Monday, March 17, 2014

Pickwick's Special: A Winter's Tale at The Red Door

Yesterday evening, this Pickwickian braved the lingering deep freeze and headed over to the cozy space of The Red Door for this season's final "A Winter's Tale". The love/brain child of Michelle Moon and our in-house nose, Steve Johnson, this intimate reading session provides a platform for local performers/writers/folks-who-think to stand before a room and tell an unscripted tale. The evening's theme was "Rites of Passage" and being in attendance felt suspiciously like a rite of passage, in and of itself. Sitting and listening to stories that ranged from the hilarious to the heartwrenching, and all introspective and necessary, I was reunited with the human need to listen and tell and my heart was filled.

Kevin Baringer on being a huggy, closet Hulk
I spoke with Steve Johnson about what inspired this meeting of hearts. 

Why did you start A Winter's Tale?

AWT came about because of a perfect storm that developed between Michelle and I wanting to provide the local arts scene something to do in the worst part of the year, weather-wise. Winter is always a time when people tend to stay in and "mole up" and we wanted to create a kind of fireside for people to warm themselves with. No better way than storytelling! It was really just a silly idea we just talked about doing until Karen Marzloff, Founding Editor at The Wire Magazine (and our AWT sponsor) heard about it in passing and jumped in to help promote it to a wider audience. Someone we knew in the scene was friends with Cresta Smith, manager at the Red Door (and our host for AWT), so a meeting was arranged. Sundays are traditionally not big nights for the Red Door in the early evening, so it was an easy choice for her to make to test-drive this storytelling idea in front of an actual audience.

So we set some dates aside from January - March back in 2010, and with support from The Wire, were able to get an audience interested. I used my arts connections to find eight performers to get on stage, and the rest is now a Seacoast tradition.

Full house!
Explain a little bit about the power of telling a story.

I think the power in telling a story comes from the fact that people NEED to tell them. We're social beings and always are processing our experiences internally as we go through life. Part of that process is the need to reach out and connect and reassure ourselves we're not alone in the joys and trials of our lives. So getting together at an agreed place and creating a safe, welcoming environment to share our experiences is absolutely built-in to who we are as human beings. Whether it's a church, sporting event, or just telling stories to each other, we've been doing it since we stood upright and began cooking up seared mastodon nachos.

Dawne Shand speaks about one stern & wonderful mama!
Do you have any specific moments from the Portsmouth sessions that stand out for you?

Standout moments from the entire run? For me, just watching people who would otherwise swear up and down that they're shy and "don't have any stories worth telling" get up on our stage and talk about deep, sometimes even traumatic or seismic that they've been through and own their journeys with them. We've had memoirs from people performing at AWT, writing groups begun, even other storytelling groups form from out of the audience and performing acts. AWT has been an enormous catalyst for personal empowerment and creative projects.

And for me, that's why I loved doing it all these years: just that gorgeous, defining moment when people hear about the show or see it and adopt it as their own. We've had numerous performers do multiple events and audience members who've never missed a single show- in FOUR YEARS!

Thanking the audience for a good run
 Is there anything else that you would like to share with the Pickwickians?

Anything I can do as a creative artist myself to create a space for people to share and learn about themselves and their strengths, I will do. It's beautiful to see our show mean so much to so many different people and create such a long-lasting community feeling. It's the best thing I've ever been a part of doing on stage.

Just about my favorite couple...
Let me in there!
Thank you so much, Steve and Michelle, for bringing your passion and creativity to the Seacoast! We are sorry to see this particular venture go down to Salem for the years to come (I'll be making the drive!), but are sure to see many incarnations of it spring up in our fair city. Ideas have no expiration date, after all.
One more evening with plaid and neutrals on this most fitting of farewells to the season
My companion, photographer and wonder, Christopher D'Amore and I stepped back out into the brisk air as different animals. The cold seemed more tolerable and the quiet, cobbled streets were suffused with the pale light of winter's final full moon. There was no sound but the echoes of experience- no feeling but warmth.

"You're never going to kill storytelling, because it's built into the human plan. We come with it."
- Margaret Atwood

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