Friday, January 25, 2013

Storefront Theatre Shines with God's Man in Texas

Reviewed by Linda Goodman
During the past few weeks, I have learned three things about Waxhaw, North Carolina’s The Storefront Theatre:

1. Reserve your tickets as soon as they are available. I saw a flyer about the show two weeks before its opening, and called for reservations immediately; but they were already sold out. Thank goodness I was close enough to the top of the waiting list that I was able to get a ticket when someone else cancelled.

2. Get to the theater (in the Museum of the Waxhaws on Highway 75) EARLY if you want a good parking place and a good seat. I arrived five minutes before show time on Sunday afternoon, and I was able to get neither of those luxuries.

3. Expect an excellent production. God’s Man in Texas, by playwright David Rambo, done as a concert reading, was so beautifully executed I forgot all about both the parking situation and the seat.

Set in the present in Houston, Texas at the fictional Rock Baptist Church (a mega church that reflects the excitement of Las Vegas as much as it does the glory of the Lord), the play is the story of eighty-one year old Dr. Philip Gottshall, the church’s pastor, and his power struggle with Dr. Jeremiah Mears, a younger minister who has been brought in by the congregation in preparation for the day that Gottshall will no long be able to fulfill his pastoral duties.

Melvin Faris, as Gottshall, expertly portrays the enthusiasm, the skepticism, the jealously, and, finally, the contempt the great man has for the congregation and the pretender who would dare to replace him. “I will go in God’s time!” he thunders, filled with righteous indignation. Clearly this silver-tongued devil plans to go nowhere until his cold, hard body is put in the ground.

Dennis Delamer, as Mears, displays a high degree of sensitivity in his role. He makes it easy to believe that Mears’ faith is sincere, even though he allows himself to be tempted by visions of grandeur for a short while. Mears eventually finds that he prefers whispers, God’s still small voice, to shouting.

Michael Ruff portrays Hugo Taney, a recovering drug addict who is the church’s technical expert, and provides comic relief to balance out the heavy dramatic moments in the play. Ruff embodies Taney with a child-like naivete that endears him to the audience. The audience believes him when he says he could not exist “out there.”

Catherine Smith, whose silky voice can be heard on television and radio throughout the country, read the stage directions will skill and charm.

The show is filled with small details that add a nice flavor to the drama. Broccoli, prunes, and George H.W. Bush are essential to the plot.

Executive/Artistic Director Judy Simpson Cook and The Storefront Theater’s board and stage crew are to be congratulated for bringing this enthralling show to life. I cannot wait to see what they do next!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Our Secret Territory: The Essence of Storytellig

By Laura Simms
Laura Simms’ email:
Published by Sentient Publications, LLC
ISBN: 978-1-59181-172-5, $14.95

Book Review By Linda Goodman

“Let us now crawl under the canopy
Of the currant leaves,
and tell stories.
Let us inhabit the underworld.
Let us take possession of our secret territory.”
Virginia Woolf, The Waves 

            Laura Simms chose the above quote to open her book, Our Secret Territory, a storytelling road map in which she shares with readers her unique understanding of the relationship between the storyteller, the story, and the listener.

            I briefly met Laura at the VASA (Virginia Storytelling Alliance) Gathering at Virginia’s Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen in 2001. In person, she was warm, articulate, and elegant. On the stage, however, she transformed into something else entirely: an otherworldly vessel, a cup made of the finest crystal, bearing wine so sweet that I wanted to drink it slowly because I did know when I might find such again.

            I did not realize at the time that I was “dreaming wide awake.” In this book, Simms introduces dreaming “not as the unconscious activity that occurs when we sleep, but as the natural process of being.” Simms constantly listens to her listeners: “It’s almost as if I think of something, they visualize it, and then I describe it.”

            I came to storytelling from the viewpoint of a writer, and I share stories that I have written. I have loved hearing the folktales, myths, legends, and fairy tales that I have heard others tell, but I myself have told such stories only sparingly. This book may change that.

            Our Secret Territory uses exposition, short tales, and quoted words of wisdom to illustrate each chapter’s theme. A longer tale, The Hen and the Rooster, is interspersed in segments throughout the book as the “route that takes us home.” Through following this tale as it wove itself from chapter to chapter, I finally discovered the key that makes me want to spend more time absorbing and sharing such tales. I suspect that you will find your key, too.

            Having said that, I must confess that the two stories from this book that I carry in my heart are from Simms’ personal story stock: The exquisite T'Boli Dreaming shares a journey to a territory of seven villages, where Simms meets a woman who tells her the secret to the survival of a culture, even if all material evidence of it is lost; In a chapter on “sudden stories” a boy soldier from Sierra Leone, who has been brought to New York to speak with the United Nations about his plight, has to return to the war after ten days of safety. Sobbing, he asks Simms to tell him a story. His deep understanding of the short tale was quite humbling to me. I heard only a simple, somewhat humorous tale. He heard the key to living life in a world where the life of a child does not much matter. His tragic tale magically takes on new meaning. Remembering it both breaks my heart and fills me with awe at the wisdom to be gained from children.

            Our Secret Territory, written by a master who generously shares her expertise and insights culled from many years of experience, is another jewel in Laura Simms’ crown. I expected much and got much more than I expected. I recommend it to both listeners and tellers, especially tellers seeking to take their tales to a deeper level.   

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

101 Games That Teach Storytelling Skills

Book Review

Written by Anthony Burcher and Mike Burcher

Available for $19.95 ($15.96 for ebook)+ shipping and handling from

Reviewed by Linda Goodman

Using their more than fifty combined years of storytelling and camp leadership as a model, Anthony and Mike Burcher have co-authored this comprehensive book that teaches the value of joy and play with regard to storytelling.

The Burchers acknowledge that in recent years, movies, television, audio recordings, and digital media have changed the way stories are told. Dependence on electronic media has led many to fore-go mastering the communication skills necessary to navigate today's social and business paradigms. Social networking has denied users the experience of seeing how others react to what is shared, resulting in the user's own shrinking knowledge regarding how to appropriately listen and respond to others.

So how can one gain these skills in today's modern world? The Burchers suggest duplicating the camp experience, which deliberately limits technology to create an environment that is ideal for learning social and linguistic skills.

This book is divided into three groups of games. Of particular interest is the section on games that teach the skills needed before you take the stage in front of a live audience. These games focus on such elements as imagination, word selection, powers of observation, dedication to practice, and an above average command of both the English language and story structure. Most storytelling handbooks and workshops assume such skills are already in play. Because this book makes no such assumptions, it is a valuable tool for the true beginning storyteller. The Astounding Adjective Name Game, for instance, requires participants to introduce themselves by preceding their names with adjectives that begin with the same letters as their names and also aptly reflect their personalities. This requires a thought process that sharpens word selection skills and mastery of language.

The second group of games focuses on skills needed to perform in front of an audience (facial expressions, gestures, eye contact, etc.). The third group of games focuses on practicing and telling stories in front of and with others. These games include round robin stories, jet speed autobiographies, and other games that keep the story moving when no one knows who is telling next.

With all three groups, the essentials (objective, goal, recommended ages, number of players, energy level, formation, and props) of each game are given prior to the instructions for playing the game. These essentials guide the leader into selecting the most appropriate games for the group of participants.

This book is a good investment for storytellers of all levels. Not only does it aid in the development of new storytellers, but it is a good tool for experienced tellers who want to sharpen skills learned long ago and re-energize their own performances.