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A Weekend for History in the Making

March 12, 1998|WENDY MILLER | Wendy Miller is editor of Calendar Weekend's Ventura Edition

We know that art imitates life. And anyone who has been reading news from the nation's capital knows that life can imitate art. Or, more precisely, that life can imitate farce.

Then there is reenactment, in which art attempts to replicate historical life in such perfect detail that it leaves intact all real-time monotony and drudgery.

This weekend at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, art imitates the Civil War indoors and reenacts it outdoors. A musical adaptation of Shelby Foote's book "Shiloh" premieres Friday night at the Forum Theatre and runs for three weekends.

Meanwhile, on Saturday and Sunday, more than 100 Civil War buffs will set up an encampment and spend the weekend reenacting the Battle of Shiloh. After shooting each other, falling down and playing dead all day, they can spend a miserable night around a campfire. If they're lucky, it might even rain, duplicating more precisely conditions during the original battle.

To me, reenacting is to acting what tofu is to food. OK, so the historical essence is there--in the costumes, the noise, the dialects--but where is the dramatic meat? Judging by the numbers of folks willing to fork over remarkable sums of money to obtain perfect re-creations of itchy Union and Confederate garb (not to mention the millions who converge each year on Williamsburg to watch people pretend to be some of our forefathers), I clearly hold a minority view.

"There is great interest in this form of history," said Jane Hulse, who wrote the Centerpiece story on the "Shiloh" events. "It does take very dry historical matter and make it come alive. Especially for kids, who are living in an electronic age. For them, reading about a battle is dull and hard to take. Seeing it is very powerful."

After treating the kids to a piece of history, parents might consider heading south to Agoura Hills to check out "Camp Fair '98," the subject of today's For the Kids column (page 50). The fair educates parents and children on the day and residential camp programs available this summer.

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