I’ve been a Story Bridge playwright and theater director for twenty years. I moved to Jonesborough, Tennessee, the Storytelling Capital of the World, in 2013 to take on the role of coordinating the town-wide Jonesborough Storytelling Initiative, housed at the historic McKinney Center. This Center has a special place in my heart. When I first came to Jonesborough, hired to write the Community Performance play I Am Home, based on the stories of the people of Jonesborough, we chose this old, segregated school, not yet refurbished, as the location to perform the play. Many people thought we were joking, as there was no running water, no heat or air conditioning (and did I mention, no bathrooms), but there was so much it did have-- community history and memories. But, like a lot of old memories, it was becoming forgotten. The play drew attention to the potential of the old beloved school, and with wise consideration by Town Leadership, was given new life and new use. I just had to be a part of its next story, bringing the Story Bridge model with me, teaching and training the community in the Story Bridge Method. In addition, I continue to write new local plays, as well as a monthly story-based radio show, performed lived at the International Storytelling Center, and broadcast on NPR, now in its tenth season. We have recently acquired a television studio and film equipment, and the community is being trained in mixing the ancient art of storytelling, for which this town is known, with twenty-first century technology that is so important to the next generation of storytellers and creators- and in this way, insuring that the traditions are being passed down, through new and emerging methods.
My passion is bringing new life and new use to old stories, in innovative ways. Through the years, I’ve written over forty plays that have been produced in the United States and abroad. I am always astounded by the extraordinary lives of ordinary people, and discovering their hidden treasures as I search through their stories and mine for those gems. My father, in addition to being a Colonel in the Army, was also an archaeologist. He and my mother used to take me out on digs, finding artifacts, and always, always, each item that was surfaced told a story. I feel like in a way, I am continuing the work of my parents, only now, instead of digging through the dirt, I’m sorting through memories, and just as my father worked to piece the fragments together to complete a whole artifact, I work, through my plays, in piecing together the bigger story, the broader picture of the community and its people, and with it, a trajectory of hope for the future, through the guidance of their wisdom from the past.
I find great joy in working with people of all ages to discover their own potential as storytellers, either in traditional oral storytelling, story writing, film making, script writing, app development, or other creative interpretations. I know these stories make a difference. I’ve seen it happen. The time that most vividly stands out for me is from my play Um Caminho Sobre O Muro, or A Way Through the Wall, which was translated into Portuguese and performed in Rio de Janeiro, as a project to help reduce child initiation into the drug cartels in Rio’s notorious favela, Providencia. The play was also used as an instrument to reinstate needed social programs there. Within six months of the performance, several of these programs were reinstated. While I was working there, this favela was known for rampant crime and occupation by drug cartel Commando Vermehlo, whom I had to work with and around, through sieges that saw bullets tear into our theater walls and roof. Now, ten years after learning to perform and tell their stories, Providencia is a leading example of a neighborhood using arts to transform its economy and raise its quality of life. It served as a tourism point during the Olympic Games, utilizing members of the original ensemble cast leading the story-based tours that took place- tours they created themselves, using the Story Bridge method. They discovered the power of their own stories, and are now using them to transform their community. Every community has this power, when it knows its own story. And--so does every person. We are the stories we tell.