I read and thought quite a lot about librarianship, particularly the teaching aspects, as a performance last year, and started the year by going to circus 101 performance workshops which included drag, and participating in feral queer camp at Midsumma. As semester 1 approaches, I am thinking about lessons I’ve learned from performance to apply to teaching, and taking them outside the academy (or going feral). I am writing this while sick and watching Mardi Gras and was delighted to hear someone being interviewed say they were a “teacher librarian by day”!
The article on performance and librarianship that has resonated the most is Unpacking and overcoming “edutainment” in library instruction by by Sarah Polkinghorne as I am similarly quite critical of edutainment in the context of the marketisation of education, and some of the alternative lessons from performance resonated with the lessons from the performance workshop and feral queer camp. Polkinghorne illustrates that many of us feel like we are performing when we are teaching, and reflects on aspects of performance that can help librarians create more engaging learning experiences while resisting edutainment. One of those aspects was physicality and this was the main focus of the performance skills workshop I did to help us become aware of and comfortable with our own bodies and voices and I really think it is going to help with my performance/teaching in the library classroom and move beyond “solely cognitivist instructional strategies” and do less over-preparing like Polkinghorne suggests it can.
Physicality is a broad term encompassing the ways in which we communicate with our bodies, through our postures and movements, expressions and gestures… Our presence in the classroom is embodied. Even webinars are embodied, because we use our voices to deliver them. Comfort with our embodied presence is as fundamental to effective face-to-face teaching as it is to any performance.”
Improv was another aspect Polkinghorne suggests we can learn from, particularly for responding to questions in classes, and as I’ve become more confident and experienced this has started to become one of my favourite aspects of teaching. Polkinghorne’s advice is Don’t block, say yes. Make a choice, don’t wimp. Listen.
Possibly the idea that resonated the most with me has been using scores rather than scripts. We use scripts a lot to assist with teaching across campuses and I struggle to follow scripts I haven’t written as it does tend to increase my anxiety, and when I do write a script and bring it with me for comfort and security, I’ve found I increasingly rarely look at it. I am keen to work on developing scores for colleagues to use across campuses as well as scripts to help them tailor the scripts to local student needs and to their teaching style.
“Have you ever enjoyed seeing different actors play the same role? If performances were interchangeable because they use the same script, why would we bother making new ones? We could just watch Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet and call it a day. The answer is that a script is a fraction of a performance. Actors, within the context of a production, contribute the rest.
Non-acting performers are in the same situation: even where there is a script, it could never be the totality of the performance, or enforce “consistency” across performances. Engagement problems arise when the script is prioritized and the performer is overlooked…
In creating a teaching score, you can predetermine your goals and intentions, while also identifying how students will contribute important choices. For example, they might choose areas of emphasis and the order of the discussion. In this way, students are acknowledged as co-creators of each instruction session. This can help to create an environment where more engagement becomes possible.”
Polkinghorne’s final lesson was inspired by Goffman (one of my favourite theorists from my undergrad days) is in ‘defining the situation’ and I’ve started to introduce who I am more (my positionality) and admired other teachers who do this as well as talking about why we’re here, and what the library is and can do for students:
“Unlike teachers and professors, who have ongoing interactions with students within institutional settings and power relationships that are familiar to all involved, librarians are often asked to just show up to class. We often have no pre-existing relationship with the group of students whom we’ve been tasked to teach. It’s our responsibility to define that situation. Doing so can help to acknowledge and to address the fact that students, teaching faculty, and librarians often have diverse ideas about libraries and about what we teach. Here are some things that I regularly choose whether or not and how to define for students in my instruction sessions:
- what the purpose of my presence is,
- who I am,
- what I do for students,
- what the library is, and
- what the library can do for students,
If we’re reflecting honestly on how to convey this information and bring everyone in the classroom into shared common understanding, we will encounter the tension that exists between honesty and idealisation. This is what Goffman, generally put, called “back stage” and “front stage” personae.
A lecturer I’ve been working with over the first month recently mentioned that they are aware that much library work is invisible and that they were very keen to really clearly acknowledge my labour this semester and make it visible to students and we’ve been discussing ideas for guest performances – bringing the back stage to the front stage.
Some of my favourite parts of feral queer camp perhaps not surprisingly involved the ACT UP teach in and ACT UP in conversation events at Hares and Hyenas where we learnt about and discussed the powerful ways ACT UP used street performance as a protest to raise awareness about the treatment of people with HIV/AIDS and discrimination against queer communities. Performance is emotive and can help make experiences, knowledges, theories and information accessible to broader communities, outside academic institutions and help people understand experiences different from one’s own lived experiences.
When discussing queer performances with fellow campers, Gender Euphoria came up as an incredible joyful example and needs it’s own blog post (that I’ve been trying to write for a while). I also want to give a shout out to colleagues in the UK using performance as pedagogy for queerying the museum – particularly through tours (see blog posts on Reading/making the margins and queerying GLAM spaces and Queering collections: Lessons from Leprechauns, Liverpool and London for a little more). I love the way queer communities have historically and continue to use humour – there are so many puns like my favourite bifocal one:
Speaking of which, I have also come up with a new drag name: Reid Marginalia as Marginalia sounds more GLAM (and glam) than Moore & I love marginalia as a way to connect with a text and its community of readers. I feel this is more on brand for me than simply getting people to read more (although I’m quite good at that). I am slightly regretting not having given my talk on queerying classification earlier this month at Melbourne Free Uni as Reid Marginalia, but there may be more opportunities for that! It felt like my talk at Melbourne Free Uni was my first attempt at going feral” post feral queer camp and I am keen to do more like it.
Inspired by all of the above, although with a little less time to prepare than I would have liked, I am organising a cardiParty on queerying the GLAM sector next month (on Friday the 13th) and queerying the cardiParty format a little bit using ‘teach in’ techniques (registration will open very soon).
I am inviting everyone to contribute resources, questions and ideas for action to this Google Doc before, during and after the event, so please do so.
I’ve been struggling to write a response to the KINQ manifesto since it launched and think I’m going to try to queery that too and perform a response as Reid Marginalia (similar to the way Foxxy ‘99’ Peel (Craig) and Maxwell ‘the Saint’ Steed-Powers (Nikki) launched KINQ as agents of KINQ) so watch this space!Follow @ReidMarginalia