Live History: The BeginningOn April 8, 2020 by Jasmine Bowen
“I love to act.”
“I love history.”
“Start a business.”
These were pretty much the regular statements surrounding my childhood. I came from a family of entrepreneurs (4 generations back), and being an actor was being the black sheep of the family. I had been acting ever since I was 9 years old, and I carried my love of history with me everywhere. Do you ever have those moments when everything suddenly makes sense?
For me, it was standing in Bermuda, in an empty museum. My plane had been delayed for 24 hours and I was trying to make the most of my time there, when I really needed to be back home for an audition.
As I looked around the empty museum, I realized that this was not at all like the museums of my childhood. When I was young, my Grandma took me to museums almost every weekend. They were crowded places, full of eager young faces and smiling parents and grandparents. They were places for socializing, for learning, and for exploring.
Now, it seemed like they were becoming ghost towns.
After the museum visit, I headed back to the hotel. On the way back to the hotel, there was a man standing by the bus stop, begging for change. I did not have any change to give him, because I had spent all my cash yesterday, thinking I was going home. When I told him this, he sighed, and hung his head and slunk away.
It was in that moment that everything in my life came together.
Museums were empty. I had a degree in theatre. I had a family of entrepreneurs to give me advice. There were so many stories, like the man I just encountered, that would likely never be told.
Live History was born on that bus ride back to the hotel. In some ways, it took 26 years of my life to build the company. And in other ways, it took 48 hours.
Over the next 48 hours, I talked endlessly to the people who would become my co-founders. Jeremy, now our full time writer, dived into the idea and agreed to write the shows. Joshua, now our head show designer, pointed out that if we wanted to bring history to life and create unique experiences, we needed more than just shows. We needed games, mysteries, quests and interactions.
I went home from Bermuda and built a website. I started contacting every museum I ever thought was cool within a 15 hour radius. Over the next few weeks (this was over Christmas), Jeremy and I wrote the outline and script for the first show “Mary’s Odyssey” and I had many, many calls to various museums, explaining my idea. We would customize the show to their history. We would have interaction; we would have escape room level mysteries.
The first booking came at 8am one snowy January morning, through email. And then, another, this one a national historic site that had wanted to do something for so long, and trusted my drive and passion.
And then, a third, a museum that I had previously performed in another life that thought it was neat.
Three more bookings came from America, making our first year international already.
Our first show was a sold out success that brought tears to my eyes. It was Joshua, Jeremy, myself, and our very first “support” actor, Jeff, who did things with his character that are still being used for interactions and Live History characters today. Through that show, we discovered the value of individual interactions with audience members, and creating a world that is more than just one scene in one room. We brought history to life.
When Laurier House told me that they wanted 6 weeks of shows and a prime minister to star beside me, I held Live History’s first auditions, not knowing that those auditions would lead to 2 years of creative partnership. Rick won the part, and for the next two seasons, worked opposite my characters in nearly every show. He was quiet and scholarly, full of history tidbits that hours of research would never let me find. We were opposites in nearly every way, and it was perfect for our usual act of “Employer and maid” on stage.
Year 2 of Live History brought more growth that I could have imagined. We went from 6 venues to 23, and we gained another country- Ireland. I had always wanted to take Live History to castles, and our first castle booking made me shriek in delight when the email came through (and then call my business partner Jeremy at 6am to tell him. I’m sure he was just as excited.). In year 2, we gained Daniel, a second prime minister character at Laurier House, and a French performer. Daniel, who now heads Live History’s French division, has helped round out the team in ways I didn’t even know I was missing. He started, even in Year 2, to show leadership qualities and we began to plan, backstage before shows, and laughing in the greenroom, for a future that we did not yet know was possible. We just dreamed it was.
I would say Year 3 was the year that brought the most changes. It was 2017, Canada’s 150th anniversary, and Live History had already grown a reputation. Suddenly, we could not be a small team anymore. There were too many bookings. There were too many shows that required more than just a few actors. There was a double booking or two. There were shows in French, a language that I wasn’t comfortable enough with to perform in. We went from 23 bookings to 60, a full Cross Canada tour, and we booked into Bermuda, the place where it all started, as well as the United Kingdom. We introduced a new show type “In Time”, and “Catherine’s Creed” got a makeover into “Robin’s Redemption,” and we launched “Circa” our first production designed for exhibit based museums.
