Hear ye, hear ye: Emerson on the Freedom Trail

by Beacon Staff • October 6, 2011

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divDressed in a makeshift colonial get-up of two skirts found at Goodwill and strung together with a series of safety pins, Amory Sivertson paces the sidewalk outside of Boston Sound on Tremont Street./div

divFor 20 minutes before each of her tours, she calls for guests to join her and sells tickets for the weekend, standing next to the two-story McDonald’s and her competition: The Freedom Trail Foundation tour guide./div

div“Their costumes are so much better, and they can be really rude to us, saying right in front of our customers, ‘We are the official freedom trail tour guides and we are historians, not acting students,’” she said./div

divSivertson graduated from Emerson with a BFA in acting last May and, while in pursuit of her music career, found a job she believed would truly challenge her skills as an actress: leading “Ye Olde Boston” Freedom Trail tours for Trademark Tours./div

divThis past summer, three of Trademark Tours’ “Ye Olde Boston” four tour guides were performing arts students at Emerson./div

div“That’s part of the gimmick: Harvard students lead the Harvard tour and Emerson students lead the Freedom Trail tour,” said Chelsea Williams, a senior musical theater major. “It has a nice little ring to it.”/div

divWilliams worked with Trademark, which also runs “Hahvahd” campus tours in Cambridge, for two years as both a tour guide and manager. Sivertson is currently the company’s only full-time Freedom Trail tour guide./div

divShowing three 80-minute tours through downtown Boston Thursday through Sunday, she said she has given her vocal chords the best workout they’ve ever had./div

div“Having to yell over construction, firetrucks, and general city noise for four hours a day...can be really frustrating, but you just have to laugh it off,” she said./div

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[caption id=attachment_3813646 align=aligncenter width=265 caption=Chelsea Williams has spent two years as a costumed Freedom Trail tourguide. Barbara Platts/Beacon Staff]a href=http://berkeleybeacon.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/chelsea1.jpgimg class=size-full wp-image-3813646 title=chelsea src=http://berkeleybeacon.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/chelsea1.jpg alt= width=265 height=400 //a[/caption]

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According to Williams, this isn’t always easy. Performing for a large group outdoors in the city is difficult, but having to guide and control the group is even more challenging. During one of her tours last summer, a young girl kept running around the different stops along the way. Williams tried to keep the group in line while also keeping the dialogue moving. When they got to the State House, Williams gestured strongly with both her arms and accidentally hit the fidgety young girl in the nose. “And then I had to give the rest of the tour being the horrible tour guide that punched a baby,” she said. “That was the most awful thing that ever happened to me.”

Ian Cardoni, a senior acting major, has been leading tours since May. A Boston native, he already had a passion for the city’s history when he was ushered into the Freedom Trail scene by former Emerson students Sam Clarke, Emerson alum. Cardoni spends his weekends leading groups through the city and takes pride in his total presentation, from outfit to performance. He said that a successful guide brings something unique to every tour he gives.

“I deviate from the script they give us, but only to make the experience personal to me and the group I am with,” he said. “Kids will react to certain things one way; adults will be interested and ask questions about other things. I want to give them everything they want.”

In his eyes, the best way to be a tour guide is to read. He has delved into countless biographies, textbooks, and documentaries.

“In order to really understand the events that were taking place, you have to understand the context,” he said. “Plus, the more you know, the more they are going to tip you.”

Cardoni made his colonial garb from a emPirates of the Carribean/em Jack Sparrow ensemble and other effects in his personal costume closet. He wanted to look as authentic as possible. In a tri-cornered hat, buckled leather shoes, a light-weight Egyptian cotton shirt, and wool vest, Cardoni leads a combination of private ticketed tours and free public tours that encourage guests to tip a suggested $10.

Williams’s costume, a store-bought blue polyester dress with white ruffles and lace, was too much in the city’s humidity. The company had given her the garment in addition to faux leather buckled shoes that gave her blisters.

“Everything was really cheap and uncomfortable,” she said. “But I made a few adjustments, like wearing my own brown flats. They looked pretty convincing, but they were comfortable.”

The three performing arts students look at this quirky job as a gig. Sivertson, Williams, and Cardoni take full advantage of having 12 audiences every week. Although they deliver a slight variation of the same information, all see it as an opportunity and a challenge to win the people over and help the city win them over as well.

[caption id=attachment_3813649 align=aligncenter width=266 caption=Amory Sivertson spends four days per week giving tours while persuing a music career. Barbara Platts/Beacon Staff]a href=http://berkeleybeacon.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/DSC_0888.jpgimg class=size-full wp-image-3813649 title=DSC_0888 src=http://berkeleybeacon.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/DSC_0888.jpg alt= width=266 height=400 //a[/caption]

“It’s fun to give people the typical Boston experience,” Williams said. “It becomes [a] childhood memory.”

Williams’s second interview for the position was an audition. She memorized a script with historical facts and interesting tidbits a few nights before the big day, expecting to recite the information in her boss’s office. Instead, she was brought to Old City Hall on School Street, between Tremont and Washington Streets.

“I performed, they gave me notes, and then I had to do it again,” she said. “It felt surprisingly comfortable.”

Cardoni said he appreciates the exposure to diverse audiences on a fun and personal level, adding that he meets tourists from about a dozen different states and countries with every tour.

“Doing this is goofy, and it’s about entertaining. Those that don’t think so, I feel sorry for them,” he said. “Being able to be that silly everyday is freeing.”

Last week Cardoni gave one of his last tours to a group of 40 students from Quebec. After his boss told him he would have to present the historic information in French, a skill Cardoni lists on his resume, the acting major translated his entire spiel and studied all night leading up to the tour. Struggling through obscure phrases and fumbling with “Je ne sais quoi”s as he brought the group to Faneuil Hall, Cardoni paused for a moment to gather himself. One student raised her hand, “You know we speak English, right?”

[caption id=attachment_3813648 align=aligncenter width=267 caption=Ian Cardoni brushes up on his Boston history before giving private tours. Lauren Foley/Beacon Staff]a href=http://berkeleybeacon.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/DSC_09331.jpgimg class=size-full wp-image-3813648 title=DSC_0933 src=http://berkeleybeacon.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/DSC_09331.jpg alt= width=267 height=400 //a[/caption]

Now that classes have him busy again, Cardoni will only give private tours on the weekends, if available.

But there is much more involved than just leading the tour from Boston Common through the Financial District to Faneuil Hall. Sivertson must make her own sales and tally up her numbers at the end of every day.

“I am a three-in-one employee for this company: ticketing, touring, accounting,” she said.

In Sivertson’s eyes, this job is doing everything but holding her back from her goals.

“I have certain passions and focuses, but in the mean time, why not diversify your skill set?” She said. “It’s okay to be jack of all trades. In fact, it’s pretty fun.”

emBellomo can be reached at /ememrheanna_bellomo@emerson.edu./em