Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Interview

  Last Friday Great Lakes Science Center asked me to interview as an engagement specialist and to prepare a 3-5 minute presentation on the scientific topic of my choice. I’d applied but didn’t expect to hear back and was surprised to get the call. I was even more surprised at the words “presentation on the scientific topic of your choice.”  The word ‘surprised’ here means an internal freak out of nearly hanging up the phone proportions. Erm….
 When my bro and I were young homeschoolers in love with such shows as Bill Nye and The Kratz Brothers we thought it would be super cool to have our own show as a brother/sister duo from a Creationist perspective. That said, Dev would provide the actual know how on factual things while I would provide whatever on screen antics were necessary. Devan is also brilliant at on screen antics but the fact is I’d need a script and he could have written it. Dev used to bury himself in DK books, field guides and thick encyclopedias of nature facts. When enrolled in public kindergarten for the week and a half it lasted, he walked by what was my old classroom [which I‘d loved], peeked in at pictures of dinosaurs on the walls and said  to his teachers surprise “Oh look it’s a (some highly scientific and difficult to pronounce and not known by most 5 yr old words here)”
  He left kindergarten in tears about a week later complaining that “all they do is draw circles and cut them out!!”
 On the flip side of this his older sister loved kindergarten and craft time and Sesame Street. ...
  Despite the slight flashback this phrase brought I did NOT hang up the phone and after a pause ventured “Now, I gather you’ll be evaluating me on my presentation skills & not my scientific know-how ?”  Oxygen returned to my brain upon hearing the words "Yes. Of course, if you say something blatantly wrong we’ll call you on it, but yes.” Crisis averted.
 Still I was freaking out a bit, not at all sure what I should speak on or what ‘presentation’ fully entails. I mean are we talking power point here or what? Thankfully I had the privilege of performing Shakespeare scenes with a couple of actors who in fact work at GLSC. A love for the Bard and mutual fondness for Pho made for a fast friendship with one such actor. I excited/panic texted her and was enormously thankful for her input and encouragement which included “Do NOT do a power point unless they ask for it”.
When helpful roomie Cassie got home I told her the news & she asked what I’d present on.
“I have no idea.”
“Whales! You have to do it on whales.”
  This woman is smart.  I could easily talk on this subject over 5 minutes even without prep. Which I began to do in the shower, on walks to the grocery store, and around the house to see what material I already had. I decided to divide it into three categories- blues for their size, humpbacks for their song and grays for their long migration-and got to work fact checking and arranging the presentation. I learned some cool stuff including the proper size comparisons for a blue whale, which are pretty awesome (100 people could fit in a blue whale’s mouth and it’s heart is the size of a mini cooper. It’s HEART! Seriously, you could crawl through it’s major arteries. The thing is huge. Thank God they’re docile!)
 Brainy bro Dev looked over my material and gave some pointers and encouragement (after inadvertently giving me the 3rd degree via text. “Who is your audience? How long do you have? What kind of presentation? When is it?” “Dev, you‘re freaking me out!” “Sorry.”) and after polishing and prepping on Monday I was about ready to go.
 Job searching in the dead of Cleveland’s coldest in decades winter is possibly when I most pointedly feel the annoying side of my car-less state of being. Usually a tromp through snow and ice and ridiculous temperatures to the bus involves layers of real clothing, hats, scarves, general warming wear. Bundled properly, I don’t much feel the cold or the harshness.
 Enter job interviews. Suddenly a certain ‘look’ is necessary, often involving hose and heels and dresses. When I see women running around in hose and obviously too little clothing for March, I often scoff glad for leggings and thermals. Now I get to be this person. And this person was very grateful for the pretty, long, heavy dress coat her friend bought her in St Louis because even with it she still froze her butt off. How do business women do this?!
 Hopping off the bus a tad early, which means a longer walk, I run into CVS to get my single prop, a print of me kissing the baby grey whale at Magdalena Bay in Baja California. I consider not risking the time but will have to ditch this part of my presentation if I don't because without the evidence I think it will seem made up. I calculate the time carefully hoping the bumper is enough even though the quirky guy at the register still has to print my pics which annoyingly wasn’t done. He’s kind though and I have just enough time.
“Just waiting on Miss Whitacre’s prints. Here we go!” As he places them in a manila envelope and rings it up he remarks, “That is some interesting stuff! I think I need to be more diverse in my choice of activities!”
I laugh wondering what everyone in line behind me thinks might be in that envelope.
