Amy-Kristina Herbert and Jonathon Allen
Indentured Servant and Boarder
Wednesday, May 19, 2004; 1:00 PM
Think colonial life was all about pious pilgrims, powdered wigs and freedom for all? Think again. Following in the footsteps of "Manor House" and "Frontier House," PBS's new eight-part "Colonial House" historical reality series tracks the firsthand experiences of modern-day colonists as they live in the year 1628 for four months on the misty Maine coast, with only the rustic tools and technology of the time at their disposal. Viewers witness the personal and communal challenges of the colonists' day-to-day lives, seeing both the expected -- backbreaking labor, bad weather and primitive living conditions -- as well as the unexpected -- religious conflicts, surprising confessions, devastating news from the outside world and even an AWOL colonist.
Show participants Amy-Kristina Herbert and Jonathon Allen were online Wednesday, May 19 at 1 p.m. ET, to discuss their four months "on set" and what they learned during their journey through time on "Colonial House."
"Colonial House" airs on PBS Mondays and Tuesdays, May 17-18 and 24-25 at 8 p.m. ET. (Check local listings).
2004: Jonathon (24) is a graduate student from South Carolina.
1628: He lives with the Heinzes (the colonial lay preacher and his wife) as their indentured servant. As their only servant, Jonathon carries out all the physical work in the house: chopping firewood, fetching water, building fences, mending the mud walls, and performs colony chores like caring for the animals.
2004: Amy-Kristina (27) is an actor and adjunct professor from New York.
1628: She has the unenviable status of widow in the Colony, which affords her no voice even though she is a shareholder. She lives with the Voorhees family and is therefore under the authority of its head, John Voorhees. A widow in a 1628 colony would have felt tremendous pressure to remarry.
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Did either of you two read any historical literature, novels, diary's such as Pilgrims Progress, Winthrop's (sp) diary, or any other books about Colonial American life before or during your four months of Colonial Living? If you did, did any books help you prepare or get through your experience?
Jonathon Allen: Ummm no.
Amy-Kristina Herbert: Just the basic stuff you learn in school. Most of my colonial knowledge was about the Spanish colonies.
Jonathon Allen: The only books I read were Stephen King.
Amy-Kristina Herbert: There's only one book on it, a Shakespeare book, in the colony. And a book on herbs.
Jonathon Allen: So no.
Because it was "unthought of for colonists in 1628 to not believe in God" do you feel that the project strayed in its attempt to portray an authentic 1628 colony, by recruiting atheists?
Amy-Kristina Herbert and Jonathon Allen: A: No, I"m gonna say that right away because the point of the project is to see if 21st century people can do this -- to show the differences.
Jonathon Allen: Who is to say how accurately we could portray it. There's very little documentation. Certainly there were atheists back then.
Amy-Kristina Herbert: Most of what we know is from paintings and a few journals, but people are people and haven't changed that much.
Jonathon Allen: The point is to see how 21st century people would react, not to reenact.
Amy-Kristina Herbert: They could've hired a bunch of actors and given us lines.
Jonathon - I was wondering what your reaction to last night's episode was? Hearing Jeff speak about homosexuality being a sin was something I'm accustomed to, living in a small Baptist town. Were you aware of Jeff's beliefs before or after your colonial coming out? Also, thanks. It's nice to hear that there are more guys like me out there.
Jonathon Allen: I was pretty much terrified going into last night's episode, I wasn't sure how it was going to be portrayed. I forgot it was a TV show when I was coming out. I live in a pretty conservative town, too, in the south. Most of the people I know didn't know about me. As of today I'm reaching into a whole new territory. I thought Jeff handled it pretty tastefully, he was pretty fundamental. It's interesting to see how that puritanism transcends to today.
Amy-Kristina Herbert: There were a couple of things that made it interesting to watch. What things were accepted as being portrayed realistically and what things weren't. I think putting us back in time gives us a better handle on how we are now. It's easy to say women being subservient is accurate, but then why wasn't fighting native Americans. There are some things you just don't do today.
Amy-Kristina and Jonathon,
I've been watching how you and the participants are doing and reacting to 17th century life. How aware were you (if at all) of what was going on in the outside world? For example, did anyone sneak in a radio or cell phone? Did you overhear the crew talking about current events? I can't wait to see how they depict your return to the 21st Century!
