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After Hours: Joseph Catalano—Bringing history to life

Whether it is in front of a classroom or in front of a crowd at a festival, Joseph Catalano has a passion for involving, as well as entertaining, people on the subject of history. His passion runs so deep, in fact, that he has performed history for close to 15 years now.

History behind the history

Catalano, who is a regional sales manager for Compass Tech Systems by day, has always been around history. “I was born in Boston, so the history behind and the founding of the country was always rampant,” says Catalano. “I mean, you can’t even graduate high school without knowing it all!”

He says that knowledge comes in handy when he and his partner Michelle Murillo perform their “point-counterpoint” history performance, as she was born and raised here and he a “Yankee.”

Together, they formed Presenting the Past ( and have been putting on history lessons, performances, and attending festivals and re-enactments for more than a year under the formed partnership—actively performing two to three times a month, or between 25 and 35 times a year, depending on the time of year.

Putting on performances

“There are little groups all over country that bring history to life,” says Catalano. “But with Presenting the Past, we take it to a whole new level and want people to understand the history in a nutshell. The whole living history thing is more than just engaging someone and telling them history, it’s getting them involved and letting them see it, touch it, feel it, and understand it more than just listening to it.”

Part of the audience experience comes in the fact that during a history presentation, they are the character they are talking about. They come in costume, use accents if needed, and bring along things from the past that help people understand what it would be like to live back in that time period they are presenting.

“It’s not just that I am the Spanish guy trying to take over St. Augustine, it is more, ‘This is why we are here, this is what we do,  this what it was like in the day, this is how the battle was fought, this is what happened, this is why it happened the way it happened.’ It is so much more than you can read in a book,” says Catalano.

Beyond books

To help engage people, Presenting the Past uses a few approaches and chooses the most appropriate approach for each audience. When they do a classroom presentation, they discuss the coquina walls at the fort at St. Augustine and how those walls would absorb musket and cannon balls—even bringing a piece of fort wall with musket balls stuck in it for them to pass around and touch. Then they discuss how the Spanish would come over the wall at night, tie up the cannon balls, and shoot them back at the English. “The children just think it is the coolest thing!” says Catalano.

Another engaging approach is the point-counterpoint. This is where audiences get to hear two sides of the story from a Spanish Lady (Murillo) who tells tales of what the night felt like in St. Augustine and how a peaceful sleep turned into a waking nightmare and the victory cries of an Englishman (Catalano) who maps out Searle’s strategy in a play-by-play of the sacking of the city. The two then campaign the audience and begin a new battle over who should control the historic outpost.

Living history

“A lot of people are presented history though a book,” Catalano continues. “Then, when the books don’t really work anymore, they move on to slide presentations and movies—but imagine having somebody who can immerse you in that history.

“They are standing in front of you, telling you all about it in a way that is engaging, and you understand it—it’s amazing! We work very hard to try and get people engaged because if they aren’t engaged and bored then were not really doing our job.”

“I’m not a history major, but when you get immersed in it, you learn all about it,” says Catalano. “And the history down here is amazing—you can’t help but get immersed in it when you do what we do!

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