If you’re like me, you’ve been holed up in your safe, disinfected home for almost a year now. You’ve read some books, seen some movies you’ve always wanted to see (thank goodness for TCM and Netflix!), caught up on countless hours of TV series you’ve missed, but maybe you’re craving some pure, adult storytelling, à la StoryMasters? Here are some choices you might enjoy.
If you don’t know The Moth—mecca of contemporary storytelling, you should! This non-profit organization, based in New York City, is dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling. The Moth Radio Hour is on NPR; themoth.org site features their story library; The Moth podcast can be found on multiple podcast platforms. Each episode offers a selection of stories on a common theme. There are even StorySLAMs, open-mic storytelling contests: sound familiar? The Moth website currently lists upcoming virtual storytelling events. If you are seeking a good yarn, you can never go wrong with The Moth.
I knew of Spalding Gray as a “performance artist” in lower Manhattan in the 1980s, but that description makes him sound weird, boring, and pretentious. In fact, Roger Ebert called Spalding Gray a “spellbinding storyteller” and the proof is in his autobiographical monologues. Swimming to Cambodia, filmed in 1987 by director Jonathan Demme, captures Gray at his desk onstage discussing the making of The Killing Fields, in which he had a small role. Woven into his personal experiences are tales of troubled, war-torn Cambodia. 1992’s Monster in a Box is a more intimate story of Gray’s life and attempt at writing a novel. Both of Gray’s performances include colorful language and almost an hour and a half of pure, intriguing story. Swimming to Cambodia is available on DVD. You can find Monster in a Box online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VLygq3D3y7A. While at that site, you can also stream Gray’s 1987 HBO special, Terrors of Pleasure, his story of buying a collapsing house in the Catskills of New York. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=otktRxKo2XY
Acclaimed, award-winning actor John Lithgow created Stories by Heart for the Broadway stage, but it’s now available on Audible. In this performance, Lithgow reads a few favorite childhood stories by writers Ring Lardner, P. G. Wodehouse, and W.W. Jacobs from a book called Tellers of Tales. Interwoven with these stories are poignant personal remembrances of growing up with his father, himself an actor and lover of story. Listen to a sample at https://www.amazon.com/Stories-by-Heart-audiobook/dp/B07DKPDSTK.
Springsteen on Broadway, currently streaming on Netflix, is a unique form of storytelling. Accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, piano, and harmonica, Bruce Springsteen—once called the new Bob Dylan—performs his classic songs, interspersed with touching tales of growing up in New Jersey, leaving to find fame, and winding up living 10 minutes from his hometown. Wistful, funny, and poetic, Springsteen also loves the F word, so be forewarned.
Tony and Pulitzer Prize nominee Anna Deavere Smith’s one-woman show Notes from the Field dramatizes the real-life stories of students, parents, teachers, and school administrators. Each story is told by Smith in character. Poignant, political, and ultimately hopeful, Notes from the Field speaks to the school-to-prison pipeline that pervades America’s public school systems. You can watch the trailer here https://www.hbo.com/movies/notes-from-the-field; watch the entire film on HBO.
Finally, I want to give a tip of the hat to the first storyteller who truly wowed me, Tom Lee Storyteller. After studying German, Tom went to London to study acting and began telling original Grimms’ fairytales in pubs there. A professional storyteller for 30 years, he dramatically performs traditional stories, folktales, and myths from around the world for adults and for children. His stories are painstakingly researched and beautifully told. OK, so he’s kind of ghosted me over the years, but I admire his work and encourage you to listen. You can hear him perform The Tale of Taliesin at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ACko1Ngy2LU or find additional stories on his website http://www.tomleestoryteller.net. Heck, go here and buy a ticket to one of his upcoming virtual events, and tell him I sent you.
Once you’re done with these recommendations, do a google search to find countless links to regional storytelling events. I think you still have some time before your Coronavirus vaccine arrives to enjoy the wonders of fine storytelling.