30 July 2011

Audubon, Me, and the BBC

You may or may  not remember that since January 2010, I have been working at the library of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia.  One of the great treasures in the holdings is a complete set of The Birds of America, by John James Audubon

Volume 1, Plate 1.  The American Wild Turkey

Until a few weeks ago, it was a regular practice to turn the page in one of the five volumes once a week on Friday at 3:15.  The public is invited, and it's also very popular with other staff in the Academy.  Until this past January, I was one of the two librarians who got to turn the page and do a 15-minute or so presentation about the Audubon, the book, and the bird of the week.  Then a new librarian was hired to replace the other one who retired early this year.  He took it over completely, with the support of our former director (aka The Evil Boss) who thought he was just right for it, because his "English accent sounds so educated and elegant."  The only time I got near it was if he was out on a Friday.

Well, by the beginning of July, the Evil Boss had moved on, and the reference librarian was let go, having not successfully passed his six-month probational period favorably.  Also, the new President of the Academy decided that we should turn a page every day, so more people would have the opportunity to attend, and see the work.  And who was left to do it?  Me, with my lack of English accent.   (Let me say that I don't think I have any accent at all - more especially, I do not speak like Cletus the Slack-Jowled Yokel.)  We have opened it up to other staff who wish to volunteer, but it has more or less become my "thing."  I enjoy it, and love having the opportunity to touch such a valuable piece of work, and see it up close and personal.

Enter the BBC, who are making a series called "The Art of America," which is part of a series they have done in other countries as well.  Their first stop was going to be Philadelphia, and our Audubon!  I had a phone interview with one of the producers, at which it was determined that "no offense, but you aren't quite what we want," and was there anyone else who could do it?  I was not upset, because to tell you the truth, representing the Academy as an Audubon "expert" was not something that made me feel very comfortable.  I suggested my friend and Academy colleague Greg Cowper (I told you about him here), who is not just knowledgeable, but very charming and articulate.  They talked to him, and decided that he was just what they wanted.  Greg told me that they wanted to film a page-turning, and he was going to insist that I do it.  Which was fine, but I didn't give it a lot of thought, since that ship with me and the BBC had already sailed.

So we arrive at last Monday, July 25.  We had been told that they would arrive to start filming at 2:00 p.m.  There was a lot of anticipation in the air, and we were all busy cleaning up, etc.  The crew arrived and set up.  They were going to start filming with the page-turning, which was supposed to be done by Greg, and then follow-up with an interview segment.  About 2:55, my supervisor stuck her head in my office door, and casually said, "Bridget, you'll be doing the page-turning today."

I have no idea how that happened.  Maybe they got tired of hearing Greg say it should work that way, maybe my supervisor told them that was how it would be, who knows?  And that is how, at 3:15 p.m. on that afternoon, I found myself being filmed by the BBC, talking about Audubon and  The Birds of America.

(Photo courtesy of Mike Servidio,** Academy of Natural Sciences)

Afterwards, people kept saying, "You were great, you didn't seem nervous at all."  Well, I didn't have time to feel nervous!  I was just glad that I hadn't dressed in an uber-casual way as I had considered that morning ...

It went by in a flash, and then Greg's interview part was filmed.  I have no idea when/if/how it will be broadcast.  Of course, now Greg and I think we need our own special, (a la "The Making of Star Wars") called "Talking About Talking About Audubon."  I told my supervisor that I wanted to re-negotiate my contract, and she said, "Fine, but I would suggest that you get a contract first."  (Clearly she doesn't understand anything about celebrity.)

It's been fun to talk about, and also very surreal.  I'm not sure it really happened.   But I can tell you that never in my most incredible imagination of events that would happen in my life, did I ever see myself talking like I knew what I was talking about on behalf of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, the oldest natural history museum in the Americas, to the BBC!

All I keep thinking about is Monty Python, where part of every episode had someone "writing" to the BBC:

Dear BBC,
                       I object to ___________

(That will be from me, if the segment is never shown!)

If you live in Philadelphia, or are visiting, though, please join us Monday through Friday at 3:15 in the library for the Audubon page-turning.  I may not be the one doing it, but it's always interesting.  On Wednesdays through August, a group from our Ornithology Department do it, and bring actual specimens from their collections as well as some collected by Audubon himself, which is way beyond cool. 

Maybe if you are lucky, Greg and/or I will be there, and you can shake our hands.  ;-)

**(When Mike sent me this photo, he put in the e-mail: "Anytime there's a boom mike, it means you must be important!")


sprite said...

That *totally* rocks! Congratulations!

I hope you'll let us know if it's going to air here in the U.S. so we can all watch and say, "Hey, I sorta, kinda know her!"

Kathleen Dames said...

That is so cool! I'm going to have to come down to Philly at some point (I've never been) soon.

Lynn said...

OMG!!! That is way too cool! When you find out when it airs, make sure you post it, I would LOVE to see it!!! And when you become famous, I can say I knew you way back when!!! LOL

Marie said...

OMG! I know someone famous! That is just too cool for words!

Anonymous said...

Excellent! Maybe The Universe read your last post? Did you have a hanky in your pocket? :D

Carrie#K said...

Ooooh! You're a celebrity!!! I am touched by greatness. In a 'removed by the internet and hundreds of miles kind of way'. But that's so awesome!

I'm seething on your behalf about Evil Boss, Unctuous Underling and the BBC for not grasping your importance from the start.

gail said...

awesome!! and i can say i knew you when...

Sue V said...

Sounds like fun!

mary said...

So cool! Please let us know when we can watch you on the BBC. Mostly, I'm so happy your job has such a neat little diversion each day. Wouldn't I love to touch the Audobon book!!! Good for you Bridget.