“Damn, he sent both of you after me?” I thought to myself.
I had evaded phone calls and a note put into my locker. I had walked away from theater in 1990 to pursue a new high school endeavor: get paid for making copies for a national copier store. I had no beef with Chris or Cindy. In fact, all three of us had starred in the same one act play. High school, for me, had awkward transitions and this situation was one of them.
“I don’t want to audition. I am not interested,” I protested.
“Let me tell you what the part is, ok?” Chris negotiated. I shrugged. “Hacky is the second in command to the captain…”
“Not interested,” I restated.
“Chill, Dude. he gives the orders to all of the deck hands,” Chris went on to explain. I shook my head ‘No’ throughout his summary.
“Chad, I know he wrote the part for you,” Cindy added. The “HE” was Craig Brewer. He was the writer, director, and star of the production.
Puzzled, I inquired further, “Seriously?”
With a sense that my resolve started to crumble, I blocked out what Chris detailed until I heard, “…Irish Story Teller…” He unlocked the cypher and had my attention.
As a child, I had always been fascinated by story tellers. The attention to details and leaving bread crumbs for the listener to follow. All the other positives to go after the role of Hacky were a blur as Chris secured my promise to audition.
Twenty four years later and unemployed with two Master’s degrees, I was stuck in one of those life transitions once more. Chris and our friend Julie encouraged me to consider public speaking since the non-profit world had passed on my job applications. Both friends promoted the benefits of developing a blog and work toward public speaking.
Again, I found myself reluctant and the two friends kept me focused.
This blog is a reframing of past events. I search for the Universal Truths, the villain, the catalyst, and the resolution. The heroes do not always win but usually something is learned from the experience.
I set a goal for myself to write and submit a story. I wasn’t certain who or where. I binge listened to story telling podcasts like the Moth and RISK. Like a far away star lighting up the dark sky, my dream to take the stage and tell a true story.
I wrote up an authentic account of a miraculous occurrence that happened in Egypt after I lost my sight. I was so anxious that I sent it to the host of RISK without any contact information or explanation. The producers were interested and asked me to record the story.
Jennifer, Perry, & I went over to my Best Man’s home & studio. Rudd had given me some focused suggestions for the story. My internal plan was to record three takes. The first one was to be a throw-away. I gave myself the freedom to mess up but I’d tighten up the loose ends for Take Two. Most certainly by the third take, I should be primed and ready.
After the first take, I finished with tears in my eyes. “Man, I am sorry. I’ll do better on the next take.”
“Nawh, Man. That was it right there,” he assured me.
We listened to the audio playback. While I would have have altered a couple of things, the story was heartfelt and captured the experience I wanted to convey to the listener.
We sent the digital copy to the RISK producers and waited.
In my youth and haste of adulthood, I would have swung for the fence. A lifetime can be lived in a day. The journey can be missed if all that is sought is the destination. I wanted to savor and fully recognize this precious moment. I recorded a story. I got to spend the day with two dear friends and Jennifer. I got to relive a fantastic memory. If the story ended here, my cup was full.
The producers said they thought the story was quite good but did not fit the RISK esthetic” for the type of podcast. The email went on to express that their interest was peaked by an element of my original story. The producer asked if I would consider writing a story about the deeper element. Those words clicked and I understood the challenge.
If my story was a tire, it was a solid road tire but they needed a rugged off-road one. They wanted a story for a specific type of listener. I recorded the new story and got offered a slot on the February 14th event in Dallas.
A few days before the event, I got an email from the host Kevin Allison. A master story teller, Kevin and another story teller founded the RISK podcast. People would get on stage and, in front of a crowd, would tell a story they never thought they would dare to share. RISK has stories that stretch the listener by exploring the depth of an experience where someone took a risk or is taking a risk by sharing the story. Often with graphic language, crude subject matter, and risqué ventures, the podcast is not for the easily offended listener. I heard stories where a person described being sexually assaulted, the loss of a family member, and the moment the person’s mortality was threatened by a gun, an accident, or cancer.
I hadn’t the foggiest idea what to expect at a live story telling event. Nervously, we went to the venue the night before to locate entrances and identify a spot where PearBear might need to park. We asked if we could purchase a couple of tickets for two friends; however, the show was sold out.
