Friday, 30 April 2010

How it all began

I decided to make an Elizabeth I costume for no apparent reason. I was working as an Interpreter at Norwich Castle Museum at the time, and had some vague notion it would come in handy. I absolutely no idea what I was letting myself in for.

Before I knew it I had people assaulting me from all sides demanding that the costume was ultra authentic. People I had previously thought of as ordinary work colleagues revealed themselves to be experts in all manner of historical detail, and zealous in their pursuit of flaws in my work. Well, that's how it felt- with hindsight I'm sure they were just trying to steer me away from my natural " oh that'll do" tendencies. But I kept calm and carried on, and the result, after many a winter's night spent handsewing, was a decent enough replica of Elizabeth's red silk and blackwork extravaganza painted by Hilliard in 1574.

So what next? My manager indulged me and let me wear it for work a few times (remember this is in a museum, so it's not as odd as you might think), but other than that, it was beginning to feel like I'd put in a lot of effort for nothing. I had no props, and work schedules at the Castle didn't allow for any one else to be my stooge. How could I get the history across to the museum visitors? I wondered: what can one actually DO while dressed as a flamboyant Queen?!! Ahem...
Clearly there was room for much flouncing about and declaring that people should be sent to the Tower, but the costume (and my public) deserved more.
I noticed that while in the costume, I spent more time showing people my layers of underwear- the bumroll, the farthingale etc- than talking about Queenie's life and times. While musing on this with a colleague, we struck upon the idea that the costume WAS the central feature. Why not base the whole talk on the costume? One could then get the history in by stealth AND get to legitimately say 'bum' in a museum. We formulated the bones of a session there and then.
And the rest, as they say, is history...

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