News from the Front

Random news from the front:

  1. For the love of all things holy, please don’t wear jeans conferencing. I’ve seen people do this from graduate students to faculty members and every time I see an offender, my blood boils.

Wearing jeans at a conference communicates that you don’t take the conference

sunrise over Nashville Saturday morning

seriously enough to dress professionally for it. The old axiom “dress for the job you would like to have” definitely applies. Would you wear jeans to a job interview?

I was networking every moment of every day in Nashville (including a clandestine encounter with a Yale reference librarian on the shuttle from my hotel to the airport). There was never a moment when I wasn’t, in some way, on display. You never know who you will meet or where you will meet them, and especially at a large conference where most of the participants are staying in your hotel, you want to make sure you look your best for any possible encounter.

So say it with me: I will not wear jeans at a conference.

  1. My book fort is up to 47 and counting. Of these 47, there are only six that I have not yet cracked. This means that, in addition to keeping up with my class reading, I have read all or most of 41 additional books since the end of September. No wonder my brain is tired.
  1. I spent four hours in the archives at Harvard yesterday paging through so much material that the poor reference librarians were working overtime just to pull my requested obscure folders, boxes, and files. I cannot say how thankful I am for all the work that these people put in to making sure that I can do my work.

On that note, paging through two hundred year old documents will never get old. However, I live in fear of the day that one disintegrates in my hands through no fault of my own, or I accidentally turn the page a bit too rigorously and tear something that’s older than my country.

Though if I ever need to hide from some murderous gunman, I’m going to do it inside of an archive. They are seriously the safest places I’ve ever encountered and the murderer would have to breech so many levels of security and protocol to find me that I’m pretty sure he would just give up when faced with the infinite yards of red tape at the library privileges office. And even if he didn’t they’d strip him of everything except a pencil, notebook, and digital camera before they would buzz him through three different glass door anyway. And that would be just to get into the reading room! Since we already know that archive librarians are superheros, he’d pretty much have to contend with the most badass of superpowers before he found his way down to me crouching behind the stacks of bad Hamlet Quartos (mostly because those would be the things most worthy of being destroyed that would actually be available in the archive). Although now that I’ve given away my planned hiding spot, maybe I should instead take cover by some collection of modernist paraphernalia…

  1. For the purposes of one of my research projects, over the course of the last week, I’ve clocked more hours than I care to relate conflating the first folio Richard III with Colley Cibber’s 1700 adaptation. While I cry inside to really and truly see the deplorable reworking of my patron Bard’s great works that so many generations of theatre goers were subject too, I also think that this should earn me some kind of stamp on my nerd card. I take every chance I get to bring it up in conversation because, well, who does this stuff? “Oh, yes, I spent another two hours conflating Cibber’s Richard with Shakespeare’s first folio… how was your day at work?” “How’s your paperwork going? Cibber’s just dandy.” “What did you do today? Oh, me? Just understanding adaptations of great works of literature and how they affected generations upon generations of theatre goers and their comprehension of Shakespeare… no big deal.”

another thing that proves my geek cred is my insanely awesome pair of Shakespeare socks.

  1. Dramaturgy is a weird job. To give you a small sampling of questions which have crossed my desk this week: “Define ‘moated grange’.” “What does x line of text mean?” “What are some ritualistic gestures of the Catholic mass?” “Woops! This character was cast as a woman! How do we solve this problem textually?” To my geek cred, I find it fascinating to answer these questions; when I know the answer off the top of my head, it makes my little bard heart sing. When I have to dig for the answer, all the better; I’m learning something about Shakespeare that I didn’t know before!
  2. It’s snowing in Boston! And, as everyone knows, there’s no business like snow business!

Ode to a Reference Librarian


O Noble Reference Librarian, thou keeper of ancient tomes,
Thou from whose ever-seeing eyes the musty dark
of ignorance runs; fleeting into caves it roams.

Knowledge’s power and its difference stark
stands tribute to the echoes of my heart
without your watchful guidance and wisdom to mark.

Though all alone my research I may start,
eventually I am lost without your aid,
read between the lines: you’re pretty darn smart.

When I feel my resolve begin to fade,
and madness overtake my lengthy notes,
one e-mail from you and my project is made. 

Wise sage, who art everywhere and nowhere;
preserver of my sanity; hear, O hear!


Thou with whom all knowledge of the archive’s content
rests, solely within the confines of your mind,
Thou may these hopeless finding aids augment!

When I a promising volume or folder find,
I cannot help but wistfully wonder
if by you this call number it has been assigned.

And when I am delivered my research’s plunder
if it contains not what I was expecting
I know it must be someone else’s blunder.

This fondness is not something I’m affecting.
You truly are my savior, through and through
when I, my primary sources, am selecting,

You always have an answer for me,
where should I look next? You tell me; O hear! 


Thou who didst calm me with thy helpful words,
your e-mails always packed with burning hope
and, within me, that hope to joy transferred.

When I am lost, you throw me strongest rope
with which to pull myself from doldrums’ grasp
(though afterwards I may feel like a dope).

 Sometimes I come to you with dieing gasp,
knowing my project may be at its end,
lack of sources killing it like venom of the asp. 

But then, my broken thought tracks you do mend,
and breathe into my research new life
when bibliographic entries you me send.

You always do more than I expect of you,
and bring me joy with your encouraging words; O hear!


