Ten Seriously Good Reasons to Work with Actors

Collaborating with a community theater or acting group is an outstanding way to bring new energy to your local history programs and events.

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If there is no community theater in your area, consider approaching the high school drama club or a scout troop working on Celebrating Community, Public Speaking, Local History or Theater merit badges.

Actors can give formal presentations, participate in living history demonstrations, serve as guides and docents, or be hosts at open house type events where visitors travel from stop to stop.  Perhaps the most effective way to use their talents is to have them portray real historical figures or composite characters. They can participate in special programs such as a Victorian wedding recreation or give firsthand accounts of significant events. For example, your actor might tell visitors about her experiences helping fugitive slaves travel along the Underground Railroad or describe being physically attacked for being a Suffragette.  

However you use them, actors add an element of entertainment and the potential for audience engagement many programs lack.

Here are nine more great reasons to give this approach a try.

  • Actors are more versatile than reenactors. Reenactors may spend months or years researching a particular period and developing a specific character. Actors, on the other hand, are not locked into a single era or persona. They can portray a wide range of people from various periods and places.  
  • Working with actors gives you the ability to control your program via a script. You are both the stage director and the playwright. You choose the subject and write the material, decide how it will be presented, who will say what, and set the program’s length.
  • Your regular volunteers may be uncomfortable with the idea of portraying characters. For some the mere suggestion may be enough to induce paralyzing stage fright and a refusal to participate.   
  • In most cases actors will do a better job portraying characters than volunteers will. Actors tend to be more relaxed in front of people. They have stage presence. They know how to get into character. Plus they will learn their lines faster and are likely to stick to the script. No wandering off into uncharted territory.
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  • Actors are used to taking direction. Volunteers may be hurt or offended if you suggest changes to their performances.
  • Your local theater has costumes and someone on their team probably knows how to alter them. They may also have a good supply of props. Actors are comfortable wearing costumes and know how to use props effectively.
  • If you keep an open mind, you may discover your actors – even if they are high school students or scouts – have suggestions on how to improve your program. Ask for their ideas.
  • Working with local theatrical groups helps them! There are never enough acting opportunities, especially in small towns. Participating in your program gives actors valuable experiences they can add to their resumes.
  • And last, but certainly not least, good collaborations almost always lead to other projects. Working with new people and groups can expand the audience for your future programs too.

For more on how to form successful partnerships, check out our ebook on that very subject, The Collaboration Kit, here