I was fortunate enough to get my gown finished just in time for the Jane Austen Ball in Toronto at St. Barnabas church on Danforth Avenue. It was held last night. This was the first event of this nature I have attended since arriving to Toronto nearly a year ago.
Let me start by commenting that many who are interested in historical costuming and historical dance find themselves too few in numbers (and/or too short on commitment) to bring a large scale historical reenactment to fruition. Even beyond that, often the events can be bogged down by superfluous structure and hierarchy which only deters joviality and new interest. This is the plight of the historical costumer: where can one make their historical garments “live” by wearing them, socializing in them, and putting them in the context in which they were made to be worn without the cooperation of earnest and like-minded individuals?
Setting up a historical reenactment requires a multitude of skills and an interested community. One is dealing operationally with 2012, trying to evoke 1812, and stir up enthusiasm and sentiment enough amongst the participants to make the whole thing fly. Unlike a theatrical event, at reenactments your performers are also your audience, your costumers, and your financiers. One can’t direct them and expect them to follow blindly. For success, there must be interest and good will. In this most crucial of areas, the 2012 Jane Austen Ball was a complete success.
Granted, there was room for improvement. The interior of the event space was hardly Adamesque. The punch, though based on a researched historical recipe, was not cupped in fine china. No one brought out the sterling to dish out the fresh fruit and tasty little cookies. There were no silk-clad Empire chairs on which to rest while officers gathered round to claim your hand for the next dance. And where were the torch-holding footmen? But one would be a very sad person indeed to complain about the wonderful music, the beautiful dancing, or the assembled polite society. In these areas, improvement would be difficult.
In summary, the Jane Austen Ball displayed the magnificent attributes that attracted me to historical costuming and reenactment in the first place: the pursuit of an aesthetic motivated by joy, formed by work and study, and directed by ideals, the result of which is a sensory experience whose remnants linger in the mind similarly to how the remnants of an era linger in the museum or the book. But unlike the static nature of those latter fossils, historical costuming and reenactment have the power of being in the present on the day they occur and being remembered by those who were never there.
Historical costuming and reenactment is not about denying the present or the future. It’s about bringing things to existence, where historical study provides a few pointers. One learns a great deal through study even if only by virtue of the study being an effort made. But it is a joyous moment when the study and effort can be brought some fruition. A gown never worn or project never started is a sad thing indeed. And last night was the successful completion of a happy project for many.
Can’t wait to make something new for the next one!