Friday, 1 April 2011

Of show girl presentation and good habits...

It's a windy, sunless day outside, so the prayers are that nature is saving the sun for this weekend - Show Time!!

I can be found doing what my friends consider insane and what my fellow re-enactors may consider enthusiastic. I'm hand washing all kit that needs it, polishing and conditioning leather shoes and jewellery, brushing off any missed dry mud (though considering my kit's been in storage all winter, that should have been done anyway last year) ironing my medieval dresses and checking them for any loose threads or tears that require mending. I suspect my underdress needs altering. My fiance can be found finishing my ladies girdle and polishing his own armour in his workshop for the same occasion.

For me, this is a necessity. Tonight and tomorrow morning i will pluck my eyebrows, wash my hair, clean my nails and make sure there's no polish on them; check everything is packed so that nothing's out of place for this weekend's show at Cardiff Castle. So why do i care so much? Why does attention to every last detail for a two-day event matter?

The answer is quite simple. I'm a show girl, and i do it properly. Always have done, always will do.

Picture for a minute this:
It's a medieval event at a castle, you're the public and you've paid money to see a high standard presentation of how medieval life would have been.When you go inside, it more-or-less looks all as it should be, so you take pictures and look forward to playing with them and uploading them to the internet later, or showing them to your relatives. But when you sit down to look at them later on, you spot one girl shot in costume with bright red nail varnish glaring at you, distracting you from the fine rings on her hands, or detail to her sleeves. Another has a dress so creased it must have been crushed in an attic for ages, you can barely appreciate its patterns. Another clearly has used a modern hair band to hold her hair away, and yet you wonder how medieval women really kept hair tidy? Some man in a shirt, coat and hose is licking on an icecream and you wonder why they have a watch visible? Was this really a good show? Did you believe in the people you were observing?

They may sound really obvious mistakes, and the funny thing is that most of the above are really easily solved and are usually the result of forgetfulness or sloppy laziness. Ironing is time consuming admittedly, especially if it is a huge houppelande, but it's no different to ironing the rest of your clothes - it's a respect thing. Both for yourself and what you're wearing. Even just hanging it correctly can limit creases. Sometimes medieval veils had deliberate creases, but that's different. If you want deliberate creases in your veil, do not detract from this by being careless with the rest of the outfit. Nail varnish can be removed in seconds with pads or solution. Hairbands can be covered by ribbons and strips of leather. Thick, gothic makeup or cakey mascara can quickly turn an outfit from natural to fantasy. Minimalistic is always best - makeup only became cakey in Elizabethan times. Even straightened or curled hair by artificial means can look so very wrong! Watches if they must be kept can be hidden in a pouch or wooden box well away from the public. The icecream is a food for when the public has gone home - can't you have a word with the icecream van and arrange for them to reserve you one? It's funny how slipping on one minor thing can completely ruin the overall look.

Perhaps this attitude all goes back to my experiences and habits from the age of eight. I often miss working on stage, where everything had to contend with bright lights and colours. Foundation was bright orange, eyeshadow was bright blue, lipstick bright red, thick mascara, khol black eyeliner and the blusher was positively doll-like. You could be covered in spots on a bad day and still look a million dollars with thick makeup on. All you had to do was sit in front of a mirror for 30 minutes applying it, it was like some kind of soothing ritual. You could do your hair slick back in a tight french plait with gooey gel that would set hard and look smart as anything. Slip on a ready costume that had been maintained by the costume department. All you had to do was turn up with a box of makeup, tights and dance shoes. Those were the good days. :-) My Mum never let me be anything less than smart, and it gave you the feel good factor. Perhaps it was only wearing makeup for special occasions that meant i never felt the need or drive to wear it for school; there was no point - you only got in trouble. Why do that when you could save it all for later?

But what people forget in re-enactment is that working in full contact with the public is even more exposed. You don't have several metres and the darkness between you. In some respects i prefer working face to face with the public than behind several string barriers because it keeps you on your toes. You don't get lazy with your appearance. You pay even more attention to the 'look', just to get it right. If you're one of those who perform behind a barrier, try to treat it like you're face to face with them in your appearance. And people appreciate it. I even scent myself with incense smells of the time so that the public get the whole experience. Many learn best by the memory of sights and smells and colours, so it should be encouraged. The lovely thing is the smell lingers, so it leaves your silks and linens with a slightly spicy scent over the winter. I don't apply makeup if i can help it, otherwise it just rubs on my outfit - pale skin was fashionable. I confess that sometimes the odd dash of pale foundation is applied if skin misbehaves, but never anything too noticable. It can also be tricky putting on suncream when you've got so much makeup - better protected than burnt - the 'burnt princess' or 'cooked knight' look is not impressive...

Maybe i sound a little... OTT or obsessive when it comes to detail, but i firmly believe that attention to every last detail can make the difference between an ok performance, or a gobsmacking one. If you can't get it right when it truly matters, why bother?

No comments: