Reenactment can be time-consuming, physically challenging, and even expensive. So it’s only natural to wonder whether reenactors can get paid for this dedication. Most people are more likely to spend money than make money to become a reenactor.
Most reenactors are unpaid volunteers, but when they find a paid job, professional reenactors for museums and tour companies earn between $9 and $20.15 per hour, with a mean average pay of $13.19 per hour. Extras in historical films are paid an average of between $100 and $180 per day.
Who organizes the reenactment, the specific type of reenactment being done, and the personal skills of a reenactor can also determine how much, or whether, a reenactor gets paid.
In some cases, a reenactment is going to be filled with volunteers but there will be a few paid reenactors that will take the lead in a specific area. This could be a matter of organizing the event and keeping the volunteers moving in the right direction or it could be working as a reenactor that is specific to one particular type of task.
How much do reenactors get paid?
Most of the time, local history societies and small museums don’t have the necessary funds to pay their reenactors. Instead, their ranks are made up of enthusiastic volunteers with ‘normal’ day jobs. However, at larger museums, it is possible to get full-time work educating visitors while staying ‘in character’. Most of these listings require you to have deep subject knowledge because you will be interacting with visitors and answering their questions.
For an entry-level position, the average pay of a historical reenactor in the US would be around $36,025 but this rises to a $52,485 average once you become a specialist. Specific pay rates will depend on the state and the size of the museum.
Here is an example of how much can someone with a historical reenactment background earn as a living history coordinator:
On the other hand, large production and event companies might shell out cash to hire reenactors because their budget allows it. In these cases, reenactors could be paid as ‘extras’ in historical TV shows or fighters in live battle reenactments.
For a day’s work on the set of a historical movie, a historical reenactor actor or extra can expect to make between $100 and $180. Putting on extravagant shows, these companies can make the big bucks by selling tickets, confectionary, and movies. So, they are more willing to pay for the talent. These opportunities are rare but can pay well and provide reliable income if the project is ongoing.
Most reenactment jobs are seasonal because events and exhibits are rotated throughout the year. Paid work is easiest to find during the Summer as there is an uptick in visitors to museums as families look for ways to keep their children entertained and educated outside school. The warmer weather also brings more opportunities for large-scale battle reenactments outdoors where there is more space.
Experienced reenactors with other skills will be paid more than beginners. Some people even train in specialist skills like jousting, wood crafting, and blacksmithing so that they can portray their historical characters more accurately. Not only does this make their performance more authentic, but it means they earn more because not many people have those specific skills.
Is reenacting a job?
If you are passionate and dedicated enough, it is possible to turn reenactment into a job for yourself. While this isn’t easy, it is possible to turn historical reenactment into a full-time job.
Most reenactors are volunteers with regular day jobs, making reenactment a hobby rather than a career for most people. However, some people do make careers out of reenactment – working for museums, theatre companies, or as self-employed freelancers.
There are many positions for reenactors looking to find a job, you just need to check:
What a job as a historical reenactor looks like varies widely. For example, the daily work of Abraham Lincolns wandering around Times Square in New York is very different from the more performance-based jousting knights you might see at a Renaissance Fair. There is no one-size-fits-all for historical reenactment jobs.
Depending on the degree of audience participation, some roles will be more scripted than others. Sometimes reenactors will have set scripts to learn, making their jobs similar to any other kind of actor.
Often, though, reenactors will have lots of creative control over what they say. This is called semi-scripted reenactment. Semi-scripted reenactors need in-depth knowledge of their historical period as well as strong improvisation skills as they are expected to interact with the audience or otherwise respond to what is going on around them.
Can a person make a living as a historical reenactor?
For many people, historical reenactment is just a hobby, but there are some that would like to use skills that they have learned and expensive equipment also to provide for themselves and their families – and this is achievable.
Whether on a movie set, giving tours, or staging battles, it is possible to make a living as a historical reenactor, even if sometimes you need to think outside the box to find opportunities for work.
There are several routes a person can take to get paid for doing reenactments:
- As an independent freelancer. By developing detailed knowledge of a particular time period, reenactors can win niche jobs for one-off events, such as Civil War combat reenactments around the anniversary of particular battles.
