Published: Thursday, April 12, 2007
By K. Shawn Edgar
Almost from the beginning Lynne Duddy and Lawrence Howard listened to stories.
For Duddy it was stories and songs her grandmother performed in the living room, while Duddy perched on the couch. "My grandmother was a great storyteller," said the native Oregonian.
Howard's dad would read to him at bedtime from a dog-eared book they simply called "The Green Book." It was fables such as The Tiger's Whiskers and Paul Bunyan that sparked his creativity and imagination. At ten, he learned to recite the Yukon ballads of Robert W. Service.
Together, Howard and Duddy are the captivating duo, StoryHarmonics. "You want your audience to hear in your story a little piece of their own story," said Howard. They have been married for twenty-five years. The couple met in transition. Howard was moving out of a house, as Duddy was moving in.
Shortly thereafter, Duddy was scheduled to perform at a Halloween storytelling event organized by a friend of theirs. Howard explained, "I wasn't originally supposed to be in it, but someone cancelled at the last minute and she ask if I would step in." The excitement of reciting in front of an audience larger and more diverse than just friends and family hooked them both.
Public storytelling can have different rewards than simply sharing stories one-to-one. "The magic of public performance is exchanging and interacting at a very human level with complete strangers," confessed Duddy. "There's a beauty and sweetness that is unique in the experience."
For Howard there is a truly deep "sense that the audience is on a journey with you. And then there are those rare moments when you know you have touched your listener's heart."
The telling of tales in front of a live invested audience allows StoryHarmonics to break the restrictions of the fourth wall found in most theater, film and television, where by an actor pretends not to be performing for an audience and rarely interacts directly.
But for Portland Story Theater (PST) -- a group Duddy conceived and Howard helped bring together -- the goal is to tell stories that form a complete visceral connection with the listeners. Quoting a Canadian friend, Howard said: "The story is told eye to eye, face to face, and heart to heart." The love of this possible human connection through shared experience motivated Duddy to organize the storytelling group.
PST's latest collection of stories is called "Always Say Yes." Catalytic tales of unlimited possibilities, designed to inspire its viewers to always be open to adventure. For performance dates and times, more information can be found at http://www.portlandstorytheater.com.
One major challenge for storytellers, Howard suggests, is to overcome the commonly-held belief that storytelling is just for kids. "There's this thing where you tell someone you're a storyteller and they automatically ask if you read picture books to kindergartners," he said. Early on when he was performing at local libraries -- with the children up front and the parents in back -- the adults reacted just as much, if not more than their kids. He noticed they were visibly involved -- eyes wide, mouths dilating with every twist and turn.
They believe adults need to hear stories even more than children, and aim to present a sophisticated form for a mature audience. One tactic Howard and Duddy have developed is a tandem telling approach where they are both telling the same story and one just butts in on the other whenever the time feels right. This creates a more complex atmosphere, and it mimics how conversations in adult life sometimes happen. They call it the "butt-in-ski" style.
StoryHarmonics is always up for the task of showing a crowd that their craft is important, and not only for the young-in-years. Working with several groups in the Portland metropolitan area, such as their own Portland Story Theater, the Portland Storytelling Guild and Scratch PDX, Duddy and Howard promote their thesis statement -- storytelling feeds adults' hunger for raw, naked experience. In Duddy's own words: "I believe that people are hungry for story, for an opportunity to connect with the universal human experience."