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Inside Capitol Training

How are interpreters trained to give site tours?

While Colonial Williamsburg is temporarily closed and tentatively scheduled to reopen March 30, we’ve curated a landing page of behind-the-scenes posts, biographical facts you didn’t know before, projects we’re working on, and educational resources. Here’s an account from a recent training at the Capitol.

Hello. My name is Christopher Glick and I am an orientation interpreter with Colonial Williamsburg. It is okay if you do not know what that is, I didn’t either when I first started out.

An orientation interpreter (OI) is here to help you get the most out of your next visit at Colonial Williamsburg! Whether it is explaining how to use the map, directing you to where Thomas Jefferson is talking at 2:30, answering questions about town or history, or simply being in a family photograph, we are here to answer questions, provide context, and orient you to Colonial Williamsburg.

We all have a love of people, I think. Not just history, but of the everyday lives of those that walked this earth before us, and just like today, the people of the past all brought these different experiences and worldviews into their everyday lives. We are more connected to the people of the past — than a building or concept— simply by the fact that we are human.

One of the most common questions we get is, “What is it like to work here?” Well, I recently went through the process of getting cleared to lead tours through the capitol, and I would like to show you what that looked like and also walk you through an average day!

The first thing you should know is what do I mean by getting “cleared.” Clearing means we have gone through training, both historical and site-specific (think directions of tours and safety procedures) so that we are able to demonstrate capability of contextual tours of the site. This is not simply the historical who, what, and why, but also tracing that relevance to enrich the lives of our guests both from within the United States and within our global community.

Every interpreter you see in a site — whether it is the Capitol, the Governor’s Palace, the Courthouse, and so on — has gone through this kind of training. The Capitol training was a week on top of the nearly three-week OI training I already have under my belt.  And even then, there was still more training after those formal three weeks. That is the great thing about working for CW: there is always more to learn and it never hurts to get a refresher once in a while!

On the Way to Training

My training class was filled with 12 of my colleagues and all of us come from incredibly different backgrounds, which makes this family (we really are a huge family!) an amazing wealth of knowledge, experiences, and worldviews, which in turn creates a dynamic atmosphere in which to learn, debate, and experience this place. In many ways, preparing to clear is like going back to school.

The volume of knowledge relating to what we can talk about at the capitol is extensive, so it does require a bit of learning. Training starts every morning around 8:30 a.m. and lasts until 5 p.m. The training is a mixture of facts, procedures, decorative arts, government, royalty, and Patrick Henry. Much like the town and the people who lived there and those who now work here, the training is a tapestry of interwoven stories, histories, and experiences.

At this point, I should add that while training starts in the morning, there is more that goes constitutes the day. Twice during the week of training, I was onsite right around 8 a.m. because I had to visit the Costume Design Center (lovingly called the CDC… no relation to the Federal Center for Disease Control).

We CANNOT do our jobs without the CDC. They are responsible for making all of us look so great, from the coats and breeches to hats and buckles, they clothe almost everyone a guest will see on the streets. Part of the job is taking care of the allotment they give us. Taking in the clothes to get washed, repair tears, maybe a button falls off. The team there puts in an immense amount of work to keep those of us in period attire looking great and they are integral to the guest experience!

Capitol Training in a Second a Day

After five days of coursework, study, and writing outlines, the day at last comes for us to clear. I must admit it is a nerve-wracking process in many ways. I was not worried about the tour itself per say, rather, we had covered so much in the training that there is concern of putting too much into the tour. I went on the tours of a few of my colleagues while they cleared and they joined me in mine! As of about 2:30 p.m. on March 4, 2020, I fully cleared to be able to give tours of the Capitol. This is my first building clearance and the privilege is extremely meaningful to me.

I can’t wait to greet you at the Capitol when we reopen. In the meantime, my colleagues are writing more blog posts and sharing more videos and information here to help you explore the 18th-century from home.

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