking about the NCC, rather all museum who are progressively exploring museum theatre. Teaching history thru theater is being used to expand audiences, engage participants, and encourage critical thought and dialogue  in a new and innovative way. However what limits are placed on this mode of accessibility if there are major class barriers still intact?
On of the museums that has been at the forefront of museum theater, is the Boston Science Museum. Growing up in Western Mass. I had many field trips, over the years, to the Science Museum. It consisted of car pooling 3 hours on the mass pike, packed into cars with numerous parental chaperones to spend the day explore both the museum and usually taking a duck ride. We would then pack back into the cars, our hands full of souvenirs and travel back down the pike to the west. In juxtaposition, my cousin went to school in Roxbury. Her school was located less than 30 mins on public transportation, from the museum. Yet my cousin and her classmates from a inner city, lower funded school, took field trips to the museum much less frequently then my school from a affulent middle class community did. Both schools were MA Public Schools.
I tell this story to illasratue a very real barrier to access. These institutions that offers such a poignt way to connect to a wide spectrum of people, especially youth, often have high admission price. Now, there are many schools who can get grants to bring their students to museums, sometimes there are community partnerships, but in my eyes this is a band-aid to a gaping wound.
The history of the museum in this country has taken a middle to upper class association. The jump from the days of Charles Wilson Peale, who started one of the first museums and lit it by candle light, allowing working class citizens, including women and free blacks, the opportunity to view the exhibits as well, to now is astounding. A the museum became a place of both education, communication and leisure, the museums became seemingly more exclusive.
Museums who incorporate theater into their exhibits tend to be attempting to establish more inclusive and wide spread participation, however their motives are blocked by the prices their institutions place on their art. In my opinion its disheartening. I hope the we can find away to offer such innovating museum experiences in a truly more accessable way.
MOney, money money…..
If an educational innovative play is preformed in a museum, but no one can afford to see it…does it make a sound?
Does it make a difference?

After I learned the ropes of the NCC it was time for my first assignment. In preparation for the upcoming Ancient Rome & America exhibit, Theater Programs would be creating a Pop-Up theater piece.

Now the way Theater Programs at the NCC does their theatre pieces, really speaks to their attempt to make history accessible. Theater Programs does not like to do pieces on the “famous” people. For multiple reasons. The first being that it is hard to create a character if everyone already holds a collective memory and idea of that person. The second is by characterizing the everyday person who also is a part of history, it allows the viewers to relate and to understand that they to can make history, or be a great citizen or change the world. So since we are creating a show about Ancient Rome and America you will not see the Ceasers and the Washingtons, or the Catos and the Franklins. Instead you will see a female archeologist who has just returned with an artifact form a Pompeii dig. This story about the artifact is based on a true story (  My job was to reasearch this dig, that produced that theater maks we were focusing on. I also was to conduct broad research on ROman theater as well. This information would be provided to the actors, director and dramaturgy, so that we had an accurate understanding of what we were displaying on stage.

So I researched Roman theater and the dig for days. I attempted to track down the masks to gain more information about them. THis had me calling Italy many times. Let me just say it took like 10 attempts to even complete an international call. When i finally got through to a Museum in Italy, I asked in very broken Italian if the curator was available. The woman who answered, answered me in Italian for a few seconds nd then hung up. AHH so frustrating. I am beginning to understand why understanding another langue is so encouraged and often required in history Doctoral programs. After a few more attempts I finally got through and manged to secure a little bit of helpful information. I coupled this with other reasearch I did and assembled a binder to give to the production team.

One of the masks found in the dig

Now the cool part. I watched a rehearsal of the piece a few weeks later, and to hear how my reasearch, how the historical facts were seamlessly woven into the monologue, was amazing! I was learning information but I was entranced by the performance. So this was Museum Theater! Her set was moving. A nicely decorated cart with a mask on it. The actresses would (at scheduled times) appear withing the Rome exhibit and perform her “pop-up” piece.

