Volunteer or Hired Gun: Should
Re-enactors Accept Payment for Attending Bicentennial Events
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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?
Submissions of Opinions are welcomed by
e-mailing us. They
should be constructive and offer solutions to issues and not be
Rants (driven by frustration and letting off steam).
is open to anyone, around the world.