Amy-Kristina Herbert: We didn't know anything that was going on. They were under strict orders not to tell us anything.
Jonathon Allen: They told my parents not to include current events in letters. It made you feel like you were on a different planet. I didn't recognize any movies or commercials on TV.
Amy-Kristina Herbert: And everything would assault you... and the noise in New York city just assaulted you. Just overstimulation.
East Hartford, Conn.:
Amy, I applaud your optimism throughout this process. A woman of the 17th century certainly would not have stood up for herself to the governor. I was wondering why you decided to leave the colony. You stated in last night's episode that you had planned it all along. I enjoyed watching you and will miss you on future episodes.
Amy-Kristina Herbert: Awww, that's so sweet. I really thought no one would remember me! Well, before I agreed to the show they had discussed wanting to see what would happen if someone left early -- we didn't know that would happen with the Wyers leaving -- they wanted to explore what would happen if someone left, so we agreed I would. I was supposed to stay a couple more weeks, but there was a death in my family so I left even earlier than planned. They didn't want me to leave and come back. But they did want to explore that. That's tantamount to people leaving or dying. They could've just tapped me on the head and said smallpox.
Jonathon Allen: I would've appreciated some advance knowledge. You were my best friend.
Amy-Kristina Herbert: You know I love you JT. I didn't want to leave. I was just getting into the groove -- it takes a while. Watching it I'm wishing I hadn't left even more. I loved Voorhees, although it doesn't look like it on the show. We talked yesterday and I told her it looks like we don't get along. We were like sisters.
Although it was mentioned that the producers didn't go out and cast the show with particular types of people to create drama, do either of you think Michelle Rossi-Voorhees might have been cast to play the part of "witch?"
Jonathon Allen: I just think that the producers aren't stupid. THey knew they would get a lot of drama casting an agnostic family. Witch isn't the right term, though.
Amy-Kristina Herbert: I think they were realistic. There would've been people who didn't want to go to the Sabbath. There were people like that and they got punished. Michelle does have spirituality, but its just not the same. Sometimes you have to make the stretch bigger to show the difference. Like me being black and Paul being British is the same as being from North and South of England. The world was bigger back then.
Ft Myers, Fla.:
Amy: What was the hardest thing you had to overcome in your Colonial experience?
Amy-Kristina Herbert: I'm so glad you asked that because it wasn't actually portrayed. They said they didn't have a household, but I was cooking at the governor's house and then Michelle cooked two meals out of our house, because we had a small amount of supplies -- so it was a concern about how much of the rations were coming out of our house, so it became hard to work out the Wyers house because we didn't want to share the rations. So, I'd say you have all these other ingredients -- at the freeman's house -- that they weren't using, and they would give it to me, but I always felt like I was begging. So that was my job, and I felt like this weird free agent who didn't have a space. But I think now I should have lived in the freeman's residence or taking their kitchen for my own. But the hardest part for me was not having a place of my own or a real relationship with anyone in the colony.
Jonathon Allen: Mine is more free spirited. Mine was being a servant. More specifically I remember the Heinzes using the chamber pot at night 3 feet away from my head. I built a thing behind the house so they could use it instead of doing it next to me. And I'm not just talking number one. Thank god they chose not to have sex in front of me.
Amy-Kristina Herbert: As far as you know...
Jonathon Allen: So ya, just being a servant and losing my identity. ANd they wouldn't have me clean that in the 17th century.
Amy-Kristina Herbert: You know like, uh. You feel like you're an intruder in someone else's space. Michelle and John are a young couple in loooove -- and I know I'm there and it's like golly. This is a big thorn in the side of my sex life. I'd just try to be out of the house as much as possible.
Did Mrs. Heinze do any worHeinz seems the only things she does is start the fire and boss you around.
Jonathon Allen: Well she was very good at both, however, I must admit she really worked her fanny off cooking. And that took all day.
Amy-Kristina Herbert: They don't show that at all.
Jonathon Allen: She was the best cook in the colony. She read a lot, she eavesdropped a lot, kept a journal. I have a feeling you'll be seeing a lot more of her personality in the upcoming episodes.
Amy-Kristina Herbert: She's fun, though. They're quirky.
