School of Theatre and Dance brings stories to life

By Jessica Cabe

What do a spider, a United States marine, a magician and a Haitian girl all have in common?

They all have stories to tell.

The NIU School of Theatre and Dance presented Storytellers Theatre Thursday through Sunday in the Corner Theatre of the Stevens Building.

The Corner Theatre provided an intimate setting for about 70 audience members. The stage setup was appropriately simple, consisting of two armchairs separated by a wooden end table and a faux fireplace.

The performance was part of a storytelling class taught by the show’s director, Patricia Ridge. There were twelve performers Thursday night, including Ridge herself.

The stories ranged from intensely personal to outrageously fictitious. The show opened with Gabriella Hankins’ performance of Miss Spider’s Tea Party, a children’s book by David Kirk. The story tells of a friendly spider who wants desperately to be the hostess of a tea party with all the bugs in the neighborhood. The bugs are, naturally, quite terrified. It is only after Miss Spider takes care of a cold, wet moth that the bugs trust her and have a nice tea party with her. Hankins’s performance flourished with expert execution of both physical and vocal comedy.

Chris Dodge provided a stand-out performance as well. The veteran, who served from 2002 to 2008, told funny stories about what Marines do when they’re bored. Dodge served as a prison guard in Iraq. He said his job was pretty dull, so in order to entertain himself, he started envisioning celebrity faces in the inmates’ mug shots. He assured the audience that John Belushi is alive and well. He also told of hog-tying a fellow marine and playing other pranks. The part of his stories that won me over was the delivery: He maintained a conversational tone throughout his performance, solidifying the idea that the audience was a group of friends listening casually to personal anecdotes.

Tom Passas delivered an entertaining performance about his first trip to a magic shop. At this particular shop, a secret room was hidden by a trap-door bookshelf where the store owner would teach a customer how to do whatever magic trick he or she purchased. Since it was Passas’ first time in the shop, the owner took him in the hidden room and showed him a card trick, which Passas demonstrated for the audience. Passas would show us six cards, each one individually, then throw three away. Magically, there were still six cards in his hand. He told of his desperation in learning the trick, the same desperation that the audience felt upon seeing it. He left with the secret to a magic trick: It’s okay to not know something. Knowing everything takes away the magic.

Sarah Theodore-Young told the audience the story of a magic orange tree, which she said her grandmother used to tell her in Haiti. This was far and away the best fictional story of the night with the most expert delivery. It told the tale of a young girl whose mother died and whose father married a horrible stepmother. The stepmother would starve the little girl and take away all her nice clothes. One day, the little girl ate three oranges sitting on the table. When her stepmother found the empty dish where the oranges once were, she grew furious. The little girl ran away to her mother’s grave and prayed that no harm would come from her small theft. As she was praying, an orange seed fell from her dress and began to sprout. She sang to it, and it grew even faster. When her stepmother grew near, the little girl climbed the orange tree to hide. The stepmother began chopping down the tree, so the little girl sang to the tree so it would die and break. When the tree broke, it fell on the evil stepmother, forcing her machete into her stomach and killing her. The little girl fell on a soft pile of leaves and survived. The moral of the story is no matter where you are, your parents’ love is always there to protect you.

The rest of the performers delivered both personal and fictional tales, leaving the audience with something new to ponder. One of the oldest forms of entertainment is still alive and well.