Sound check, lights set, crowd arrives. Waiters bustle drinks to the tables. Other tellers get up, short intermission, one more teller up, then my turn. They’d saved me for the last. Two steps up onto the wooden black stage, cross to the center and adjust the mic. The warm stage lights highlight people’s faces in the crowd, sitting at my feet just off stage and all the way to the back of the room. The place is packed. Nice to see sweet friends mixed in the audience.
There are few places I feel more at home than when I’m on stage. When I’m prepared. And I don’t get on stage unless I’m prepared. And, like a mantra, wherever I perform, I always arrive early, walk that stage, get comfortable with it and mentally fill the audience space before the front doors open.
It’s Austin Testify’s October show. The producers mix non-tellers with pros to tell true stories. The emphasis is on the human element, the experience of the teller with the audience, sharing the truth and the effect is priceless.
This month’s theme is Skeletons, so most everyone’s story is dark. My story, Charlie’s Ashes is about how we inherited a fourth of Charlie. My brother-in-law Jerry’s partner, Charlie died, his ashes were divided, and continued to travel. As did Jerry’s ashes later. Sure, it’s tragic, but the true tale is filled with quirky moments that are bizarrely funny.
My delivery and pacing was on point. I played the crowd evenly, connected with them, adlibbed a bit and dryly played for laughs. The audience rolled with the story. They moved from laughter to respectful reflection to tears and back to laughter again. They got the dark humor, responding with belly laughs and at the end, great applause. Rumor on the street is that I rocked it.
Many came up after the show to thank me. One said Charlie’s Ashes meant so much to him. He had come out to his Deep South Alabama parents and moved to Austin to be free. I loved that he labeled my story Southern Gothic. Finally I had a moment to look over to see my husband Larry’s sweet proud smile in the crowd. He said I’d given this sad story such dignity and warmth.
I love this fresh way of writing and performing. It’s different for me than my many years of touring my Medieval Comedienne road show from state to state. There’s an immediacy to it and I love it. No more schlepping costumes, backdrops and gear through airports and down highways. Just get my material written and up, get myself ready, get there early and get on stage. I’ll be doing more of this. It’s where I’m headed next. — By Martha Hannah