Los Osos, Calif.:
I feel that Jeff dominated the colonial life with his own 22nd century Baptist beliefs. Even though his beliefs and attitude might be very similar to those of the 1600s, his own modern beliefs permeated his every thought and behavior. Better to have had someone acting that part, as everyone else was acting their part. I continually felt that this Baptist minister from Texas, who knows God's will, knew what was best for everybody. He's just like our president in Washington, from Texas, too, and God's on his side. Sure!
Jonathon Allen: Exactly!
Amy-Kristina Herbert: That is a comparison that did not go unmade.
Jonathon Allen: Jeff is a man on fire for god and those people are some of the most dangerous. It's hard for him to differentiate what he wants and what god wants. But probably very accurate for the 17th century.
Amy-Kristina Herbert: The thing is, the southern baptist beliefs are similar to puritan beliefs, but there are differences. So when you have a passion for something that developed after what we were in it's hard to separate yourself from that. SO in that regard, he couldn't put himself back in 1628. I don't think I did it successfully either totally, but that's just a part of how hard it is to put yourself in a different mindset.
Jonathon Allen: I thought it was interesting his comment on utopia. I got the sense from him it was a religious utopia. I don't think we succeeded, but I do think we formed a communal utopia. We had the closest knit community I'll ever experience.
Amy-Kristina Herbert: But when you all have a common complaint against someone that helps to bring you together. He's used to in real life standing up in front of people who all have the same beliefs he does. One true quality of a leader is leading people with diverse beliefs.
Long Valley, N.J.:
What a kick in the pants last night's episode was. I had no idea you would drop the bombshell like that. I fully understand you position being gay myself and learning who and when to reveal it to. You live so long hiding the fact, but when you let it out... it is truly freeing.
I give you much credit for the way you handled your "coming out" within the colony. I cannot wait to see how the Governor handles this.
I wasn't sure if you were "out" before coming to the colony or did your experiences there help you come to the realization to being free? What things from the colony helped or hindered your decision? You mentioned how isolated and alone you felt, as well as being away from family. I await the coming shows to see how all of the other colonists react.
Jonathon Allen: I was not out before I went to the colony. My parents and a handful of friends knew. Being isolated there it was very difficult to find your identity, and the fact that I was lying. So I would play the pronoun game and say I miss my "girlfriend." Luckily AMy Christina never asked her name.
Amy-Kristina Herbert: I knew you were lying!
Jonathon Allen: I was sick of lying to these people and wanted to enjoy myself around these people honestly. And it was freeing yes. The most liberating day I've ever had in my life.
For both of you, was it difficult getting reacquainted with the 21st Century life once the show was over? How has this experience changed your normal daily routine? Jonathon, I have much respect for your decision to openly tell people who you are. That should be commended, and appreciated.
Amy-Kristina Herbert: I, well, like I said I was completely overstimulated by NYC and my skin immediately broke out and now I look like Freddy Kruger. No! I was looking at the show and looking at how healthy my skin looked. But everything was too sweet for me when I got back, and I still have to water down juice. I don't eat a lot of sugar anymore. I forget to turn lights on in the house.
Jonathon Allen: that's so true.
Amy-Kristina Herbert: I couldn't sleep on a real bed. It was too soft. And I kept burning everything I would cook because it doesn't take an hour and a half to boil water in real life. It's hard to adjust to cooking in a modern kitchen, but the food tastes different and you're not using wood. And the water was so much better there.
Jonathon Allen: It was tasty. I never had tasty water before. I miss the physical labor. I'd never held an axe before. Afterwards we all had to see a show psychologist because the shock was so intense. I would wake up for a while after the show with my fist clenched -- as if on my axe. And I can't stop waking up at 5 a.m.
Amy-Kristina Herbert: Ya, and since I live by myself I totally miss people. And New York is not a place where people say hi all the time. ANd I miss Jocomo, my 11 year old roommate.
Jonathon Allen: Even the south doesn't seem as friendly.
New York, N.Y.:
What were your first meals when you got off the show? How much weight did most people lose?
Jonathon Allen: I ate a large pizza all by myself when I got back -- against everything I said I wouldn't do. I think I lost the most weight in the colony, one of the top two... I went into the colony at 195 and came out at 163.
Amy-Kristina Herbert: Women do our weight in dress sizes. I lost two dress sizes while I was there. I've gained a little back, but not much at all. My mother likes to point out when I gain weight.
