This week I talked with Bethel history alum Dana Morrison-Lorenz about combining her love of history and theatre. She graduated in 2012 and now coordinates historical interpreters at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center at North Dakota’s Fort Mandan.
What led to your interest in history?
My parents (particularly my dad) had a big interest in history and during many family vacations we would stop at historically significant sites. I also have two older sisters that were very interested in history. (In fact, both sisters studied history at Bethel as well.) Being as I looked up to them I wanted to do as they did, and so I began getting into the same things they did and history was a big one. As I got older I always wanted the answers to “why” questions: Why do we do things a certain way? Why are things the way they are? etc. And I found that history was a fascinating way to answer those questions. Sometimes the answers were simple and sometimes they were heartbreaking, but finding out the truth (or at the very least facts presented whether truthful or not) led to a lot of fulfillment for me.
What was one of your favorite courses or memories from Bethel?
I really enjoyed my Cold War class. Although I knew about the Cold War and the basics about what it involved, I learned so much through that course. I was born the year after the Berlin Wall came down and so it felt like a part of history that I had just missed out on, something that was so close to my lifetime but still seemed so foreign. Through the class it was interesting to dive deeper into what led up to the Cold War, what events occurred that aren’t as well known, and what ramifications from the Cold War are still felt today.
Some of the standout things I remember from the class was on the first day Dr. Gehrz asked us what we think of when we hear “Cold War” and he wrote our answers on the board. We had a discussion about how that list has changed over the years that he has been teaching the course and how our perception of an event is shaped by the time we are living in. Dr. Gehrz would also play us songs from the Cold War era and would print out the lyrics so we could follow along. I still have those sheets nearly 10 years later.
What led you to your current career?
It wasn’t until late in my college career that I figured that working in a museum/historic site might be an interesting career. I was more so studying history out of a passion for it and thought that the skills from studying history could work well in any career I chose, not necessarily having anything to do with history. So when I realized that I may want to pursue a career in a museum setting I started looking at my options. I looked into going to grad school (and to be honest it’s still not off the table), but it didn’t seem like the right time to go back to school. Instead I began volunteering through the Minnesota Historical Society so that I could start to gain some experience. I worked with the MHS Press transcribing interviews for upcoming books and with the Event Volunteers, talking with visitors and performing behind-the-scenes tasks. All the while I was applying for jobs around the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Although I got a few interviews, none of these panned out.
Then I heard about an interpreter position at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center/Fort Mandan from my sister’s former high school classmate and decided to apply for the position. I interviewed by phone a few weeks later and then the next week I had found out I got the position. Two weeks later I moved back to my home state of North Dakota and began my career as an historical interpreter. Three years later I applied for the Interpretive Coordinator position within the same museum and started my new role in July of this year.
What are some of the duties that come with your position?
Since we are a small staff at our location I have a lot of duties that I take care of. First and foremost, I interact with our visitors, whether that be giving a guided tour of Fort Mandan or answering questions within the museum. As the Coordinator I am also responsible for all of the interpreters. If they have questions or concerns, they can come to me. I will give them tasks and duties and guide them as they develop interpretive programming and tours. Other duties include planning events and temporary exhibits. This is usually done in the winter when visitation is slow. We will usually have 2-4 temporary exhibits throughout the year, with three available galleries for the exhibits. We also have events going year round that I have to plan and promote.
I am also in charge of our social media presence so I make posts to Facebook and Instagram nearly every day. In recent years there has been a demand for site content to be available on social media, and we are trying to get information out there so even though people may not be able to visit our site we can give them interpretive content. Facebook has also been great to promote events and keep our followers up-to-date on what’s going on.
Beyond these duties I go where I am needed so I will worked the register in the museum stores, help with maintenance, and occasionally even to off site if needed.
How has Historical Interpreting let you combine your interests in History and Theatre?
There are days where we will dress up in historical clothing while working at Fort Mandan. We don’t go so far as to reenact like it’s 1804 at the fort, but having the clothing gives a different feel to the fort that people really enjoy. Combining my passions for history and theatre has also helped in my presentations, whether it be a fort tour, demonstrating how to use a flintlock, or preparing presentations to give to the public. In a sense I play a bit of a role with my job. I wear a park uniform (a costume) and I stand in front of visitors (an audience) to deliver a tour (a performance).
If you go deeper there are a lot of connections between history and theatre that have helped in my position. Both history and theatre rely on storytelling, both incorporate aspects of teamwork and critical thinking, and both allow you to overcome limitations. All of these skills are integral to my role as a historical interpreter.