I was stuck in a bit of a muddle. Should I or should I not put on period clothing in order to discuss history?
The issue contained some level of import for me. Bow Tie Tours was created with the idea of eschewing schtick and developing tours with high historical content that are, at the same time, entertaining. If I were to put on that try-corner hat and take on the character of Benjamin Rush, would I be entering into the area of schtick? I had met several people who believed so, people who rolled their eyes when they saw a guide walking in such an outfit.
On the other hand…we say that we want to “bring history to life.” Would this do so? I don’t like those damned duck whistles that the hellish duck tours hand out not only, or even primarily, because they are schtick, but because they detract from the history their tour purports to encompass. I only have one rule – what I do should help people to feel and comprehend our history. Whatever does that, I’m all for. And so, about a year ago, I took the plunge and purchased the outfit, not to use on tours but at events, especially for schools.
Then something happened. I watched my friend Chris Lowell do his one man show of Benjamin Franklin. I saw Steven Edenbo as Thomas Jefferson and Peyton Dixon as John Adams in an amazing Continuing Legal Education Course, during which they chatted amiably, giving long quotes from historical sources as if they were coming off the tip of their tongues.
What did I expect? These three are not only good at what they do, they are the best. Chris has played Iago for God’s sake, and played him well. I’ve watched Iago, but I sure as hell would never try to play him.
And so, I backed off and did not push my early idea of enacting Philadelphia doctor Benjamin Rush. But here’s the thing – I already bought the outfit. And it wasn’t cheap. Like it or not, I was going to have to go out there into the recreationist terrain.
I offered to come to Saint Raymonds a week before their walking tour, as Benjamin Rush, to chat with them about Philadelphia and early American History. And having just spent an hour with those kids of Saint Raymonds, I can say that I am glad that I did it. First there was the initial whoosh of excitement that came from them when I arrived. They are young – 2nd and 4th grade – and still hold that wonderful capacity to choose to believe. I loved every minute of it. (Particularly since their teacher has done such a good job at educating them about the period. These kids were very impressive.) I do believe that by donning my hat and carrying my stick, I was able to discuss events with an authenticity that helped them understand the evens I spoke of.
And so, after having experienced my first Dr. Rush event, I can only say…I’m also available for Bar Mitzvahs!