I think these pop-up pieces are so important to the essence of the NCC’s “We the People” focus. As I watched the historical findings turn into a script I wondered, with all that information how do we decided what get preformed? THis is similar to the discussion of what we deem as worth remembering, what do we put in history books. However, there is the additional layer worth examining. And that is what is NOT said. Being that the NCC is a family friendly place. History has to be mindful of its audience. So the sex and violence that was staple feature of ROman society, is not vastly represented in this exhibit. I wonder if PG history that reaches a wide group of people is more influential then an uncensored history that only is shared by a few interested folks. Unfortunately I have not seen or done enough to answers these questions. I will be doing reasearch on a exhibit for Fall 2010, so as i find the answers I will provided them. Until then lets discus these questions. I am particularly interested in the scripting process and I hope to work with the writer to watch how the history is transformed in to a performance.

Also Ancient Rome & America is running from now until August 1st. Check it out!

{February 26, 2010}   NCC Homepage Link

In case you wanted to visit the site…

{February 26, 2010}   What is the NCC?

So I figured since I will be spending so much time talking about the NCC, I should provide some history about it.

The National Constitution Center was opened on July 4th, 2003, as the Nation’s only museum dedicated to the Constitution of the United States. However the NCC is not some dusty old museum. It is an interactive, state-of -the-art facility that engages and attracts all types of people to its doors. Its purpose is to embody the concept of “We the People”. It is in that mission that they place themselves at the forefront of the “accessibility” discussion in both public and academic history. The entire mission of the center is to make it a place where all people can celebrate their country and lend their hand to building a better future for this country.

By using Museum Theater and interactive exhibits (you can video yourself taking the presidential oath or try on a judge’s robe and decide cases), the NCC presents a new museum experience. The NCC does not stop at simply displaying information to the public, it also focuses on facilitating dialogue that promotes increased citizenship and community. Programs such as “Living News” a  play that presents contemporary constitutional issue using live actors, and media clips. The performance is followed by a town hall discussion with the audience. Changing exhibits such as “America I Am: The African-American Imprint on America, Baseball in America, and the current Ancient Rome & America, provide temporary insight to diverse places, people and things that all have impacted and continue to impact this country. Notably during the 2008 election season, the NCC hosted both a primary debate and President Obama’s “Speech on Race”.

Do not think I am trying to sell you this museum. It can do that on its own. But I am trying to highlight the features that make this center the ideal place to examine questions about the accessibility of history. The NCC has employed many things to make its walls more attractive to a bigger audience. What good is the a museum dedicated to “We the People” when only a portion of the American people come. However there are still questions to be answered. How accessible is it really? What role does Museum Theater play in attracting a larger and more diverse audience? What things can be done to increase the accessibility of the museum? Does its family friendly mission impact the history and issues it displays or the depth in which they are explored?

THese are some of the questions that i will be answering through my time here. Your imput/answers/additions to these questions are welcome.

Until next time…

{February 24, 2010}   Blog-A-Thon Warning

Hey Everyone!

Sorry I have been away. But tonight will be a blog-a-thon featuring a least 3 new posts to catch you up on my many adventures at the NCC. I have also updated the “About” section so if you want to get to know me and what drives my passion for this project,  check it out! More tonight….

{February 17, 2010}   Historian in Training…

Hey There!

Welcome to my journey towards becoming a better historian! I have been awarded an internship with the National Constitution Center (NCC). I will be working in their Public Programs Department, specifically with Theater Programs. I am soooo excited!!! Museum Theater (what I will be focused on) is the intersection of history, education, and performance. My three loves! This is especially exciting because I have been interested in exploring the “accessibility” of history. The process of exciting and engaging the general public in history, so that history becomes more than just dates and textbooks, is fascinating to me. I think this is the perfect place to examine how public history works, and how a multifaceted approach, such as the use of theater, can enhance the discipline.

So for the duration of my internship I will explore the intersection of creativity and history. I will seek to develop a better understanding of public history as well as strengthen my skills as a historian. This blog will document my journey thru the intertwining worlds of history, education and theater. I look forward to the discoveries that await me.

Lets get to work….

Next time: A brief history of the NCC, some background info on yours truly, and of course MY FIRST ASSIGNMENT!!!

{February 15, 2010}   Hello world!

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