For Revolution reenactors, an anniversary puts history into action
On a recent weekday afternoon, things are pretty peaceful here at the newish brew pub near Downtown Crossing. A few small groups are scattered around the roomy space, chatting quietly.
Despite the calm, however, Andy Shein is about to read the Riot Act.
Wearing the knee breeches and cocked hat of a Colonial sheriff, Shein reads a proclamation ordering an imaginary gathering of rabble-rousers to disperse, or else. He’s flanked by two stone-faced, musket-bearing Redcoats in regimental finery.
It’s just one episode in Boston’s continuous living history, which is about to occupy the city even more thoroughly than usual. A few of the organizers of Revolution 250, a consortium of institutions coming together to mark the sestercentennial (250-year anniversary) of the events that led to the American Revolution, have congregated, aptly enough, at Democracy Brewing, where they’re about to film a short promotional video.
On Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 6-7, Revolution 250 actors will stage Boston Occupied, a reenactment of the 1768 arrival of British troops in the city in response to the Colonists’ mounting protests against “taxation without representation.”
Reenactments will take place across various locations, from Long Wharf to the Boston Common. It’s one of the first major events in a long series of public interpretations planned for the next several years around Boston, the birthplace of the American Revolution.
There are hundreds of full- and part-time historical reenactors working in and around the city, says Jonathan Lane of the Massachusetts Historical Society, and they’ll have plenty of work in the coming months. Shein, who writes software for IV pumps at his day job, says he spends about 30 weekends a year traveling around New England and beyond to portray various historical figures of the Revolutionary era. Growing up in Providence, he was enamored with the 18th-century homes and buildings along Benefit Street.
“And the Bicentennial was a big thing when I was a kid,” says Shein, who is 53. As a reenactor, “I’ve gone a little overboard with it,” he says with a smile. He even met his girlfriend at a historical reenactment: “It’s the thing we do together.”
It’s all in the family, too, for Miles Stein, an actor for the Freedom Trail Foundation who portrays an 18th-century British soldier in the summerlong “Changing the Guard” production downtown. He’s here at the brewery to stand in as one of the Redcoats overseeing the reading of the Riot Act.
The other Redcoat is Stein’s boyfriend, Matthew Hutchins, who became one of the Freedom Trail interpreters at Stein’s request. There’s a third Redcoat sitting off-camera: it’s Stein’s mother, Riki Stein. She’s observing, as a new trainee.
After filming the brief video, the group hits the street, walking through Downtown Crossing toward the Boston Tea Party Museum, where the interpreters will shoot a second video. When a light rain begins to fall harder, they make a detour through Macy’s, drawing amused looks from shoppers and security guards.
Among those along for the video project, and not in costume, are Suzanne Taylor, executive director of the Freedom Trail Foundation; David O’Donnell of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau; and Bob Allison, the Suffolk University history professor who launched the whole initiative about a year ago.
“We’re all students of Bob,” says Lane.
In all, more than 50 organizations are taking part in the Revolution 250 commemorations, which will continue through 2026.
“We need momentum,” says O’Donnell. The next big anniversary to mark — the Boston Massacre — is only 17 months away, he notes.
From the Bostonians’ perspective, says Lane, the Revolution 250 coordinator, the 1760s were still a time of peace; the military presence was unjustified. The tension it caused was palpable. It all came down to a simple question, he says: Who has authority?
Opened a couple of months ago, Democracy Brewing itself was designed as a democratic business, says James Rasza, a cofounder. It’s worker-owned.
“We’re trying to create a public house, trying to bring that back in a serious way,” he says. “The same sort of place the Riot Act would have been read.”
Boston, are you ready for a little democracy in action?