What color is your harebrained scheme?

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February 15, 2010
By: Gregory J. Scott
Gregory J. Scott
// Dream Job Lab challenges career changers to get theatrical //


“Losing your job is not a blessing; it’s miserable. And the reality is that there may not be another one out there.”

“The word ambiguity is OK.”

“I am a huge skeptic of the work that I’m in.”

For a career coach, Carr Hagerman says a lot of things that most people in his profession wouldn’t. But that’s because he isn’t exactly a career coach. He’s a performer, actually, and his professional trajectory has been about as predictable as a bottle rocket shot sideways. He’s pinballed around the fringes of show business for several decades, parlaying an initial success as a street performer into a colorful résumé of quirk and prestige. He’s been artistic director for the Minnesota Renaissance Festival. He produced the documentary “Michael Moore Hates America.” And, until recently, he traveled the nation as a highly sought after motivational speaker, promoting a corporate training video inspired by the famed fish slingers of Seattle’s Pike Place Market.

But that was then. These days he spends most of his energies trying to help people out of their work-induced misery and into more meaningful employment. Never mind his less-than-linear career path; that just makes him a greater expert on the subject.

Along with fellow coach Cathy Paper, he has created Dream Job Lab, an experimental workshop aimed at easing the anguish of the professionally adrift. Designed to free job seekers from the straitjackets of résumé-speak and job board search categories, Dream Job Lab pushes participants to think outside of the box — way outside of the box.

“If you start with a question like, ‘What’s your goal?’ people just glaze over,” Hagerman said. “You say, ‘What’s your harebrained scheme?’ and people just go crazy.”

“People need a place to experiment,” added Paper. “Because you go to those job support groups, and there’s a lot of grief in the room, understandably, and anxiety. And not a lot of possibility. Like, OK my resume says that I worked in marketing for 15 years, and I hated it, and I hated going there every day. But there aren’t often groups that go, yeah well you should think about that. You’ve always said you’ve loved knitting. Why not open a knitting store?”

“Why can’t we do it a little differently?” Paper said. “Be more playful, or more experimental, collect in community?”

Dream Job Lab, then, is like a career seminar if it were run by improv actors. It’s a half day of risk and spontaneity, of motion, direction and experimentation. And while Hagerman and Paper remain tight-lipped about their specific methods, they promise positive provocation, a nudging of people beyond their comfort zone.

The rampant uncertainty in today’s job market, Hagerman says, is standard for professional actors, who deal regularly with rejection and the question of where the next gig might come from. So it seemed natural to attack the employment problem with a thespian’s tool kit — and a thespian’s workspace.

Dream Job Lab takes place on a stage, beneath the beautifully eroded proscenium of the Southern Theater. Hagerman and Paper rent the facility for their workshops. But according to the Southern’s production manager Damon Runnals, the theater has stepped into a sort of collaborative partnership with the Lab, embracing it as part of its mission to build social awareness into creative programming.

“They picked the Southern for a very specific reason,” said Runnals. “We have massive amounts of creation that happen on this stage. They have specifically put their program in a building like this that will get you thinking differently. It’s not a hotel ballroom. It’s not a corporate seminar. It’s something else. It’s their lab.”

The theater has hosted two Dream Job Labs so far, and each has drawn a full audience of about 50 people, ranging in age from their 20s to their 60s, some out of work, some unhappily employed.

“We want to keep it small and grow it organically,” said Hagerman, “so that we’re not putting some bullshit snake oil out there. We really want this to be real.”

The Dream Job Lab doesn’t downplay the bleak job market. And it doesn’t pretend to have concrete answers.  

“We say, OK, there may not be another job right now for you,” Hagerman said. “So why don’t you look at what you really want to do? And then you see the lightbulb go off. That’s why we’re in the theater. The spotlight’s on them, and they make a proclamation. ‘This is what I want to go for!’ Then we set up a network to help them.”

After the half-day workshop, Hagerman and Paper stay in touch with participants over a period of several months, keeping them steady on the “traction” plan they worked out on stage.

Does it work? Maybe, maybe not.

“I think people realize that we aren’t necessarily going to come to a resolve,” said Hagerman. “And that’s what actors have to deal with. The creative arts, you live in ambiguity. It’s sort of a condition of life.”

Contact Gregory J. Scott at gscott@mnpubs.com.


FYI

Dream Job Lab
Where: Southern Theater
When: Wed., Feb. 17, 9 a.m.–2 p.m. ($99); Post-event networking session from 3–6 p.m. ($20). Limited scholarships available.
More info: To register, visit dreamjob.com or call Cathy Paper at 651-260-1974