Reset at your library: a lesson in playing around

Here I am again…admit it you thought I’d gone on some kind of fantastic vacation to Australia. Nah… that’s coming soon – the 25th incidentally and the folks at my work keep telling me I need one of those paper chains with the loops to rip off each day as a count down.

I am still here and going strong (although can one spell the word ‘exhausted’ with crayon on the back of a work receipt?- because that’s all I can find in my house).

Summer is in full swing at my library which, any self-respecting public librarian will tell you is to be expected with our most busiest time of year. In an unexpected move on my part, I joined a gym. Yeah, I know, probably accounts for being tired, but I’m down 8 pounds and that’s baby weight which any self-respecting mother will tell you is THE WORST weight to lose.

Anyway, I digress. The sole purpose of my post here today is to direct you to THIS FB page.

So here’s the story. Here I was about two months ago minding my own business at the reference desk, trying to hide from yet another e-book related question (btw e-books are the bomb, but there’s just only so many questions a gal can take in one day on the e-book topic of “how do I…”), when a young, beautiful woman appeared before me to confirm her room booking. She was so polite and happy that I remembered her the next time she came and then the next time after that and the time after that.

Finally, after she came a few times I asked her what she was doing at the library.

Okay, so on a side note fellow librarians, I feel we should ask this question a lot more both from a ‘thank you for coming to the library today, I have a genuine interest in you and how we can help you” point of view and also a “wow, that’s super cool, let me get on board with that” point of view.

“Well,” said this young woman, “I’m taking auditions for a play I wrote.”

At this point I convulsed slightly and may have drooled a little.

“Wow!” I said totally casually (not) “that sounds awesome, tell me about it.”

So, that brings me to this next question: can libraries operate solely as depositories for books or, given the age of increasing technology and decreasing interpersonal connection amongst individuals, is it ever more incumbent upon libraries to operate as a means to connect people with…each other?

The answer? Hell if I know- probably the second, sounds about right…but I’m tired- remember the work ‘exhausted’ written in crayon in the back of work receipts? Yeah I only got ‘exhau’ written before I fell asleep.

Anyway, I’m thinking it was the second option because in that moment as this young woman stood before me with her obvious talent (AKA what have I been doing with my life, AKA should have been writing years ago), I decided that she should do a premier of her play and that it should happen at the library.

Now, to understand this rationale, you need to have an understanding of my character. My obsessive compulsive, perfectionist, “no one can do it like I can so I just may as well do it” character. I looked upon this young person with visions of cocktails as a fine soirée before the velvet curtains were drawn up to show a stage, upon which a masterpiece of epic proportions would be performed. I saw this person as the Mozart of the millennial performing arts world. Visions of glory and fame for this person before me filled my mind.

So, as I said, I casually suggested that she premier her performance at the Library for one night only. And she got SUPER excited.

I learn her name, Joya Polk from Joya Polk Productions, and I learn that this is not her first rodeo. She’s written plays before, on serious topics too, the last being Maybe Tomorrow in 2016, which focused on teen depression. I’m super excited and she looks over the moon.

We arrange a simple partnership between our two forces (hers her as of yet unrestricted talent and mine the epic structure of the Library), I’ll handle marketing, we’ll do a simple social hour before and she and her cast will perform Act 1 and do a Q&A after.

Sound good?

Great- now you try to market that.

In my head, it’s a no brainer. You have a young person with talent and a community constantly looking to be entertained. Just get them together in the same room right? Well, yes, except for one small thing: part two of the aforementioned question- the age of increasing technology and decreasing interpersonal connection amongst individuals.

There were posters and flyers. There were Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Nextdoor posts. There were emails. There were graphics and links to videos. There were podcasts (literally, Joya and the cast made one- you can hear it HERE). There were links to Joya’s information so that a potential audience could see her legitness (that’s totes a word).

The problem (I realized at the 11th hour) was the connect. It wasn’t the lack of it that was a concern, no, it was that people actually had to make a connection for it. See, all along, I’d asked for people to call the Library to reserve a seat to the play. People would, oh no shock and horror!, have to pick up a phone to call the Library and speak to…wait for it…A LIBRARIAN!!!!!!

Now I was stuck with the all too formidable ‘what if’ of ‘what ifs’- what if no one comes?

I know, you’re speechless- oh the travesty!

But it clicked (albeit on Friday before the Monday night premier), that when describing the play to my coworkers alone, there were some mild signs of life mixed with a short glimmer of interest, but no one was truly invested. And when asking myself why, it occurred to me that no one actually wanted the human connection.

I know, studies of various kinds suggest we need it. It’s not healthy to not have meaningful connections with others. Is it really that much to ask to pick up a phone?

Yes, I answer, apparently it is.

Sure enough, I put seating reservation online, where the general public could sign up with the convenience of not actually having to speak to another human being, and within a day things had drastically changed. From an audience of two to an audience of twenty, none of which were family of the cast. The irony of the personless online registration for a small premier production, live and in the raw, was not lost on me I assure you.

So, the day arrives and I’ve got over the panic of having zero registration for a play written by a young member of our community happening at my Library because I suggested that it could be like performing Rent at the Apollo. Instead, I start anxiously concerning myself with “well, what if it’s crap?” (A bit late now).

The time arrives for the social hour and we have a few audience members at this point (I’ve offered free food- a sure icebreaker). But still, in my head, it’s a risk isn’t it?

At this point I’ve seen none of the performances, no rehearsals or lines recited. This will be a raw performance with crude conference room lighting and a white board covered in a curtain for ‘stage right’ exits. It could go either way.

Either I have encouraged an amateur or I have provided a space for an aspiring artist and future Oscar-worthy director.

It was a risk.

And…

It was brilliant.

And it wasn’t just brilliant because of the acting, or the directing. It was brilliant because it was balsy. Polk delivers a play that questions the existential experience of being. She delivered in one act a profound performance which questioned what fate was and how we choose to see it.

No props. No makeup. No lighting expert.

This was pure talent and raw theater.

From the cast, who clearly had the type of youthful exuberance and chemical bantering that sped the performance along, to her co-director, the ever-bubbly Lizzie Camp, Polk managed to pull together an art piece that is not often seen from someone so young. At 19, Polk is a rising star to watch! All of the cast and crew were under the age of eighteen, excluding Camp (whose is really pushing it at the ripe old age of 21). It was refreshing and entertaining and eye opening.

The Q&A session followed. I prepared some ‘starter questions’ to get things going. Shouldn’t have bothered. The audience was just as enraptured by this group of talented young performers and their writer / director as I had become.

I will never doubt the power of talent and art and its place in our libraries.

We featured Act 1 of the play called Reset written and directed and produced by Joya herself.

There is still time to catch the full performance on July 20th or 21st in Tomball, Texas and you can get tickets HERE.

In terms of the performance at our Library, check out the pics:

You heard it here folks. In years to come, when Polk is famous, remember that I told you so…

Until next time, consider stepping outside of your comfort zone and letting the arts into your library or your life (they’re one and the same to me). Follow these simple rules:

1) ask the simple question “what are you doing at the library today?”

2) don’t panic about doing something you haven’t done before, even if you are taking a little risk

3) online registration

That is all…

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