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My title is Public Program Director which means I create programs about our museum, the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, using theater as a way to tell the life stories of the people in our collection of portraits. The people I refer to are those who have made significant contributions to American society and culture. This Portrait Gallery program is called Cultures in Motion, where we explore and tell the stories of all of the people who make up the diverse cultures that populate America.
I have had so many wonderful moments at the Smithsonian that it’s difficult to select just one. However, one particularly fun moment was when I hired an Elvis Presley re-enactor to come from California and do a concert with his band, in conjunction with our exhibition that was called “Elvis at 21.” Cultures in Motion is an education program, not just an entertainment program. Although it is important for audience members to have fun, it is more important for them to learn something about the life of our person of interest. So first I found the actor/singer to play Elvis at Disney Corporation in Hollywood; then I selected the songs I wanted him to sing; next I hired a writer on the Portrait Gallery staff, who is our in-house Elvis expert, to write about his life and the history surrounding his songs. That Elvis re-enactor was so good and looked and sounded so much like the “real Elvis come to life” that the audience felt as if they had been transported back to the fifties to a real-live concert. They were dancing in the aisles. When that happens I experience one of those “best moments” at the Smithsonian.
When I was a Girl Scout, earning badges was more of an individual achievement than it is now. The tasks of earning badges to reach the highest level in Scouting at that time (Curved Bar), as well as achieving the goal of selling the highest number of Girl Scout cookies for several years in a row, taught me how to work independently, in addition to learning to work as a team. Similarly, my job today involves a great deal of independent work, since I choose the subjects, I often write the scripts about the people I choose , and I hire the actors who will play the person I have selected to be the subject of our program. While I ask advice from members of my team, most of the time I work independently, until it’s time for rehearsals. Then we all work as a team. This is much the way we did things when I was a Scout.