“Sold Out” rang in my head earlier that week. On some level, I imagine twenty people at a smokey, stale bar while a story teller gestured and waxed poetic with a microphone.
Not so much a monologue, a story has an arc. For me, I labeled certain parts as pivot points. I wasn’t certain the words before or after but I knew where to turn the story and bring the listeners along for the journey.
I had to go back to the loss of my sight to revisit emotions buried with time and distance. I spent the morning listening to songs I sang during that period of time. A song called “Crawling In The Dark” accurately portrayed my despair. Wisely I had removed it from my Playlist. I sobbed as I reached back to handle the feelings of vulnerability and isolation. The experiences like spices pushed to the back of the rack. Perhaps I might use these sensations as I recount the story to pepper and zest what I prepared in front of an audience.
An hour and a half before call, Jennifer & I got to meet Kevin. Kevin has a melodic voice that draws out certain syllables and emphasizes particular words. I found myself hang on his every sentence. A total gentleman and professional. Kevin set me at ease and was a gracious individual throughout the process.
I had three friends that we were able to get into the show and Jennifer sat with them.
The show began with the RISK show song. After Kevin warmed up the crowd, it was my turn. So many things could have gone wrong. I flashed to that scene of Rockstar where, on the singer’s debut performance, he tripped on stage. At the moment I readied to take the stage, there were uneven steps going up, a door frame, a curtain, and then a sudden step down.
My survival instinct kicked in and I visualized successfully navigating to the microphone. Kevin grabbed my arm and guided me to the mic. My lungs emptied as I heard my voice amplified through the speaker system. I grabbed the microphone off the stand and caught my breath.
I let go of Perry’s harness and had his leash attached to my belt. Earlier in the day, we had doubled our normal length of our route to a 10k in order to tucker him out. Luckily, PearBear only peeped out between the speakers. Exhausted, he laid down for my entire story.
As an homage to Hacky, the Irish Story Telling character that sparked my interest, I planned to season one line with the Irish accent I cultivated 26 years ago.
I got off stage and could not remember if I hit my pivot points. In fact, I was not secure that I even dropped the breadcrumbs for the audience to follow along. It was reminiscent of those times when I arrived at a location after a long car ride yet had no memory of the actual drive.
One of the other story tellers recounted a couple of my pivot points that he thought were original and appreciated my perception of life.
I stayed backstage during intermission as I imagined I would be unable to hear with the crowd’s chatter. Truthfully, I was introverting at the time.
I got the privilege to visit with Kevin during the down time. Certainly a character, he is a tender soul with an appreciation for the opportunities life presents. In that shared space, I saw how he is a self-actualized person.
The last story teller had a dynamite piece that was jaw dropping and had me intrigued to what happened next. I could not believe I got to perform on the same stage with such high caliber story tellers.
Jennifer & my friends came backstage after the show. Still numb, all I could do was smile and thank them for coming out on a Sunday night. The experience didn’t feel real.
On our way home, Jennifer played me the audio she captured on her phone. I may have struggled a few times but I am proud and pleased with the results. Once more, if the story ended here, truly my cup was full.
On the morning of February 22, 2016 I was up early to prepare my coffee for the day. Jennifer is usually asleep so I pick an audiobook or podcast to center myself. My podcast app said there was a new RISK podcast so I began it. “Hey, folks. This is Kevin. On this week’s episode of RISK, you’ll hear Chad Duncan…” I screamed out!
I had no idea my story was in consideration for the podcast. Yes, I knew it was recorded. My friends said it was good but I had no sense that it was good enough for RISK. The podcast, that inspired me through the isolation of blindness, added my voice to the chorus of other story tellers.
Then I heard that Ray Christian was, also, on the podcast. Unbelievable. When I first described to one of my friends, who happened to be in the audience, about the RISK podcast, I used one of Ray’s stories as an example of an outstanding story teller.
At this point, my cup overflowth.
Chad Duncan, Story Teller…
I began the year with the intention to find a way to tell a story in front of a live audience and my dream came true. What do you do when a dream has come to fruition? According to the modern philosopher? Samuel Hagar, “Dream another dream.” That’s a story for another day…
With a few days to reflect how all of this occurred, I have to give credit to my friends & family who encouraged me. I have those type of people who speak the truth. I rely on their perspective and willingness to push me beyond my comfort zone. Being surrounded by individuals who bring the best out of me only makes me stronger.