The very modern lives of the Freedom Trail’s historical re-enactors

Arielle Kaplan plays Elizabeth Oliver on the Freedom Trail.
Arielle Kaplan plays Elizabeth Oliver on the Freedom Trail. –Megan Turchi/ Boston.com

“God save the king!’’ Elizabeth Oliver said, standing next to Faneuil Hall Marketplace.

“Booooooo,’’ responded a group of people.

“Clearly, we all know who won the American Revolution,’’ Oliver said.

“Elizabeth Oliver’’ is the historical pseudonym of Arielle Kaplan, who works for the Freedom Trail Foundation as a guide, playing the daughter of Andrew Oliver, the Bostonian who commissioned the unpopular Stamp Act of 1765.

On the trail, Kaplan inhabits her historical role completely, but the gig is just part of an eclectic resume that reflects the entrepreneurial nature of many modern professions.

“I always wanted to be an actor’’

Kaplan graduated from Brandeis University in 2010 with a degree in theater arts and a minor in English history.

Advertisement

But her acting career spans back to her hometown roots in New Hampshire where she first starred as the asteroid belt in a solar system kindergarten play.

“The next year I graduated to Venus,’’ she said. And she then did musical theater through high school.

Kaplan talks about the donkey statue in front of Old City Hall. —Megan Turchi/ Boston.com

“I always wanted to be an actor,’’ she said. “And I got really into Tudor England.’’

Kaplan’s favorite part about her Freedom Trail job, which she has now had for two years, is the costume. It’s just about as authentic as it could possibly be.

“I love the costume and the historical aspects of it,’’ she said. “It doesn’t look right without the corset.’’

Kaplan actually wears a corset, which is made of wood, while walking all day through Boston’s streets. She said in the summer it can be a challenge battling the heat in so many layers. She can’t even bend at the waist.

“You can tell when people aren’t wearing it,’’ Kaplan said, which, in her book, is not the way to act out history.

Kaplan is wearing a real corset. —Megan Turchi/ Boston.com

What does it take to work for the Freedom Trail Foundation?

The Freedom Trail has a variety of tours, such as the North End tour, the Pirates and Patriots tour, the Historic Holiday Stroll, the African American Patriots tour, and the Historic Pub Crawl, but just to learn the basic one, called Walk into History, takes about a month of training, according to Kaplan.

Advertisement

“You do lots of reading,’’ she said. “There is a basic script, but you can pick and choose what you focus on.’’

She likes to “myth bust,’’ she said. Kaplan tells visitors facts, like who is really buried in the Granary Burial Ground, why King’s Chapel doesn’t have a spire, or how they did public punishment in the Boston Common.

Kaplan explains that many people think Benjamin Franklin is buried at the Granary Burial Ground, but in fact, it is his parents. —Megan Turchi/ Boston.com

Kaplan also brings her own personal style to the tour, which because of her other professional experiences, means she focuses more on the themes of punishment and violence.

Kaplan is a “violence designer,’’ which means she choreographs violent scenes for plays.

“I teach people to kill each other on stage without actually doing it,’’ she said.

Kaplan said most of the Freedom Trail guides are either actors, historians or comedians, but to do the job, you need to become a little of all three.

Story continues below gallery

25 quintessential things to do in Boston every year:

Beyond the Freedom Trail

While trying to “make it,’’ Kaplan said, she had to do a variety of temp jobs to make money after college.

For two years she worked at Manchester Community Theatre Players as a choreographer.

She then switched to doing Segway tours through the town of Salem, when one day one of her coworkers said she should try out for the “Cry Innocent’’ show in Salem, which reenacts the Salem witch trials. She got the job and has been there for three years now.

Kaplan stands on a pole in front of the Old State House. —Megan Turchi/ Boston.com

Kaplan also started her own acting company in Salem called The Upstart Crows of Salem, with the goal of getting young actors interested in classical theater.

Advertisement

Right now, she is doing Freedom Trail tours, performing at “Cry Innocent,’’ putting on productions at her own company, and acting for the Greater Lowell Music Theater’s production of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.’’

With many different roles, there are a lot of lines to remember.

“There’s a lot of running around,’’ she said. “I have time to sit on the train to look at lines. I will then listen to music from the show on the way home for another.’’

Not your average tour guide

When Kaplan transforms into Elizabeth Oliver, it is obviously she is not just any old tour guide – she is a performer.

“This is the most historic part of the tour,’’ she said after the tour left the Government Center area. “Ye Old Starbucks! Dunk Thy Donut! Just bask in the beauty of it all.’’

With the State House in the background, Kaplan talks about forms of public punishment that used to happen in the Boston Common. —Megan Turchi/ Boston.com

She sang “My Country Tis of Thee,’’ with the voice of a trained artist, outside of the Park Street Church, before she ended her tour in the Boston Common.

“History is fun,’’ she said. “You can’t make this stuff up!’’

Jump To Comments