I’m an upper-middle manager here at Conner Prairie. I started out as an interpreter in Prairietown, the summer after I started my freshman year in college, and continued to work here as I finished first my Bachelor’s and then my Master’s Degree in Museum Studies.
But let me tell you, there are an awful lot of things about working at Conner Prairie that you can learn nowhere but on the job.
Now, of course, there are the obvious things. Most colleges, even the small liberal-artsy types, don’t offer courses in how to wear 19th Century underwear, or how to butcher a chicken. Clearly, those are things that can be best learned by hand, with lots of practice. I can remember the first day I was asked to don a corset and a set of lady’s drawers – between all the strings, hooks, and oddly-placed holes, I spent a good thirty minutes just trying to work out what was supposed to go where.
But a lot of the other, less tangible skills might catch you by surprise. For example, what’s the best way to tell someone where the modern bathroom facility is when you’re supposed to be acting like it’s 1836? How do you plan out your day when you have no idea how many guests, of what ages and with what backgrounds might be coming through the door? After a couple of years of working here, trying out different approaches, getting feedback from supervisors and peers, and simply identifying what works, you can begin to get pretty darn good at these trickier aspects of historical interpretation. I learned how to acknowledge our guests’ needs, without completely stepping out of character (“Oh, you’re looking for the public Necessary – it’s just down the street there”), and I learned many, many different ways to set up my environment and plan multiple opportunities to engage all of my guests’ senses.
And, now, I’m on to management, and let me tell you, that’s a world that is fraught with unexpected situations that they never teach you in school. You see, for my Masters degree in Museum Studies, I had two different classes on managing and conserving collections of historic items. But I never had a class on how to soothe bruised egos, reverse the effects of miscommunication, motivate people in 90-degree-heat, or how to squeeze an extra hour or two out of a day filled with meetings to work through my imperative to-do list.
Plus, around here, managers are the equivalent of Army Reservists – we get sent in to those sticky, unforeseen situations to get things resolved quickly and in the best manner for guests. There are many days in which the ‘other duties as assigned’ clause in our job descriptions covers everything we have to do that day. When an interpreter calls in sick, it’s often a manager who covers their position (in the past ten days, I’ve been the school mistress, the Prairietown Host, and a snake-oil saleswoman). When the weather turns sour, it’s usually a manager who goes out to clear the grounds and usher everyone to safety. When livestock break loose, it’s usually a manager (or several) who come to herd them back to their proper locations. Why just last week, I responded to a radio call about the baby pigs wondering far from their pen – they had managed to wiggle their way around to the north side of Clowes Common, and appeared to be waiting for their own ride on the balloon (they had not gone to BP for coupons, however). So, I and three of my coworkers worked to wrangle them back where they belong. It’s pretty funny to see fat little pigs try to squeeze themselves between the bars of metal fencing! Can you imagine what a class in emergency livestock herding would look like at IUPUI? It would be a great experience for kinesthetic learners, that’s for sure . . . I’m also the one who runs to the store for much-needed last-minute supplies (today, I have to go pick up AA batteries, rock salt, molasses, lemons, and a 12-inch wagon tire), and who has the ultimate responsibility to see that special programs are carried off well (I’ve been planning a fake 1836 wedding for three weeks now!). Like I say, most of my job is ‘other duties as assigned’.
My point is, much goes on behind the scenes here at Conner Prairie to bring you the best possible experiences when you arrive. And much of that work is unexpected, unpredictable, and exciting. Next time you’re on the property, rest assured that there are at least two or three managers flying by the seat of our pants as we boldly explore new management territories and unforeseen responsibilities just to keep our daily operations running smoothly. Next time you’re here, keep your eyes peeled, and you might just see us in action!
A behind the scenes look at Opening Weekend.
To see more photographs of Opening Weekend, check out our Facebook Fan Page.
Hello to you all.
I am Adam Bouse and I’ll be posting from time to time on this new Conner Prairie staff blog. I am an Experience Manager and this will be my third season at CP. I’ve had my hands in a LOT of different projects around the grounds (and still do). I want to share with you the back story on how this place works – what does a “day-in-the-life” look like, how do we train, how do we get ready for events, and what are our inspirations. I figure that the best way to start posting here is to let you in on a little bit of what I’ve been working on most recently.
Maybe you’ve heard: we’re opening a new experience in June! (check out the pictures of construction under way) “The 1859 Balloon Voyage” will take you through the story of how Indiana played host to the first air-mail delivery. You’ll get to experience the excitement of being in Lafayette in 1859 for the original balloon launch, learn about balloon technology, and play with some fun balloon-related interactives. The whole experience will culminate in a real life ballon trip – up, up, up and away to almost 400 ft (weather dependent)!
Just last week, two other staffers and I went to begin our pilot training. Lots of physics involved, but going up is a great experience for sure. Here are some photos of the balloon we trained on. While the colors are different from ours, the size and operation are just the same.
(photos by John Elder)