Our clients were the most interesting of museums, from the British Golf museum, to the Didsbury museum that I thought would be small but was actually one of the most beautifully laid out 2 story museums I had ever seen. The local and niche stories that we got to tell were an honour. We got to play people who had recently passed on, and bring back memories that were in danger of being forgotten. We focused on telling stories that wouldn’t be known ten minutes down the road, and dug deep into local history to find tales that even most locals were unaware of. Every year, we had done this, but 2017 seemed to magnify it.
Year 3 was also a year of big changes, staffing wise. Rick got accepted in a PHd program, which required most of his attention, and left the head office base, where most of the actors were at the time. He remained for one show a year at Laurier House. Like the previous years, I had no idea that the auditions that year would bring me people who would change and shape the company for the better for years to come.
Caroline joined our cast that year, and after Laurier House, went on to play roles across the country and internationally, in years to come. With her beautiful British accent and love of history, she now heads up our History Department, as well as works with Daniel on the French division. Those two are on stage together as often as possible, and any one who gets to see them is in for a treat, as their professional chemistry brings magic to any audience.
Year 3 was the year I had to find a female actor to play “myself” for the French shows, and it was the start of the realization that other actors would have to play the roles I had hoarded if we wanted to expand. Christine, Gaia, and Olivia, in subsequent years, took over the role of Mary in the French shows, and seeing their beautiful performances made “letting the roles go” easier, as I knew that they and others were fully capable. I realised it wasn’t “letting go”, it was making my dream more than just a personal experience. However, I couldn’t quite let go, until Ian came along.
It was a snowy December day, just before the year 3 auditions, when I went to see a show at the local community theatre. I wasn’t really intending to scout out performers or change my company. But then, Ian Gillies sauntered on stage, as the Musketeer Athos.
Joshua and I were lucky enough to speak to Ian at the opening night gala, and convince him to audition for us in January. From the very first moment he read a Live History role, I knew that things were about to change for the better. He went from playing historic characters to playing lead roles within a year, something that I hadn’t been able to let go of outside of the French shows. Ian was promoted to “Character consultant” in year 4, working with the actors to maintain their character consistency while they play many different historic characters (sometimes in the same day!).
I feel like year 3 brought the biggest changes. Year 4 and 5 didn’t bring so many changes, but they did bring growth. Suddenly, we had double and triple bookings. We had shows happening in different countries, simultaneously. I was on a train in the UK, at 9pm at night after a long show day, texting with the show managers back home who were setting up for their shows. I was getting ready to go to a 7am ballet class in Australia before while simultaneously helping Daniel write his first official contract for the French division.
We brought on new actors, and then more new actors. Curtis, Lorliee, Andrew, Alecia, Angie, Isabelle, Priscilla, Teal, Chelsey, Ben, Cassidy, Sophie, Sully, Michael, Jesse, and so many more. We worked with local actors that have grown to be staples whenever we return to the area, such as Corey or Adam. We’ve cast local actors this year who we hope will grow to that strength as well, such as Marilyn, Ella, Joanna, Kim and Suzie. Each of them bring something so unique and so wonderful to their characters. Jeremy started writing 3-4 new contracts a day. He can take the history from a client and the most unlikely scenarios and come up with a script in no time at all. Double bookings didn’t scare me anymore, and sending out 9 contracts to the new actors for year 6 was exciting.
Joshua expanded his show design department to include Jackie, a year 4 actor who went above and beyond in every task that we gave her, and the two of them now spend hours in design meetings, coming up with missions, tasks and clues that I never could have even dreamed up. Caroline has gotten her history department research down to a science, and finds us people, places and dates so quickly that I wonder if she can read minds. She’s used to the strange request emails that come in, from “When was Kool-Aid invented?” to “What was Queen Eleanor doing in April of 1293 in the mornings?”, and returns answers to us without blinking an eye.
Daniel runs his French division so smoothly that it appears he was born to do it, and I am so proud of the growth that has happened. Ian has taken the reins of our day to day operations and has created new show concepts, as well as matching my wild zigzag energy with logical creativity. I would hesitate to call anything perfect, but together, all of us, are perfect. Live History has experienced so much change and growth because of these wonderful people, all of our actors, and all of the clients who believed in one person’s life long dream. We all don’t know what will happen with year six, as we work from home and watch the world change, but whatever happens, with this team beside me, I know that Live History will find a way to thrive.