Storytelling takes on TV (and lives to tell the tale)
The art of storytelling is alive and well, lurking in a small downstairs auditorium in Harvard Square with Brother Blue and Friends. Enter and you become one of those friends, taking part in a crowded soul-baring session where you may just be invited to share a story or two yourself.
The first hour is an open mic session for both seasoned and green storytellers; names are picked out of a tin box. If you are a first-time storyteller, your name is put into a separate tin and you are almost guaranteed to have your turn in front of the crowd. The second hour is run by that week’s featured storyteller.
This group started in 1992 convening at the local Bookcellar in Cambridge. Since then it has been held at various venues, including the bookstore Foozles and its current location at the Episcopal Divinity School.
Some of the storytellers featured this past week were Jerome Peace, who performs under the name Peace the Dreamer, Laura Packer, who runs Club Passim’s occasional Storylab, and Dick Freeman, who frequently performs impromptu stories at the Tuesday night sessions. The stories range from anecdotal to theological and soulful. “This is the art of Homer in the day of television – and the art of Homer wins!” commented Peace after his performance.
A common theme for the evening was a reflection on stories about stories. Peace shared a reinterpretation of “Rumpelstiltskin” in which the young maid’s stories helped the imp weave flax into gold. Packer also cavorted with fairy tales in her performance of “Four Short Stories about Beauty and Food; her second story, “Sineater,” reflected a more somber tone, filled with religious mysticism.
“People listen with unbridled enthusiasm and people perform in the same way because it’s enthralling and very powerful … it’s opening the audience to an art,” Freeman said.
Perhaps the most interesting storyteller to watch, to say the least, is the group’s emcee, Brother Blue himself. Chances are, if you’ve been walking around Harvard Square at any point in the past 40 years, you’ve already seen Brother Blue, aka Dr. Hugh Morgan Hill. After earning a Ph.D. from Harvard University, Blue took storytelling to the streets of Cambridge in the late ’60s. He has performed for audiences across the world, but considers Cambridge his home base for a weekly get-together with friends and storytellers alike.
True to his name, he greets the other storytellers and audience members clad entirely in blue, complete with blue blazer, blue-tinted sunglasses and blue knit cap, embroidered butterfly included. Pointing to the butterfly, Blue spins a mellifluous prose poem dedicated to his wife, Ruth: “I look in your eyes and I see paradise … I fell in love with good … and she is the story called truth.” Such soul-baring words are not uncommon at these Tuesday gatherings where the intimate environment makes for something akin to a spiritual experience.
“The way I feel about storytelling is that it’s sacred,” Blue says, and when you’re in front of listeners, “You gotta give them your heart, break it down so people can get it. That’s the human thing.”
Storytelling with Brother Blue and Friends is held Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m. in the Washburn Auditorium of the Episcopal Divinity School , on Mason Street and Phillips Place . Admission is free. For information call (617) 491-8399.