While this kind of work is sporadic, pay tends to be higher in order to fill positions on a short deadline. For short-term roles, employers will pay a premium for experience and subject knowledge because it means they don’t have to spend resources training you from scratch.
- As a historical interpreter in a museum. The most common way to make a living in historical reenactment is by working as a historical interpreter at a museum. For these roles, you would be expected to stay in character as you answer questions and educate visitors about a specific period in history.
While some museums require a college degree in history, others are willing to take on interns or train people in entry-level positions. Benefits of this job include the provision of a costume, regular hours, a 401k, and a fixed salary.
- As part of an official reenactment society. The majority of reenactment groups are made up of volunteers and hobbyists, but some earn money by performing at events. In these cases, prospective employers reach out to the group rather than specific individuals.
If a reenactment society is hired to perform at a convention, party, show, event, or fair, they will usually share the earnings between members. Societies tend to make more money in the Summer when the weather is warm and children are off school, so history-themed events are put on to entertain the family.
- As a character on a history tour. Another common job for reenactors is through commercial history and ghost tours. As a tour guide or a side character, the gig is usually semi-scripted as the reenactor is expected to interact with the tourists.
These positions are usually part-time or seasonal, responding to demand. Famous cities with an interesting history can be busy with tourists year-round, so there is a good chance of finding steady work in Chicago or New Orleans.
- As a film or TV extra. People love period dramas, history documentaries, and films about war, so directors are always on the hunt for historical reenactor extras. Sometimes they will even hire reenactors for walk-on roles, which pay more than parts as background characters.
Casting calls are put out all the time for extras, so it is worth keeping an eye out for any that are set in the past. Experience isn’t usually required, as directors are just searching for people with a particular ‘look’ that fits in with the specific genre.
Here is an example of a job offer for reenactors in a Civil War film in Louisiana:
Forging your own path as an independent freelancer, or finding steady work for a museum or tour company, it is entirely possible to turn reenactment into a career. If you are serious about reenactment and willing to put in the effort to hone the craft, you certainly can turn your hobby into a well-paying job. While there is no straightforward career journey for a historical reenactor, it is rewarding work that is sure to interest hardcore history buffs.
If you are interested in working at a historical site, there may be opportunities to start at the bottom and work your way up to a higher position and salary. It may also be possible to start in a specific position if you already have the salary or education that would make you a popular part of the event or attraction. This could include having secondary education specific to that task or perhaps volunteering multiple times at a reenactment before you can start in a paid position
Starting your own business as a historical reenactor
Another option for making a living from historical reenactments is to start your own historical tour business. There are many areas around the world that have a strong tie to local history and visitors are willing to pay dearly for a tour of the area.
If you are interested in starting your own local historical tour business, you should talk to the city officials and see what kind of requirements are in place to start such a business. Often, they will be familiar with those requirements and can even supply you with a pack of information that provides all of the guidance you need.
In addition, starting a historical tour business will often put you in direct competition with those that have been doing it in the area for many years. The best way to compete is to have some type of unique edge to your business that would make you stand out from the rest. As soon as you can, you should also start investing in some advertising opportunities in the local area to capture those who may be thinking of taking a historical tour on the spur of the moment.
What jobs historical reenactors can find – examples
The most common types of jobs that pay for historical reenactments are typically known as ‘living history jobs’. There are quite a few of these types of jobs available, with each offering different benefits to the reenactor. Some jobs may be available on a seasonal basis and others might be available year-round.
Here are a few options to consider:
- National Park Service – This is perhaps one of the better living history jobs because there is a degree of security associated with it. You would work in one specific area and would reenact life as it was in a specific time period within the park,
- Battle Reenactments – When most people think about historical reenactments, they automatically think about the US Civil War. In reality, these events take place in many countries around the world and there are opportunities for living history jobs associated with many of them,
- Education – Most living history jobs are associated with education but some are directly tied to it. This would include those that are paid to travel to local schools or groups to discuss historical people, events, or cultures.
Based on the research of actual job offers you can see here what are examples of positions, that people with some experience in historical reenactment can take:
|Position||Salary range||Skills and knowledge needed, selected tasks|
|Historical Interpreter||$14.39 – $20.15 an hour||– ability to work well with people,|
– ability to lift or carry equipment or material up to 35 pounds.