Jonathon Allen: I still do those crunch exercises you taught me.
Amy-Kristina Herbert: My first meal was at an airport was a tunafish Subway sandwich.. I was like "bread."
Jonathon Allen: Our bread was like eating a rock.
I was just wondering about the conflict that came up when you were packing. What was yours to take and what was the problem
Amy-Kristina Herbert: They wanted to send me packing because someone would pack to leave and go back to England and there was talk of souvenirs and I actually had this conversation with Jonathan because there was a little angst over who had what things and which household was better equipped and Michelle said they'd be screwed if I took anything and I was like oh, you know, someone would've taken their things with them. But I wasn't... she really got upset thinking she'd lose half our kitchen. But I wasn't gonna pack a bunch of heavy clay bowls. SO instead of talking to me she talked to her husband and he talked to someone and they told me my stuff would stay.
I thought it was interesting that she wouldn't just talk to me. There was no chain of command. SO I think it was just a miscommunication.
New York, N.Y.:
I think the piglets being born was my favorite moment -- I had no idea pigs could be so cute. Did you guys have to slaughter any of the livestock for food? If so, was this difficult?
Amy-Kristina Herbert: Ya, I had to kill two chickens. It wasn't difficult. A lot of the people in the colony didn't want to see it run around with its head off, so I cut it's jugular and let it bleed into a bowl.
Jonathon Allen: A lot of people don't realize if you hold them upside down they kind of fall asleep. The pig moment was one of my favorites too. I'd never dealt with farmlife. I thought it was ugly at first, but I found her inner beauty. ANd helping to deliver 12 piglets for 12 teats.
We also killed two lambs and they were tasty.
Amy-Kristina Herbert: I wanted to kill the goats, I did. Because they made too much milk.
What was it like to have Oprah in the colony for a little time?
Jonathon Allen: She arrived our last week there. Originally she was supposed to come for two nights, but no no no... she could only take one night. The only thing the producer told us was the "press" was coming so we had that day off and saw this mass of people coming in with camera crews, so we go down and see Oprah and flip out. I've never been starstruck before, but being back 400 years in time....
She poked me in the ribs and told me I need to eat boy.
I was curious when the show was actually filmed? Jonathon, what do you study in graduate school? Amy-Kristina, what do teach? I really enjoy watching both of you on the show and I look forward to seeing more of it.
Amy-Kristina Herbert: It was filmed summer of 2003 from May to October and in real life I am not a widow, I teach public speaking and theater. I'm an actress, actually. I'm an adjunct-professor.
Jonathon Allen: In real life I'm married with two kids -- NO! I'm going to grad school to get my masters in French and my doctorate and I'll probably find myself being a professor.
Amy-Kristina Herbert: Jonathon was teaching me French and I was teaching him Spanish. Apparently it was elitist.
Jonathon Allen: so we offered to play a simpler game for the others like paddycake.
As with the Frontier House, I feel like you all get more and more beautiful as the show goes on - despite the fact that you do not have makeup, Lancome eye concealer etc. Other than toothbrushes, were you allowed any cleansers etc?
Amy-Kristina Herbert: Well we had a tiny supply of like lye soap that came over on the boat because we didn't have enough hard ash to make lye for soap, so we had a small supply of soap, but we really only used it after touching animals so we wouldn't get eColi. That was pretty much it.
Jonathon Allen: I'm glad they think we're more beautiful.
Amy-Kristina Herbert: You're closer to nature and I honestly think that makes everyone more pretty.
Jonathon Allen: I actually liked going to the bathroom in the woods after a while, it was relaxing.
Los Angeles, Calif.:
Did the Goat Milk have to be treated or anything before drinking and what did it taste like? Did you all ever make cheese?
Amy-Kristina Herbert: The goat milk was not treated. We put a straining linen cloth over the bucket to keep hair out of the milk and that was it.
Jonathon Allen: And it tasted a little sour, but if you put some aquavita and liquor in it it was perfect.
Amy-Kristina Herbert: Sometimes it tasted really good but other times it tasted really "goaty." If they were eating bark you could tell. If they were eating a lot of greens it would get sweeter.
Jonathon Allen: And we gave up on making cheese because it was nasty.
