Well, that was fun! But, all good things must come to an end. I really enjoyed being on stage again after — yikes! — twelve years. I suppose it’s less than that, given that I performed at Friday Nite Improvs for a few years. But it’s been more than a decade since I had to memorize a script and put on multiple shows in a weekend. I didn’t realize how much I’d missed it until I started rehearsing, too.
At this point you might be saying to yourself, “Well, dear, that’s very sweet and all, but shouldn’t you go back to being a grown-up now?” I suppose I should, rather. Still, there are plenty of grown-up, sophisticated library bloggers about–I’ve decided that I’d much rather be the holistic type who tries to convince you that things like theater and improv could actually be good for your career.
Consider the reference librarian. S/he frets and struts an hour or two upon the refdesk, then is no more (presumably s/he’s in a back office somewhere, ordering books, attending meetings, ripping her/his hair out, etc.). S/he has scheduled entrances and exits, and when s/he’s at the desk, s/he has a role to play.
Occasionally these roles are scripted; more often, they’re improvisational. You have a situation/location (the reference desk) and a relationship (librarian/patron). Although there are a number of different shapes the conversation could take (Where’s the bathroom? Do you have Jane Eyre? Does this reference book make my bag look fat?), you have absolutely no idea what any given person is going to say to you, and you have to be ready to respond in the moment.
One thing I love about improv is its reliance on “Yes, and.” In the best improv scenes, the partners roll with the reality of the situation no matter how far-fetched it becomes. “Did you steal a kidney from the transplant truck? ” “Yes, and I wanted you to see it first–happy anniversary, honey!” Hopefully nobody is bringing transplant organs to your desk, but they are bringing you a lot of other transactions where “Yes, and” is an appropriate response. For example:
“Do you have The Castle of Otranto?” Yes, and you might also like The Mysteries of Udolpho, Northanger Abbey, or The Monk!
“Is there a bathroom on this floor?” Yes, and I’d be happy to show you where it is.
“Can I take books out of this section?” Yes, and nearly all of the other books on this floor are available for checkout, too.
“How many items can I take out at a time?” 50, (yes implied) and that total includes 10 DVDs, 10 CDs, etc.
The skeptical among you might be wondering, “Okay Tallulah Bankhead, what about those of us who don’t work in public service?” Just because you don’t work directly with the public doesn’t mean you’re never going to be asked to give a presentation or, at the very least, speak in a meeting. In fact, the amount of public service you do seems to be inversely proportionate to the number of meetings you must attend (I’d like a grant to study this — wouldn’t you?). Why not get over your fears by trying out a few improv games? At the very least, your next staff meeeting / training will be the one your colleagues will discuss for years to come. “Remember back in the summer of aught-nine, when Tallulah had us play ‘Freeze’? Good times!”
One shameless omission from both lists is “Questions,” in which the scene partners can only speak in queries. This is a lot harder than it sounds, but a great way to break your brain out of its usual channels and stimulate some creative thinking. And isn’t that something else we Librarians 2.0 are supposed to be doing?
Future posts will, I promise, be more “normal,” but I think the most important thing my return to the stage has taught me is that the boundaries between work and home are a lot more porous than most of us imagine. After all, it’s not like we completely shed our personalities when we step into our offices–decorum might suggest we keep certain things under wraps, and tact will always be a huge part of professionalism. Still, we are who we are, quirks, personalities, interests, and all. I’m in favor of a holistic paradigm of library science, where who we are outside of our offices can feed and nurture the kinds of things we do inside of them.
Just a theory. What sorts of things do you do in your leisure time that sustain your workday persona?
Back later this week with more whimsical thoughts…