Weekdays, She's in Fifth Grade; Weekends, She's in 1627

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Hila Bernstein leads a double life. During the week, she is a busy fifth-grader who attends middle school in Connecticut. But twice a month on weekends, she travels back in time to the early 17th century to be a colonist in Plymouth, Mass.

In simple terms, she plays Pilgrim.

Hila is an "interpreter" at Plimoth Plantation, a "living history" village where it's always 1627. As such, she dresses, speaks, and acts just like an 11-year-old girl would who had arrived in the New World from England.

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"I started about four years ago," says Hila during an interview after playing "Sarah Priest" for a re-creation of the first Thanksgiving feast. After her family bought a season pass to Plimoth Plantation and started visiting often, Hila asked about being an interpreter. After some serious studying, she made the audition. She got a "sponsor," someone who is already an interpreter, and started to read a lot of history about Colonial times. "You have to learn a whole lot about the colony and your character."

For example, like most young girls in the 1600s, Hila had to learn how to cook certain foods, such as boiling a turkey. "You have to learn a lot about fire safety," she explains, because cooking was (and is) done over an open fire.

You also have to adapt to wearing the appropriate clothes, she says: two petticoats, a shift (a full-length cotton slip or dressing gown), and a bodice that is supposed to be somewhat like a corset - all under a dress, green top, apron, and jacket.

Then there's the "coif" - a tight-fitting cap that covers your head, a little bit like a bonnet. Shoes are handmade by a shoemaker in the village, and they're always worn with heavy socks.

"Somehow I find myself wearing heavy socks in the 20th century out of habit," Hila says with a smile.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is speaking and acting "in 17th-century character" while people are going through the village as 20th-century tourists.

"You have to get into your character and think like they would think," Hila says.

Hila has studied drama and theater at school, so that put her at an advantage for the job. "We did Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream,' and it helped me a lot."

Certainly part of the appeal is the acting: "I like the fact that you get to talk to people as another person. Not many people get the chance to do this."

But the acting job isn't without its problems.

"It's kind of funny to interact with people your own age," Hila admits. One incredibly hot summer day, a 20th-century girl about her age was carrying a "squeeze breeze," a battery-powered fan attached to a water bottle designed to cool you down. "Do you want a spray?" the girl asked Hila.

"I didn't know what to say, because they wouldn't have had that back then!"

When asked what her friends think of her time travel, she says, "Most of my friends think it's really neat.

"It makes you feel a part of history. You learn so much. Each time, I learn something new."

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