Joanna Tebbs Young
CIRCLES OF COMMUNITY
Earlier this year, a crew from CBS News came to Vermont on a fly-by visit (literally — they used a drone for some footage) for a seemingly random story: “The Storytellers of Vermont.”
Why did CBS focus specifically on Vermont’s new take on this old tradition, when storytelling as an art is seeing a resurgence around the country? When the International Storytelling Center, one of many such organizations, is based in Tennessee? When The Moth Radio Hour, a traveling storytelling show broadcast across the land on National Public Radio, has become so popular?
As CBS’s visually appealing and informative five-minute piece ultimately points out, it may have something to do with Vermont’s landscape.
Vermont has a unique landscape, mostly rural, with small towns and communities nestled in its valleys and dotted along its two major byways. Each town has its own distinct personality, and as Rutland’s Michael Kingsbury, founder of the storytelling event, The Rumpus, and one of the three storytellers interviewed for the story, has witnessed, the stories told in each town often reflect these differences. “Each location adds diversity,” he says. “The Rumpus celebrates the stories of this county. You get to see what a town is really about.”
In its third season, The Rumpus features locals telling true, first-person stories at locations around the Rutland County area, including Speakeasy Café, Chaffee Art Gallery, College of St. Joseph, and The Brick Box in Rutland, the Book Nook in Ludlow, Proctor’s Wilson Castle, Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, and Poultney’s Stone Valley Arts. Keeping the show on the road, Michael says, “keeps it fresh.”
Open to everyone and anyone, the Rumpus is what Michael calls a human-sharing event. The tales — sometimes sad, sometimes funny, always relatable — which Michael describes as “well-crafted stories with a beginning, middle and ending,” are often based on a predetermined theme. Intentionally staying away from political subjects, Michael says the format and universal theme of the event help the audience “get to know people very well in just a few minutes.”
Sitting inside Paramount Theater’s Brick Box Theater in the CBS video, Michael leans into the camera to explain it is his belief that “the way we connect across generations” makes storytelling in Vermont so important. “It’s the way we find out that we all really share the same experience. And it’s because of where we live. It’s because of the people that we are.”
It was appropriate that Michael would be filmed in the Brick Box. Similar to a space in Cleveland, Ohio where he went through three years of improvisational comedy training with a satellite conservatory program of the famous Chicago comedy theater school, Second City, it holds a special place in Michael’s heart. He finds Rutland’s tiny theater space — what he calls “a little treasure” — comforting. “I walk in and say, ‘I’m home.’”
He also thinks the well-designed space is perfect for storytelling. “The space itself helps the performance. It’s personal. The audience has to interact.”
For this reason, Michael is bringing “Best of The Rumpus” back to the Brick Box this coming weekend, on Saturday, August 4.
Assembling some favorite storytellers from all over Rutland County, the event will be a celebration of two successful seasons. Storytellers Brandy Reynolds, Jennifer Jasper, Judi Tompkins, Matthew Riley, Chris Kennedy, Chuck Battles and Anne Mullins will tell stories, some which have been told before, some new, some just new to Rutland.
Bringing the county together through stories seems appropriate at this particular time of division in our country. “Hearing these tales gets us somewhere,” Michael says. “To an emotional resolve, and we find we are all similar.”
IF YOU GO
An Evening of Live Storytelling
The Brick Box Theater. Doors will open at 6:30 and the show will start at 7 p.m.
Contact Michael Ray Kingsbury for info
Watch the CBS segment here: www.cbsnews.com/news/the-storytellers-of-vermont/
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