Random Acts of Storytelling
Every once in a while, we get it right (no pun intended). We, the ever-growing community of artist-educators, storytellers, musicians, puppeteers, performers, and spoken word artists are sometimes offered an opportunity to do something…that fills other than “empty pockets.”
Such an invitation came my way a few weeks back. It began with an apology from the other side of the Internet, “…I am sure your are booked already, but you never know until you try…”
I suppose it was at that point in the e-mail where I said “YES”, without thinking twice or even knew what this strange wanted me to do. You see, I have based a great deal of my storytelling, teaching, and performing on exactly that premise “…YOU NEVER KNOW UNTIL YOU TRY…”
This person went on to describe briefly that she worked with CASCADE, which was a government-sponsored program, working with recovering alcoholics and drug addicts. These mothers and their children were gong to have a special celebration in their honor and would I consider coming to perform?
Of course “…they had no budget and figured they couldn’t afford me anyway, but…” This simple request caused me to stop and take a moment to reflect as to why I tell in the first place. Yes, I could have politely begged off, citing the fact that the following day I was already doing a “full” day of performances, etc. Instead, I immediately wrote back, that I would be happy to come and be part of her group’s festivities. I even sent her my standard bio and photo attachment to help promote my involvement.
What makes my typical “pro bono” story different, you ask? I got no further response from her, neither by e-mail, nor phone, nor even snail mail. Now, you probably think that should have been the end of the matter. After all, I wasn’t going to make a penny there and there certainly wasn’t any “good exposure” to be gained through my appearance. It BUGGED me, however, that this woman had not gotten back to me.
So, I called her, a few days before the event was scheduled. She could not believe that I contacted her. Apparently, the day she had approached me was the same day she went home sick. She had been seriously ill for nearly a month and had just returned that week to work. She had also long ago assumed that I would not be available, because no one else that she had contacted (magicians, musicians, and even puppeteers) were available. Her father, a retired minister, was coming to show off his card and other sleight of hand “tricks.”
I found out that her original reason for contacting me was due not to my “notoriety”, but mostly to the fact that being originally from Arkansas, she had loved listening to storytelling and storytellers “…most of her life…”
AND THERE IT WAS … another connection as to why I do what I do (and I suspect why many of you do too.). In fact, a little chill ran up my spine as she continued to relate her family’s history of swapping stories over the years. She was so appreciative when she discovered why I had tracked her down, and even more so when I accepted her invitation.
By the time I got to the location for their “Family Fun Day”, I was actually NERVOUS about performing for those folks. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why. I reasoned with myself that they would be happy with anything I did. Heck, she had even said they would be happy that I showed up. I didn’t have to give them my better material.
NO…wait a minute…on the contrary…they deserved my BEST effort…110% PLUS!
I walked into a small office building and an even smaller makeshift performance area in their lunchroom. All around me were moms and their kids, of all ages and cultures. There must have been 75 plus people in attendance. I did not hesitate, set up and tuned up in a flash and POWERED right into my first sing-along story, practically before they had finished introducing me.
You would have thought I was on the main stage of any festival or theater to have heard their reactions. We all SANG…and LAUGHED…and …well…you get the picture. When my 45-minute set was done, neither they nor I wanted to stop.
I’ll never forget the faces and the voices of those women nor the hilarious antics of their children. Ill not forget one minute of our time together.
That day, we all shared one of those rare experiences…that CAN sometimes come from seemingly random acts.
Wright Clarkson is an artist-educator, storyteller, and musician. He teaches and performs throughout the Carolinas and Virginia, specializing in multicultural folk tales, historical legends, and original tales.