Amy-Kristina Herbert: We'd heat milk and put rennet in it -- which is the stomach of a calf so it would curdle it and you'd cut it into squares and skim the whey off which you could use for protein and you'd put the kurds in a cloth and hang in so it'll drip and it'll turn into a ball of cheese. But when there's nothing to eat...
Jonathon Allen: Everyones asking Everyone'se eating grass yesterday.
Amy-Kristina Herbert: It was actually pretty good, though. it was something green. ANd the gov. came back angovernorrought us gifts and the only thing he could bring us was a cabbage and Julia didn't know what to do with it and we just shredded it and put oil and vinegar on it and people ate it like it was the best thing, but it was mainly because we didn't have anything.
Our gardens grew very slowly. IT was an exceptionally cold summer for that area.
Jonathon Allen: Blueberries were tasty, but you have to be careful because people peed everywhere. I talked to a production person while she was eating blueberries and didn't tell her that's where someone had just peed there.
Amy-Kristina Herbert: Had to brush off the maggots too.
How did you learn about this project and when did you sign up? Was there an interviewing process?
Jonathon Allen: I like to call it divine intervention. I was working the night shift at a hotel and I logged online and the PBS web site came up and I don't even watch PBS and saw they were casting for this and sent in the application and here I am.
Amy-Kristina Herbert: For me, I'd seen 1900 house and wondered why the mother was whining so much and my best friend was like "I"m getting an application today" and I thought I'd love to do something like that and on deadline day I applied -- it was long, but I was determined. So I sent it in and got an e-mail asking for a video. Then they called me again and I thought they were kidding.
Jonathon Allen: I never thought they'd take me, so I was silly in my interview. maybe that's what they look for.
Amy-Kristina Herbert: The next thing I know I'm wearing a corset.
Jonathon Allen: DOn't take it too seriously. That's my advice.
Watching the show last night, I was struck by how much of your experience must be edited out... but were there times that you were left alone or given time away from the cameras? Were you ever able to say "hey, I need some time, please go away"?
Amy-Kristina Herbert: If you said don't film this that was a sure fire way to get them to follow you around. There's only one camera in the village at a time, so if they're filming the Wyers, nothing else is being filmed. Which is why there isn't as much footage as there should be of us working. Like the cornfield, the show didn't show how much work that was. But it didn't look like that at all. But you still had to carry on with what you were doing. They weren't filming early enough to catch chickens waking up, but I still had to wake them up and couldn't wait around for them. They missed a lot.
Jonathon Allen: I think when you take into consideration that they're putting five months into 8 hours, it's hard. But it really is beautifully shot and there are a lot of reaction shows.
Amy-Kristina Herbert: The cinematographer would notice things the directors weren't seeing and he'd catch it if he could. It was hard for him, but he really did try without being intrusive.
Jonathon Allen: They had the sound guy right next to us and I didn't think they'd use that footage and they were 50 feet away. But it looks like they're right next to us.
Amy-Kristina Herbert: Ya, nobody asked me to marry them, so I couldn't stay.
Did any new romances occur among Colony members?
Amy-Kristina Herbert: Yes, freeman Danny and little Amy Christina. We started dating after the show.... in January. And we just didn't tell anybody. Jonathan knew and is giving me a little crap over here. No one else knew and they're all finding out now. We're dating.
Jonathon Allen: Cool.
Amy-Kristina Herbert: Ya, it's cool.
Jonathon Allen: I found a little romance as well after the show. I took a little roadtrip to Texas and me and Jeff Wyers really hit it off. No, we haven't communicated at all.
Amy-Kristina Herbert: Danny and I watched together last night.
Do all of you stay in touch? Are there any reunions planned in the near future?
Amy-Kristina Herbert: We all stay in touch through e-mail. We have a Yahoo group.
Jonathon Allen: Realistically there are some people who will not. We'll probably lose touch with the Heinzes eventually. I'll always stay in touch with a handful, including AMy Christina.
Amy-Kristina Herbert: I want to go to London when it airs and I want to keep in touch with Paul and Dominic. I think I'd keep in touch with MIchelle. E-mail makes things so easy.
Jonathon Allen: I think I'm the only one who kept in touch with the Heinz.
Amy-Kristina Herbert: They're so far away.
Jonathon Allen: I went to see them, but didn't sleep at the foot of their bed.
Amy-Kristina Herbert: Mattie and I talk on instant messenger and she tells me what's going in school.
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