Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Thoughts on Event Scenario Design

Much can be said of reenactments throughout the years, but I've always thought of two questions - did I enjoy the event? what would have made it better? I would imagine many, if not most other reenactors think the same way.

Since the topic of hosting an event from inception to execution has already been covered in spectacular fashion in Civil War Historian magazine in Volume 2, Issue 2 (incidently, they also have a messageboard), so I'm not going to touch on that. Rather, I am going to touch on a piece of the puzzle; designing the scenario.

We typically marvel at the well-executed event, or remember the battle that had a uniqueness that isn't duplicated anywhere else. I can name a few of those events, but they're in the minority of events I've attended over the years.

When I think of designing an event, I mean not just trotting out all the reenactors to do battle on the field for the spectators to see in an hour or so, but having them do relevant things as part of a continuous (or semi-continuous) and integrated activity. School of the Soldier events that I've attended in the past were the only events that done this consistently, but that's only because the days are filled up with learning how to be CW soldiers.

One event I remember well was Brattonsville, SC way back in the mid-eighties. Not a horribly authentic affair, but it did things that more reenacting event designers should take note of.

The event was designed around a "rolling scenario". In the context of the event, all of the reenactors were in the scenario, which started from 9:00 in the morning and stopped around 6:00 in the evening. Between those times, a dozen things were happening at once, but in concert with each other.

Another event at Carnifex Ferry, WV utilized a "confidence course" approach - its uniqueness still strikes me. Platoon-sized groups were sent down the course to interact with the civilians, who had pieces of information that would allow the unit to find and engage the enemy. Every group was graded on its first-person impression, its ability to authentically interact with the civilians, and lastly, on its officer's success at piecing together the information. It's the only event where I've seen civilians so well integrated in the battle scenario in any appreciable extent.

My own group in the past as put on progressive viginettes that allow spectators to observe many aspects of the same historical event. It's an undertaking in planning, but it makes for a most interesting event.

Some events have caught on to the "whole event" approach. The Payne's Farm event described in Civil War Historian is a good example. But other smaller events like the Battle of Wyse Fork could use a good scenario overhaul, as well as any event that only puts on "show" battles. Creating events that are interesting, true as possible to history, and don't follow the same old formula are key to the future growth and longevity of the hobby.

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