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Volunteer or Hired Gun: Should Re-enactors Accept Payment for Attending Bicentennial Events

       On the surface it seems to be a strange question.  If someone hands you a bag of money, you should take it and run, right?   Unfortunately there are downsides to that decision for both the re-enactor and the funding body.


            First, who is a re-enactor?  This is a volunteer who decides, for his or her own personal reasons, to re-create the dress, belongings, and trade of a person from the past that he/she feels is significant.  Some do it for their own personal amusement and education, while others do it to convey a message to the public.  The average War of 1812 re-enactor spends hundreds if not thousands of dollars on their impression and then drives hours if not days to participate at a re-enactment event.  In turn the event organizer makes the re-enactor feel welcome by offering some meals, camping infrastructure, entertainment, etc.   Organizers and re-enactor representatives work together to determine what are reasonable and appropriate activities for the event, and everyone has a good time. 

Fee for Service

            The exchange of money changes this.  In controlled experiments, psychologists have found that any time money is introduced into a relationship different thought patterns kick in on both sides.   It is now a financial transaction and expectations change accordingly. 

For example, a re-enactor is paid $100.00 to attend a two-day event, where he/she has to drive four hours to be a part of it.   Ignoring the fact the payment barely covers the gas and depreciation of the vehicle, the re-enactor does a quick calculation and finds that they are being offered about 4.00 per hour, less than half of minimum wage.    Some people begin to reflect: "Is that all you think my time is worth?"   On the other hand, take the same money and spend it on food for the re-enactor, the reaction is: "Wow.  They really treated us well at that event."   See the impact.

On the other hand, the event organizers who pay out cash are left feeling they have hired staff and plan accordingly based on that belief.  Therefore long parades, for example, that would not have been agreed upon by re-enactment reps and event planners in the volunteer format, now are on the schedule with the “fee for service” format.  It is the "we paid for you, now perform" attitude.

Competing with Itself

Government funding of the upcoming bicentennial may add a whole new dynamic to “fee for service” issue.  Back at the time of the War of 1812, the British army got itself into a strange situation.   Regiments would pay recruits a sum of money, called a bounty, to join.  To meet their recruitment quotas regiments and other branches of the military began to compete with each other by raising the amount offered.    In essence, the government was competing with itself, needlessly driving up costs to the frustration of the taxpayer. 

Fast forward to today.  In Ontario, for example, numerous events are being planned by the various regional committees.  While efforts are being made to avoid scheduling conflicts, the average re-enactor will attend about one re-enactment a month.  So which one will he go to?   If regional committees green-light the paying of cold-hard-cash, they may begin competing with themselves on price to make their event that "one".  Not only is this bad for the taxpayer, it sucks funds out of what 1812 re-enactors care about most:  celebrating the 200th Anniversary of the War of 1812 with a big bang.   An event needs to be judged by its importance like "General Brock died fighting there", and not by the size of its piggy bank.  It is about merit, not money.

Exceptions to the Rule

            Likely everything in the real world, there are exceptions and the exchange of money in the re-enacting hobby has them.   Ships are expensive to run and usually charge a fee to cover some of their capital costs of keeping them “afloat”.  Transporting horses and cannons to events are also expensive and event planners sometimes help out with this unique expense.  However the ones sailing the ship and not usually paid, nor are those mounted or discharging the cannon.

A Hobby or a Job

            In the end, re-enactors have to make a decision.  Is re-enacting a hobby or a job?   Here is a warning though before you decide.   If you see it as a way to make money, then you may find yourself hunting for a new hobby to unwind from your new job as a re-enactor.    Are there times when taking payment will not hurt your enthusiasm for your hobby?  Maybe.   Working as an extra in a film comes to mind.   Film companies are there to make a profit.  Volunteering your services for free in a film production, only increases their profit margins and frankly decreases their respect for re-enactors.  Been there.  Done that.  But that is a whole different issue.  

          It is great when you can turn work into play.  But who wants to turn play into work?  



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