Opinion: Drawbacks of playing the part

I recently had the chance to revisit a former career when I spent two days as an historical re-enactor, historically re-enacting a bank robbery.

I used to do this sort of thing for the Indiana Historical Society. I played a grocer in a 1945-era grocery store and then I played an auto dealership owner in the 1920s. Then I decided that, for me anyway, it was kind of weird to leave the house in the morning for a long day of pretending, and so I got out of the game.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. It was fun. Especially being the grocery store owner. I spent my days ringing up sales and dusting shelves and chatting with “customers,” all while staying in character no matter how hard they tried to get me out of it:

Me: Hello, welcome to the market.

Customer: This is all fake.

Me: Can I help you find something?

Customer: You’re fake, too.

Me: We’re having a special on ham salad.

Customer: It would be fake if you were.

Then there were the customers who claimed to know more than you about the store, the character, and the situation (the American home front as World War II entered its final year).They’d come in just itching to trip you up on something, anything, but we’d had weeks of training in history and improvisational acting technique, so they very seldom succeeded:

Customer: By this point in the war America was using a different ration book than the one you’re holding. Also, your necktie is wrong and I don’t think a storekeeper would wear two-tone shoes.

Me: We’re having a special on ham salad.

And of course you had the people who “played along” by “predicting” the “future”:

Customer: Someday we’ll have phones we carry around in our pockets and machines called computers and radio with pictures called “television” and …

Me: We just ran out of ham salad.

But for the most part it was a pleasant, happy way to spend a day. Plus, I got discounts at the gift shop.

I had it all out of my system, though, when the call came asking me to consider a triumphant return to – well, not the stage. Let’s call it a triumphant return to a scenario. And because I had no schedule conflicts I said OK. Also, they were offering money.

And that is how I found myself behind the teller’s window in a repurposed bank building while an actor pretending to be John Dillinger stood on the other side demanding that I put wads of fake money into a bank bag, while people drinking wine and eating chicken wings watched and laughed.

I say laughed because at one point “Dillinger” called me “Grandpa,” and evidently the look on my face indicated I was none too pleased. I wrote not too long ago about how I was a little sensitive about being called old. OK, a lot sensitive.

But “Grandpa?” I am nobody’s Grandpa and I sure wouldn’t be John Dillinger’s if I were. “Grandpa” seemed to me to be taking it just a little too far, even in the spirit of historical re-enacting verisimilitude, and I’m afraid I let it show.

Or maybe I was just acting.

The world may never know.

Meanwhile, I’m going to go get a ham salad sandwich.

Mike Redmond is an author, journalist, humorist and speaker. Write him at mike@mikeredmondonline.com. For information on speaking fees and availability, visit www.spotlightwww.com.

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