Thursday, October 24, 2013

Cookie Cutter Programs

Whoa. It's like I died or something. (Hint: It's the something. I didn't die.)

New day! New post! I might be two and half months overdue, but I have to restart somewhere.

The other day, I spent a solid hour and half talking to one of my best friends (and favorite interpreters), Stephanie. (That's your shout out, Stephanie). She talked about a recent bus tour that came through her park in which three buses needed interpreters for short tours. The three park rangers had discussed what they should cover beforehand, then each hopped on their designated bus and gave their programs. She said, "if only there was a camera so we could see side-by-side video of each ranger- I bet no program was the same!" While some might think of that as a poor interpretive program (each bus got their own program), I see it as absolute success. If each ranger gave only a cookie-cutter presentation, presenting the exact same program in the exact same manner to each bus, that is not interpretation.

Yep. Good interpretive programs should not be
the exact same cookie-cutter version of a program every time.
The main idea or theme exists, but how the interpreter delivers will vary.
Interpretation happens when the interpreter senses the audience and captures the attention of that audience. Interpretation happens when the interpreter shares something (a fact, a picture, an idea, a story) with the audience that makes the audience think. Or feel. Or connect. Or want to learn more. The magic of an interpretive program is that no one interpretive program is the same (or feels the same). Factors that impact an audience include:

  • Audience demographic
  • Audience interaction (with both the interpreter and with other audience members)
  • Audience questions (what is your audience interested in)
  • Events happening during program (especially true if outside and activities are happening around program)
  • Weather!
  • Contemporary events- can you relate your program to something current in the news?
  • New research- interpreters are always learning themselves, finding out new ways, means, and materials to share with the audience.

Good interpretive programs should be called "interpretive experiences." Each program is a new opportunity to create an experience for the audience. The interpreter's craft is creating that experience. So, a round of applause to the three bus tour interpreters that ultimately had three different programs! You were interpreting, not cookie-cutting.

*On a side note, I feel I need to write a separate post on the significance of cookie-cutter programs. They are absolutely necessary for spur-of-the-moment programs, had-no-idea-I-was-scheduled-to-give-a-program programs, and when interpreters feel like death-warmed-over on the days the interpreters showed up ill for they don't have it in them to call in sick.


  1. "when interpreters feel like death-warmed-over" .... #dayaftertrivianight