Finding primary historical resources is thrilling — like seeing little slices of another era right before your eyes.
As an actor and writer, I love the research process. Sources of the time help your imagination create the world of the characters.
When I’m acting, it’s not about the lines; the lines will come from the character’s inner world. I like to cover all the bases. For example, if my character lives in big Northern city back in the 1920s, I want to make her world as real as possible in my mind — including various bits of knowledge, like knowing what music was popular then, what occupations were available for women, and what items would’ve been on the menu at nearby restaurants. Oh so many fun discoveries to make!
I enjoy this research process with writing too, creating the world of my characters authentically as possible. Sometimes, you might just make a discovery that puts a whole new, wonderful spin on your story.
Acting friends sometimes tell me it’s not necessary, that the lines are what’s important and that once you know them, the characters “just happen”… If that’s their creative process, I’m not going to disagree. Everyone works differently. If the end result is excellent work, then that’s what works for them. But I still can’t help wondering if their performances would be even stronger if they did more research… ; )
Regardless, the preparation and world of researching is fun, especially if you love to learn.
Here’s a link to “The Miss Frank E. Buttolph American Menu Collection, 1851-1930,” an online collection from the New York Public Library. Enjoy!