Wednesday, September 2, 2009

On Being Theodore Roosevelt for Modern Audiences

In November, the National Association for Interpretation (NAI), the nation’s premier organization networking, training and certifying volunteers and professionals in the oral presentation of information for parks, museums, historic sites and more, has invited me to present at their convention in Hartford, Connecticut. The presentation allows me, really for the first time, to blend in some TR performance with a telling of the story of the 2008 TR Tour, my family’s fifty state journey in honor of Theodore Roosevelt’s 150th birthday.

As we travelled the states, we took in many a talk or tour led by a park ranger or docent, and our adventure was the more pleasant and interesting for their presentations and answers. In a way, my experience with the professional and volunteer interpreters helped shape my own ideas on how I perform as Theodore Roosevelt, how I share information and how I answer questions about TR.

During this, my second year as an NAI member, I continue to find encouragement in the admonition, inherent in the interpretive community, on behalf of accuracy and historical honesty. Just as I used to advise political candidates, if the accurate answer is “I don’t know” then say so…don’t make it up.

In the words of the Boy Scouts, “Be Prepared.” The NAI encourages its members to train, to investigate, to research and to stay on their game. Know the material, and to the degree possible, know the audience and the range of needs and expectations within that audience.

In Hartford, I’ll share with NAI attendees some ideas about how to keep the interpretive presentation interesting and vital, and how to expand the mastery of material through the investigation of related topics. For example, the calendar, that is the historic calendar of events related to that site, provides an opportunity to seasonally freshen the presentations. In addition, any site certainly has at least one and more likely has dozens of interesting characters associated with the history of the place or times. Investigating these characters and weaving bits of these lives and experiences into the experience of visitors or audience members is a rich resource for that vital ingredient in oral presentation.

While I travel, I research. My summer travels included the Northwoods of Maine, where TR hiked Katahdin in 1879. I’m glad to say I successfully made the ascent in 2009. Performing for friends along the Indian River in Florida, birthplace of TR’s Pelican Island and the Wildlife Refuge System, I have renewed my own ornithological studies. All the while, Douglas Brinkley’s “The Wilderness Warrior” has been by my side and in my pack.

I look forward to writing more and more frequently about this great adventure that comes as a result of deciding to be the best Theodore Roosevelt I can be. I know that may seem a strange undertaking to some, but I assure you, it has been a very worthwhile and fulfilling thing to get good at it.

When climbing Katahdin, making the top of the Abol Trail, I took in the views from Thoreau Springs, a small and tepid natural spring within view of Baxter Peak. Later, after an ascent up Cathedral Cutoff, I enjoyed a little lunch at the springs on my way down the Hunt Trail.

Thoreau’s old line rang and echoed in my mind: "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."----- Henry David Thoreau, Walden, Conclusion, 1854

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