– ability to perform a variety of physical duties including climbing ladders, gardening using hand tools and implements, working in hot and cold outdoor conditions while wearing 19th-century period-appropriate clothing.
|Interpreter – Military Programs||$21k-$68k depending on experience and educational background||– skill in conveying historical information and practices,|
– high level of knowledge of the history of 18th century Colonial Virginia, the American Colonies, West Africa, the British Empire, and ability to synthesize this information for guests,
-must perform physical activities such as repeated standing, kneeling/squatting, lifting, stooping, and moving up to 75 pounds,
– ability to meet the physical requirements of the trade which may include supporting the weight of 18th century firearms and tools, lifting and moving up to 1500 pound artillery pieces, constructing and erecting tents and security fences, and other physical requirements as assigned,
– ability to perform repetitive work safely with traditional 18th-century tools.
|Educator/Interpreter||$3,294 – $3,544 a month||– provide or arrange weekly programs, involving costumed, living history techniques and hands-on, active-learning elements like|
-perform research related to the site’s collections, exhibits, and cultural/natural resources as needed,
– speak to public and private groups to promote interest in the site.
Historical reenactment jobs near me – is it worth searching that way?
One of the easiest ways to look for a job as a historical reenactor can be simply typing “historical reenactment jobs near me” in Google/Bing/DuckDuckGo search, and assuming that your location is not blocked, you should be able to have good results from nearby.
Another way to look for a job in which you can use historical reenactment skills may be checking websites of local living history museums, living history farms, etc, they frequently add jobs postings in careers sections.
Here you can see an example of such section and job offers posted by The Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums:
And what about other countries? What are the differences in salaries and is it easier for historical reenactors to find jobs abroad?
How much do reenactors get paid in the UK?
With such a rich history, it is no surprise that historical reenactment is popular in the UK. Despite the sheer number of heritage sites, there aren’t many paid opportunities for British reenactors.
For the few historical reenactment jobs available in the UK, pay ranges from £6.52 to £10 per hour, with most jobs paying an average of £8.94 per hour.
There is no shortage of eager members of the public, so most living museums recruit reenactors on a casual, volunteer basis. Even large commercial reenactments like Kynren tend to rely on unpaid enthusiasts to play their historical characters.
How much do reenactors get paid in Canada?
There are several living history museums in Canada, making it a great country for finding employment as a historical reenactor.
Depending on their particular skill set, reenactors are paid between $14 and $28.52 Canadian dollars per hour. Higher wages are reserved for those with niche abilities like shoemaking, whereas reenactors without those skills earn an average of $17.03 Canadian Dollars per hour.
Although museums offer higher wages for already trained reenactors, many are willing to train a beginner at a lower wage if they can’t find someone with a specific skill like breadmaking or juggling.
How do you become a reenactor and start a career?
The main thing necessary to get started is having an interest in whatever event is being portrayed in the reenactment. In this article, we are mentioning only some factors important to become a successful reenactor – if you would like to know what exactly you have to do to start an adventure with reenactment, see our article on Starting reenactment in 5 easy steps.
To be successful as a historical reenactor, you should throw yourself into the role. It doesn’t matter if you are being compensated for the work you are doing or not, the more you understand the historical period and culture involved, the more you will enjoy playing the part. It will also make a big difference in how much those who are attending the event as spectators enjoy what they are seeing.
It also helps if you have a personal interest in the event being portrayed or if you have ties to the area involved. Although it is possible to play the part in any area, since some degree of acting is involved, having a personal interest will make it easier for you to be motivated to do your best. It will also make it enjoyable for everyone involved.
If you are involved in a historical event that takes place periodically, it is a good idea to spend the off-season preparing for the next time the event is held. Check for classes in a local community college that will help you understand more about what took place during the time that is being portrayed. You can also try taking some acting lessons or joining a local group. Anything you can do to enhance your abilities will help.
There is a difference between joining a historical event as a volunteer and doing so as a paid historical reenactor. In either case, however, it is important to do your part to make the entire event a success.