 And then out to the brisk! I run in heels for the first stretch both for time and hopefully body heat. Then I meet more crosswalks and slow it down. The air is like swallowing ice water and is so piercing I feel like my body might explode. I have never been this cold. The Lake becomes visible and the sight of it makes me colder still. It’s ice as far as you can see. It’s magnificent and if my thoughts weren't so frozen I would be mesmerized at one of Cleveland’s many overlooked attributes. But I am frozen and that occupies all of my brain space.
 I make it and wonder what my hair must look like as, halfway here, I decided to don a hat after all. The other darn applicants are so dang early a quick bolt into the bathroom for a mirror check is not in the works. I feel discombobulated and try arranging myself noting as I do that the women waiting with me have arms full of actual science looking props and that they evidently have science &  teaching backgrounds. I am the odd duck actress in the room. Because I was already cold and now need to take off the one shield I have, my large coat, I don’t ever actually warm up and when we get a break later on I dodge into the bathroom & realize my lips are actually purple. Odd duck actress now looks like an idiot who can’t dress herself. Awesome.
 We get upstairs, I’m still cold, my phone decides to play DC talk though the ringer is off, my materials feel like they’re everywhere and I have to pee. But this museum is totally cool and I am so gonna ride this wave. One of the other applicants remarks (not unkindly) that she’s impressed I could fit all my material into one bag. Seriously these women have beakers and bags and stuff and I have zero props aside from my possibly cheap shot picture of me and the baby gray. During the audition we pair up and find an exhibit to present with our partner. All the other applicants actually know things while I get excited that an echo machine looks like it came from Dr. Suess. My contribution to the zoetrope presentation with my partner is cartoon knowledge.
 Mostly I’m just amused by all of this and intrigued by a new feeling; The Uma/Janeane Switch.
 There’s a movie I enjoy that is a gender reversal of the classic Cyrano de Bergerac. It stars Uma Thurman as the leggy, gorgeous, brainless model and Janeane Garofalo as the intelligent, snarky, guy-ignored radio host. They forge a friendship through the misled and somewhat accidental venture of winning a guy with Uma’s appearance and Janeane’s wit.
“You and I together make the perfect woman!” Uma excitedly pronounces.
“No you and I together make the perfect political prisoner. What we really do well is act self-righteous and starve.” counters Garofalo.
 Generally in my life I have related to Garofalo’s role. (When she finally gets a chance to talk on her own to the handsome Brit she likes she drops salsa on her t-shirt which she then scoops off with the offending tortilla chip.) So it was very strange to suddenly feel a role reversal. I didn't suddenly become drop dead gorgeous & free of thought and certainly these women weren't unattractive or overly snarky, but they actually knew what they were talking about, I didn't and yet my presentation skills trumped theirs. I thought how strange if I were to get this job, if I really was what they were looking for, that it would mean stage presence beat out actual scientific know how. I thought how frustrating that could feel to someone with a well grounded scientific background.
 Presentations themselves were fun. One other applicant had some theatre experience but more so in science & I found it interesting that we were the only 2 to stay in the time frame.
  Even though I didn't have stunning props, my blue whale facts were pretty sweet and the ladies were kind and gave me their attention. Afterward I told one of the other applicants her presentation was really cool (It was. She had beakers and chemicals. There was smoke and it was awesome.) and she thanked me and said  she was impressed I could keep her engaged with just words. Also one of the applicants brought Oreo s which was super smooth move. And tasty too.
My interviews afterward went well and the staff members used really positive language that made me think they were interested. The first was an actual scientist who shared with me that when he first came it was a strange adjustment for him that they wanted actors more than scientists. That made me feel that a) they really were looking for actors even though I felt the odd man out, and b) I was right about how strange it must be to accept that from the other side. In the next interview they told me I’d be a good fit for such and such and could tell the age group I preferred by my presentation [I may or may not have done a Dory speaks whale imitation.] which was where they thought I’d fit. It was all encouraging and I’ll know by Monday. Either way it was a really good and stretching experience.
 Leaving the museum I took a moment for how cool this whole thing was. I walked past the Omnimax box office and could look out to Lake Erie just 20 feet from the lobby. Since my brain had thawed I thought of the things I love about Cleveland and how cool it would be to work here at GLSC. I took the train back this time and it looped me around to Tower City providing a stellar view of the city and taking me under bridges I hadn't noticed, seeing architecture and angles of the city I've missed. A daily commute to the Great Lakes Science Center is something this odd duck actress certainly wouldn't mind. Especially if she can wear real clothes.