From Staff Reports
The last few years have been a strange and quiet time in the performing arts, especially for live performers who are accustomed to playing for a packed house.
Storyteller Andy Offutt Irwin spent long hours riding his bike, whizzing meditatively through his hometown of Covington, Georgia. He also built a race car with his son from the ground up, installed a new roof, and replaced the flooring of his house.
“I went through that same funk that everybody went through,” he said. But the bike rides helped.
Like many storytellers, Irwin found a scenic corner of his property and set up a camera, telling stories and singing songs in front of a magnolia tree. These virtual performances required developing a whole new set of skills.
“One has to teach Zoom that the guitar is not, say, an air conditioner coming on,” Irwin said. As a humorist who depends on live feedback from his audience, he felt a little strange pausing for laughs that he couldn’t actually hear.
Ready to thrive on the energy from a live crowd, Irwin is thrilled to preside over the opening of the 19th season of Storytelling Live! in downtown Jonesborough, where the International Storytelling Center is welcoming back in-person audiences for the first time after a two-year hiatus.
From Tuesday to Saturday, May 3-7, Irwin will perform daily matinees at 2 p.m. in ISC’s downtown theater. Tickets are just $14 for adults, $12 for seniors and military, and $7 for people under age 18.All audience and staff members will be required to wear a mask inside the theater.
For anyone who wants to watch from home, one of Irwin’s performances will be filmed and available online for a limited time, with a single $15 ticket covering everyone in the purchaser’s household. A limited number of in-person and virtual season passes are available while supplies last, which offer a heavy discount from the price of regular admission.
During his weeklong storytelling residency, Irwin plans to include new stories that he’s excited to debut. Many of them feature his most famous fictional character, Marguerite, and he also plans to share a range of lighthearted ghost stories and story-songs.
For Irwin, returning to the stage has been affirming and energizing, with crowds who seem to be even more excited than he is.
“People are hungry for action,” he said. “The group dynamic is tighter, and it’s more electric. I’m going to give the people what they want as hard as I can.”
The premier sponsor of Storytelling Live! is bioPURE. Additional program funding comes from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Tennessee Arts Commission, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Niswonger Foundation, ETSU, East Tennessee Foundation, Humanities Tennessee, Hillhouse Creative, Carol and Bobby Frist, the Norris Family Fund, Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa, and the Frist Foundation. Media sponsors include the Joneborough Herald & Tribune, Kingsport Times-News, Johnson City Press, Cumulus Media, News Channel 11, WJHL 11, ABC Tri-Cities and Daytime Tri-Cities.
The International Storytelling Center is open 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday. For more information about the Storytelling Live! series, including the full schedule, or to purchase tickets and season passes, visit www.storytellingcenter.net or call 1-800-952-8392.