ST. PETERSBURG — The crowd was stacked with dreamers and bohemians, writers, singers, dancers in body paint. They understood the artist's way of cobbling together a living by trying to be yourself.
So they understood Meredith Myers, clad in a tool-motif dress with a red petticoat, pigtails and a variety of power tools. She was about to perform at a party for the sixth anniversary of ARTpool Gallery, an artist co-op and vintage store in St. Petersburg.
Myers is part comedian, part performance artist, part book nerd. She has spent her 39 years trying to find a persona that fits all aspects of her personality.
What she created is an act called the Stand-Up Librarian. She performs at events around town, recently the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair and Wordier Than Thou, a local literary event. She has joked about the Dewey Decimal System and danced atop a book cart. Next, she's hosting Broad Comedy: A Tribute to Women Humorists at [email protected] in St. Petersburg on Sunday.
In April at ARTpool, the stage lights washed over her. It was time.
"I've applied to a lot of libraries across the country," she told the audience. "Yet I'm wearing a tool outfit. So what do you think that means, folks? That means I work for a home improvement retail center."
Myers has a master's degree in library science and a part-time job at Home Depot in Seminole to help pay the bills. She even brings her act to the store, wearing her costumes while teaching DIY classes about hanging herb planters.
At home, she sews book-inspired fashions, purses, bow ties and dog collars to sell online at an Etsy shop. She's got an Edgar Allen Poe makeup bag, a Nancy Drew wristlet purse. She makes her own costumes, too, like the James Joyce dress she wears in her YouTube rap parody, Joyce Around.
So how did this big bang of creation happen?
As a kid, Myers spent most of her time at the library in St. Petersburg, rapt in mysteries and Sweet Valley High. A career in libraries might have been obvious, but she could never just pick one path. At Boca Ciega High School, she was involved with drama, yearbook, soccer, band.
She thought she might become Mary Hart on Entertainment Tonight, or maybe be an actor, but reality took her elsewhere. She worked in catering. Marketing. Public relations. Waited countless tables. When her co-workers told her she was funny, she tried open mic nights. She performed a one-woman show called Like a Publicist off-off Broadway in 2003.
But something always pulled her back to the stacks.
"I've had a lot of jobs now, and anytime I wanted to learn a new skill, I went to the library. Anytime I moved to a new city and didn't know anyone, I went to the library. The only place I kind of feel safe away from home is the library."
So she went to the University of South Florida and got a library degree. She started her Stand-Up Librarian act in 2010, and moved to Los Angeles. She worked at a library in West Hollywood and performed her act at night. But in 2011 she was fired from the library after a reporter from the Los Angeles Times came to profile her, violating library media policies.
The scuffle made the papers, with some readers calling the library antiquated and stiff. Myers made her way back to Florida, fully committed to making her funny, hip library character work.
She'd still be open to another job at a library, she said, even though they're hard to come by these days. Then again, could she ever really deny the Stand-Up Librarian? Would anything else feel so right?
Huey Lewis' The Power of Love cued up on the speakers back at ARTpool. Myers rotated a big orange paint bucket and displayed the words "LET'S DO THIS" on the other side. She skipped down the runway with a red plunger and pointed an electric drill at the crowd.
"That's the power of toooools," she said. "I see the power in yoooouu."
Myers reached into her smock, pulled out a handful of paint chips and tossed them into the air. She had more purses to make, more orders to fill. She had more of her life story to write in a memoir she's penning. And in the morning, she had to report to work at Home Depot. But to her, it all added up to something that worked.
"I am a librarian with a master's degree working for a home improvement center and having the time of my life. …" she told the crowd. "Do it yourself. Do not wait around for people giving you a job. You just create that damn job yourself."
Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Stephanie Hayes can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-9716. Follow her on Twitter at @stephhayes.