Storytelling and Improv
By Brendyn Schneider
As a storyteller, one of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received was having someone in the front row recite a piece of the story along with me. He had seen me perform before and it left enough of an impression that he had it memorized. I remember thinking, isn’t that cool!
The art had transcended the artist like a bubble from a wand. This guy caught it with his own wand and blew it off again, a little different, a little bit his own. The original story was still mine but now he had a version.
In essence, he was covering my story. Straight-up covers are great and in this case, flattering but let’s take it a step further. If you want to get really funky with creation, let’s talk re-interpretation, taking the source material and turning it on its head. Here’s where Stories to Scenes comes in. I’ve performed with this Massmouth/ImprovJones collaboration five times since its 2014 inception and I am always impressed. Based on the steadily increasing attendance, the audiences agree.
Here’s how it works. H.R. Britton, board member of Massmouth invites four performers to come and tell first-person stories. The performers have included stand-up comedians and a wide range of storytellers including folk tellers and autobiographical tellers. After each tale, Improv Jones takes the stage and riffs off the story, stretching, re-imagining and extrapolating. It’s like watching reflections of your story through a funhouse mirror.
Improv Jones Artistic Director, Joe Gels told me that this teller/improv smashup is known as Armando but Stories to Scenes gives it a twist.
“Most Armandos have one storyteller tell multiple stories,” he explained. “We have four which brings a variety of voices and experiences to the show. Stories to Scenes is my favorite show to do every month. To be able to draw inspiration from such rich source material is a great gift for an improviser.”
My best Stories to Scenes experience happened this past December. I performed a story called “Christmas Tree King.” It centers on my dad’s guardianship of our Christmas lights when I was growing up. His eagle-eyed protection found its crescendo after I witnessed a metal head steal the lights from the blue spruce in our front yard. Every night after dinner, for a week, my dad laid low like a green beret, watching, waiting. When the guy finally returned, my father raced after him with the first thing he found, my Wiffle Ball bat. According to legend, Dad caught him in Old Man Olsen’s yard and, with great thunder, guaranteed the light’s safety for years to come.
After my story, Improv Jones took the stage and the makers of the Wiffle Ball bat discussed ways of reversing a dip in sales. One haughty executive suggested marketing it as a defensive measure against metal heads. In another scene, my father’s determination got dialed up to the level of mad scientist, complete with bulging eyes and sweeping gestures of world domination!
There it was – the funhouse mirror in a room buoyant with laughter.
I was honored.
Of course, I’m just scratching the surface here. To get the full dose, you’ve got to experience Stories to Scenes yourself. Who knows? Maybe the next funhouse mirror will be your own!
Photo by P. Junn
Professional storyspinner, published writer and performance instructor, Brendyn Schneider has been a featured storyteller at Emerson College, Coolidge Corner Theater, ImprovBoston and other fine venues across New England. Making frequent appearances with Massmouth and the Moth, Brendyn takes his audiences on story-trips of wit through the follies of growing up and the everyday slog. This past spring, he performed at LANES’ Sharing the Fire Olio Concert. See more at brendynschneider.com
Catch Stories to Scenes, third Saturday of every month, 8pm, Riot Theater, Boston, MA
This blog series is a part of the LANES Connections Project. This task seeks to celebrate connections to other organizations, professions, and milieus to which we are joined through story. If you are joined through story with another organization, profession, setting, style or milieu, we would love for you to share your experiences with us in a blog.