My Midwestern family
told stories, mainly about other people in the family. The
stories rose up out of conversation at the breakfast table,
sitting around in the evening, gathered at reunion, leaning
under the hood of a car. When these casual stories ricocheted
off one another, they would spark memories that we would shape
into even more stories.
Some of those stories had a nice beginning, middle and end,
but others were just bits and pieces of our lives. Some stories
took ten minutes to tell, while others required twenty or
thirty years of repetition to remember all the details correctly.
Invariably, they were shaped by what we knew happened, what
someone told us had happened (other stories), and what should
have happened—the truth and lies that we wrap around
our lives to remember where we come from, share who we are,
and speculate on who we might become.
No one called it telling stories; it was just talk. But over
the years, the stories joined together into a shared memory
made up of stories. We live entangled in a web of informal
storytelling that ties us to family and friends and guides
us out in the broader world. And, of course, each time we
step out into that world we encounter someone else’s
web of stories and become entangled further.
It was years before I recognized the art in the casual talk
that surrounded me growing up, particularly in my father’s
stories. After graduating from the University of Oklahoma
with a BA in acting and directing, I helped found the Oklahoma
Playwrights’ Theater to produce original regional work.
I worked as the house manager for the Minnesota Opera and
found work as an actor, director and stage manager while heading
west. I co-founded the Children’s Theater Committee
in Oregon, writing and directing for three seasons. During
this time, five of my original scripts (two adult comedies
and three children’s plays) were produced.
Then I rediscovered the art of storytelling and the wonderful
cadence of casual language. I was trying to write down my
father’s stories and found the rhythms weren’t
right until I began to speak them. My wife, a children’s
librarian, introduced me to the beginning of the public storytelling
renaissance. And I knew I’d found a life’s work
where I could join the joy of talk and language that I found
in my family with the movement and sense of the dramatic gained
in acting and writing for the theater.
In fact, I adopted my father’s attitude of “there’s
not just one way to get there.” Everything was fair
game in his telling, so he began with a willingness to share
stories that mixed straight-ahead narrative with observation
and a structure that sometimes seemed to wander from the main
point. Eventually, even those wandering asides found their
way back to broaden and deepen the story.
the years, I have worked to wrap that casual attitude and
structure within more formal theatrical conventions. This
provides me the flexibility to move from traditional stories
drawn from my Midwestern and Southern background to contemporary
personal stories and fiction as well as the skills to chart
both the everyday and the fantastic that we run across in
the world, joining--like memory--the past and present to find
the experiences and feelings that we all share.
After telling stories and leading workshops for several years,
I returned to school at the University of North Carolina at
Chapel Hill to study folklore. I then had the opportunity
to spend four years as an artist-in-residence at colleges
through the prestigious North Carolina Visiting Artist Program.
This allowed me to spend nearly every day concentrating on
my work, as well as performing or leading workshops in many
different circumstances for an amazing variety of audiences.
I spent time performing in concert or at church meetings,
museums, with students at all levels, at camps or university
forums, developing work in performance as well as in rehearsal.
Since then I’ve performed at leading storytelling festivals,
such as the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival, the Bay Area
Storytelling Festival, and the Sierra Storytelling Festival
along with the Exchange Place for regional tellers at the
National Storytelling Festival and the San Francisco Fringe
Festival. I continue to work with colleges, schools, libraries,
and many types of community groups including churches, literacy,
and senior organizations.
Along the way, of course, people tell me stories in return.
So, storytelling remains a vital part of American life. We
share our lives in stories to discover who we are.
one said we were telling stories. But family and friends always
shared their lives that way. The stories wrapped around me
while at the breakfast table, at reunions, leaning under the
hood of a car. Shaped by what we knew happened, what someone
told us had happened, and what we knew should have happened—we
shared a tangle of truth and lies to explain who we were,
where we came from and to guess at where we were going. I
returned to this familiar, intimate form after a decade working
in theater as an actor, writer and director.