If I were forced to spend my days
in a world without you or your kin,
surely my research I would appraise

At much less worth than now it holds within.
And thou, O incomparable! If even
I were as in my career’s prime and had been

looking with my mind’s full potential heaving,
thou wouldst still my puny efforts shame
(thy power over the materials I fully believe in).

As thus, to thee with questions I came,
O! Help me in my research’s day of plight!
Without thee, my paper’s going to be lame! 

Help me to bring new knowledge to academy’s light!
And weave an argument from sources tight!


Lend me thy thoughts, even as I am merely
a Graduate students with small street cred,
I am most in need of your help clearly!

And (although I know by now I’ve said
this several times, it bears to be repeated)
Without you, all my evidence is fled! 

Sometimes I feel as though I may have cheated
by enlisting your skillful help in my fond chase,
but when my project’s finally completed 

I will ensure I’ve thanked you in the space
allotted for such words of grateful praise
(and also try to say it to your face). 

The knight of research’s call! O reference librarian,
If you forsake us, the academy you’ll raze.

(…an over-working reference librarian made my weekend today, so I decided to make his weekend.  Not even sure if he’ll ever read this.  If you’re slightly confused, you may want to google “Ode to the West Wind”….)

Treasure Huntin’

So here’s the thing about research: it’s like a treasure hunt.

You enter into a research proposal sometimes with a very clear idea of what you’re looking for but, more often than not, with only a vague concept.  You have to be open to the notion that what you will find will shape what you’re on the hunt for.  You have to understand how to roll with the punches.  And you have to have a creative approach to digging through databases and texts.

A good researcher isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty.  I can (and do) sit behind my

You know who else hunts for treasure?

computer and schlog through electronic resources, but it’s in the stacks that research really thrives and in the archives where research gets really exciting.

I’m taking a course this semester on Research Methodologies.  This is extremely important for me at this juncture in my career for several reasons: first because I will be using these skills for the remainder of my time within the Academy (an extremely long, if not indefinite, period); second because though I have performed research before it hasn’t quite been on the scale that I’m currently wading into; and third because my previous research has been primarily based in English literature not Theatre history.

There’s a great deal more archive work that goes into theatre research.  Oh sure, straight-up lit scholars have books and manuscripts and letters and printing presses to look at, but theatre people have mountains upon mountains of ephemera; playbills, drawings, paintings, sketches, character concepts, prompt books, actual theatres, the ruins of theatres, props, costumes, video and sound footage, the list drags on.

Here’s the distinction: literature, in many ways, is a two-dimensional course of study.  This is not to say that it is inferior or in some way smaller than Dramatics.  This is simply to say that the experience of reading a book is one which remains upon a page.  It is a relationship between reader and text and, for the most part, text can be (and has been) preserved since its initial readership.  Certainly the complications of editing, printing, revision, and historical context remain so lit crit is by no means a straightforward notion, it’s simply a field of scholarship based upon a process which is better able to survive.

But take all that.  All of it.  And add the complication of a performance.  A performance is an experience, a three-dimensional thing as wonderful as it is fleeting.  No single performance can ever be repeated.  No audience will ever be re-assembled and, even if they are, they are fundamentally changed between first assembly and second.  They bring a different load of life experiences one day than they do the next.  The performers too; Wednesday I felt this moment, Thursday I didn’t, Friday I was sick and had trouble speaking my lines.

These complications are what make performance studies so very difficult (and so very engaging).  I’m still studying text, but the text is a jumping off point rather than an end in and of itself.  It’s the groundwork of the puzzle, not the entire puzzle.

HTC is housed in Houghton which, while not as impressive as their main library, is adorable.

So it’s the beginning of the semester.  I’m beginning to flesh out my research ideas for the fall.  I live down the street from the Harvard Theatre Collection, the oldest and largest collection of its kind in the United States (debatably the world in terms of size – they are in contention with Oxford for that title).  Archives are infinitely more exciting and frustrating than libraries.  Archives, by their nature, are more difficult to catalogue.  There’s a lot more that can slip through the cracks.  They are chaotic, hectic.

But the thrill of paging through the prompt script for the first ever production of The Importance of Being Earnest (which I got to do this week!  SQUEEEE!), the excitement of finding some remnant of days past which has become so important and focal to your life (hey, research is my life, leave me alone), the rush of realizing that you are looking at something which William Henry Ireland wrote himself (Harvard has everything… everything) simply can’t be replicated.

Some days, it’s the little victories which matter.  Locating that article which could be truly pivotal.  Hauling your bum to the library so that you can look at the books and hold them rather than dig through MARC records.  Making a long-awaited photocopy.

The hunt for evidence does not necessarily equate a hunt for truth.  It’s a search for the bones of an argument.  A quest for the stuff that dreams are made on.

In digging, I can’t help but think of a fellow academic who also famously hunted for

oh, Dr. Jones....

treasure.  His contention (“We do not follow maps to buried treasure and ‘X’ never, ever, marks the spot…”) is one, however, which I will have to disagree with.  While often I am required to deviate from a beaten path, generally X does mark the spot.  Every time I get a hit for my keywords, whenever an article is titled something similar to my thesis, when I find a document referenced which I, too, have referenced, I know that I’m on the right track.   Sorry, Dr. Jones, but I am inclined to respectfully disagree with you on this account.

And so the journey begins.  I’m slowly developing a treasure map.  Here’s hoping it leads somewhere fruitful.  I have no doubt that it will lead somewhere interesting.