Storytellers grace Arizona stages

Twenty-some years ago, I had a Sunday morning habit some might find a bit odd.

I’d join a small group of fellow doctoral students in the philosophy of religion to listen to a radio variety show called Prairie Home Companion. We’d gather at the home of a Norwegian friend who’s since returned to his native land, sharing fresh tomato and brie on crusty french bread with a hearty sprinkling of fresh-ground salt.

I wonder how many of those friends are still listening today. It’s not often, I suppose, that our tastes in art and leisure activities go unchanged over time. But as I write this post, I’m listening to a National Public Radio broadcast of Prairie Home Companion from the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco.

The weekly two hour show features the exquisite storytelling of writer and humorist Garrison Keillor, whose first broadcast—from St. Paul in July of 1974—was attended by just a dozen or so folks. His current radio audience numbers about four million.

Though Keillor’s listeners are diverse, his musings have special appeal to folks like me who share his Midwestern Lutheran roots. I was especially intrigued to learn of his Norwegian and Scotch ancestry since it’s been such a fine mix in our family.

I took our son Christopher to see Keillor many years ago when he performed at an outdoor venue in the west Valley. It was Independence Day weekend and Keillor’s guests included fiddler extraordinaire Mark O’Connor.

Once, when we were running errands, we stumbled on one of Keillor’s joke shows featuring his picks of the finest jokes and other amusements submitted by listeners. I sat in the car with Christopher and laughed like the dickens until long after the store we’d driven to opened for the morning.

There’s good news for those of you who don’t find the automobile a particularly appealing venue. Master storyteller Garrison Keillor will be performing at the Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix on Thursday, Jan. 28th at 7:30 pm.

Tickets, including a limited number for premium seating and a post-show reception with Mr. Keillor, are available through the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.

Warning: Those of you who attend are likely to get hooked.

You’ll want to save another date, Feb. 4th, when a live broadcast of Prairie Home Companion will be shown at movie theaters throughout the country, including several in Arizona.

Storytelling buffs (if you’re not one, chances are you haven’t yet given the genre a chance) might also enjoy the following performances…

  • Trailblazing Sadie. Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix. Jan. 26th through Feb. 4th. This one act, one woman piece depicts a day in the life of Sadie Alexander, who was the first black woman to receive a Ph.D. in economics and to practice law as a member of the Pennsylvania bar.
  • Mark Twain Tonight featuring Hal Holbrook. Mesa Arts Center. Saturday, Feb. 6th. Holbrook earned a Tony Award for this one man piece capturing the wit and wisdom of one of this country’s finest authors, who died just a century ago.

Twain gave remarks in 1907 that were later dubbed the “watermelon speech” and included the following words: “I like a good story well told. This is the reason I am sometimes forced to tell them myself.”

Stay tuned for a future post featuring an Arizona college student’s perspective on taking a storytelling class, reflections on storytelling by a local playwright and information on local opportunities to learn the fine art of storytelling.

If storytelling is anything like writing (a craft honed by frequent feasting on the works of other writers), and you have a genuine interest in learning to deliver “a good story well told,” listening to our country’s great storytellers is a dandy way to dig in…


Note: I’ll be attending two shows on Sunday—so look for posts featuring theater reviews during the coming week. And don’t forget to check my reviews of shows in the Broadway Across America in Arizona series at the ASU Gammage website (including the scoop on a meeting of local artists and arts advocates with Estelle Parsons of August: Osage County).


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