Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Colonial Williamsburg - Part 2

If you enjoy history and have an interest in how people lived and what took place over 235 years ago then there is plenty to do in Colonial Williamsburg. I had commented in my last post that we usually go for ten days in the summer. This trip was one of the shorter summer trips at only 8 nights.

Over the past twenty or so years, Colonial Williamsburg has done various things to help draw their visitors into history and time travel to this city in the years before and during the American Revolution. It is done by bringing the people who lived at the time to life and having you witness their lives, their sentiments, and the events around them. This is called Living History and Colonial Williamsburg has been one of the pioneers in this. (Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts was actually one of the first museums to do this and laid a great deal of ground work for others to follow.) Colonial Williamsburg has done this in the past by having the visitors interact with the people of the past - up close and personal. This would take place on the street, in the exhibition buildings, in the houses, and in the trade shops. The visitor had the ability to stand back or sit back and watch or get involved and get into the conversation of what was being presented. This is true living history. Things have changed somewhat and are a little different at present.

I told you how I love this place and now I am going to tell you that Colonial Williamsburg is presenting history currently in a way that I (and my wife) do not much care for - BUT the general visiting public seem to love. Over the past several years - every day Colonial Williamsburg presents "Revolutionary City".

Revolutionary City is a program that takes place in the mornings during the summer months and in the afternoons during the winter months. It takes place out on the street in a section of the city on Duke of Gloucester Street (the main street in the restored area) that is closed off during this program to anyone who does not have a visitor's admission ticket - any of their admission tickets gets you into Revolutionary City. What you will see is basically a play performed in the street where you will watch several vignettes that will show you some piece of history that took place in Williamsburg right before and then during the Revolutionary War. What I object to about this is that it is a play. You do not interact. You watch. You can get caught up in the excitement of the moment, but there is a distance between you and the people who are "preforming" and they are performing from a script. True living history is improvisation - the people who are presenting to you have a basic theme but are improvising based upon what is being asked of them or comments that are being made. Of course, this means that the public has to be comfortable with this and that they need to be able to react and respond to what they are seeing. Many people are happier watching - and Colonial Williamsburg's Revolutionary City caterers to that. You are the audience and no more. This is a little "lovers spat" that C.W. (Colonial Williamsburg) and I have been having since Revolutionary City has started - and nothing more. No love affair is complete with out an occasional disagreement.

Anyway, Revolutionary City for what is done, is done well and I know several of the people who are performing, having met them over the years. A stage in the form of a platform was built in front of the Raleigh Tavern - no there was no such platform there in 1776. This is there to bring the main action up out of the street and more easily into your line of sight. The program currently has two main parts. It had three when it started. There had been a fourth added over time and a variation of that now has become a third part of the current program. Each day there is one of the parts - with Monday always having this third part. It will be cleared in my description that follows.

TUESDAY/THURSDAY/SATURDAY - "The King's Government Collapses, 1765-1776" The program is the same on each of these days and in the summer months starts at 11:00 am. During this program you will see the notable people of the town react to the news of the Battle of Lexington and Concord which took place in Massachusetts in 1775. The call this "The Gale from the North". You will then see "Swordplay, a Lesson from the Fencing Master" in which you will see sword fighting and a quarrel between two men over... well you will have to wait and see. Next comes "To Be or Not..." which has nothing to do with Shakespeare but is a briefly shown love story between the youths of a a Tory family and a Patriot family. The action moves from the street to a shaded area under trees where you will see "Liberty to Slaves" - the reaction of slaves to the news that they will be freed if they belong to rebel masters and the personal conflict that this results in for those that are owned by Loyalists. The program ends back out on the street in front of the Capitol where the Declaration of Independence is presented and interpreted dramatically. The program ends about 12:15 pm.

WEDNESDAY/FRIDAY/SUNDAY - The Challenge of Independence, 1775 - 1781. This program is also the same on each of these days. These are the war years and during these days you will see "For Love of my Country" the decision to enlist in the Army and what it means for family left behind. This is followed by "A Place Called Saratoga" - the news of a battle being won in the North is brought to town and a discouraged people find new hope. Next you witness "The Town Is Taken! The British Occupy Williamsburg". For a little over a week before the battle at Yorktown, Williamsburg was occupied by the British Army and you will be addressed by the occupying British General and his staff. The general is none other than the hated Benedict Arnold. You are told the rules of occupation and you witness the banter between the townspeople and the British officers. You move next to that shaded area of trees and benches behind the new coffeehouse restoration to witness slaves once again - this time with another promise for freedom to join the British Army at Yorktown - called "Running to Freedom!". This program day concludes with "On to Yorktown and Victory!". One of the Continental generals addresses the crowd about the coming battle at Yorktown, the battle that will prove to end the Revolution and finally create this nation. The general changes depending on which employees are scheduled. It may be General Washington. On the day that we saw this it was General Lafayette.

MONDAY - "Building a Nation" This program jumps through the years and in my opinion is very disjointed with no real connection from one event to the next. This is the weakest of the programs though it did have some very good presentations. It starts with "Created Equal" and brings up the questions that people had about what the new Declaration of Independence would really mean for each person. This was followed by what I considered the highlight of this day's program and that was "Lady Washington Visits the Capital". Martha Washington arrives with greetings for the people from her husband and there is a very good interaction between her and an ex-soldier who is crippled from being wounded in battle. You then move back under those trees to "Thy Rod and Thy Staff" in which a former slave preacher has news that his church has been recognized by the central Baptist church committee. The day's program concludes with a presentation from a famous patriot who talks about his experiences during the Revolution. Again, this changes by who is scheduled and once again, on the day we saw this it was the Marquis D' Lafayette.

That is Revolutionary City. Different stories are added and taken away. The current version is more up-beat than some have been in the past portraying some of the more heartbreaking, tragedies that resulted from the Revolution. But hey, this is your vacation and you are here instead of going to see a six foot tall mouse - so the program has to leave you cheering and smiling.

During the day there are other programs in which you will encounter people of the past. There are public audiences with famous people - during this trip we saw Thomas Jefferson as interpreted by Mr. Bill Barker - who by the way is excellent and one of the treasurers of Colonial Williamsburg. If you have seen any of the PBS programs on the presidents then you have seen Mr. Barker portray Thomas Jefferson. He is a must see when you visit Colonial Williamsburg.

This photo did not come out very well. My apologies to Mr. Barker.

And of course, we had a public audience with the Marquis D' Lafayette portrayed by Mark Schneider who is also very good and has a variety of people of the past that he portrays well.

At the end of each day at 5:00 there is a program on Market Square the close out the day. There will be fife and drums and demonstrations of military exercises, musket firing, and canon firing.

It is all a lot of fun - even if I would rather participate than watch. In the next article I will tell you about more of the things that you will do and see in Colonial Williamsburg before I move on to other things to see in this same area.

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