Today (Friday) I was involved with the process of selecting a scholar for a Chautauqua presentation. I had seen pictures (in and out of character) of the candidates, read of their training and backgrounds, familiarized myself with their experiences, and now sat in on a telephone interview.
With my experiences in the business community, I have hired and fired customer service personnel, maintenance staff, salespersons, and fry cooks, but this was my first trip behind the curtain to hire a brother Chautauquan.
Both candidates were very qualified, experienced, and knowledgeable. Both had resumes that would impress the readers of local media during the advertising of our events, leading to their acceptance as quality, discerning scholars and performers. Both were well spoken and thoughtful, and both were highly recommended by an outstanding and nationally recognized fellow Chautauquan.
The phone interview for each lasted just under a half an hour. Both knew their stuff and demonstrated the ability to think on their feet and get their unique understandings of the historical character across to an audience. So how does one choose?
As is so often the case for an employer, the telling difference was a subtle one of enthusiasm. One of the candidates had, purely from his personal excitement about the discoveries he was making about his historic character, gone the extra mile in independent research from a wealth of primary and secondary sources (which he could freely cite). Through the books and digital archives he cited, he demonstrated not only a deeper understanding of the character but a deeper interest in the character.
As a Chautauquan one can just play the part and give forth the wisdom of the subject, but far better is it to have a Chautauqua scholar who loves to inhabit the skin of his or her character. Passion in the study can give passion in the performance and has a better chance of fanning that contagious spark of interest and curiosity in the Chautauqua audience that we serve.