Storytelling school

In anticipation of a new season of storytelling, Andy Offutt Irwin revisits his roots | Culture & Leisure

JONESBOROUGH – Storyteller Andy Offutt Irwin will soon kick off a highly anticipated season of live storytelling in downtown Jonesborough.

“It’s really exciting to be back on the road,” Irwin said. “It’s my natural habitat.”

Irwin will be the first in a line of 26 tellers that will include Donald Davis, Bil Lepp and Sheila Arnold. From May to the end of October, these diverse and energetic performers will travel to the “Storytelling Capital of the World” for a week-long stay as the city’s resident storyteller.

From Tuesday to Saturday, these storytellers will offer matinee performances in the Center international de contes theater at 2 p.m. Irwin’s residency begins Tuesday, May 3. Throughout the season, select artists will host additional children’s concerts, evening shows and workshops. Advance registration is strongly recommended.

Irwin has been a Jonesborough mainstay since 2005, when it was first featured at the National Storytelling Festival. Carmen Deedy discovered it while performing as a musician in venues across Atlanta, prefacing songs with stories so long his bandmates would occasionally pause for a beer.

“She told me I was a storyteller,” he recalls. And just like that, he was. He and Deedy first shared the stage in Atlanta in 2003. “I left my guitar at home on purpose,” Irwin says.

A storytelling career was a natural fit after years as a writer, teacher, actor and musician. Irwin had also honed his technique as a radio show host on Georgia Public Radio. By the time he went on the road, he had a full gear list, even though he was a newly minted cashier.

Then, the following year, he had to start over.

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“I realized that, yuck, I needed new things,” he says. “That’s when Marguerite became more of a thing. She became more inescapable after that first year because she kept talking to me.

Irwin refers to his most famous fictional character, an elderly lady with a deep Southern accent whom he always introduces as his aunt. “Marguerite has been 85 for a very long time now,” he says. “I always say she ‘recently’ got her medical degree, and ‘recently’ that’s been that long. But people still believe it.

Over the years, Irwin’s repertoire has come to include stories from the extended universe of Marguerite, with an expansive cast of characters that rival the mythology of a Marvel movie.

“I always say that if people believe a fictional character is real, it’s because the writer or performer believes it too,” Irwin says of the warm reception his invention received. “If I don’t believe, you won’t believe. In fact, Marguerite sort of tells me what she means.

At Jonesborough, Irwin will be in residence until Saturday, May 7. Tickets for all live shows are just $14 for adults, $12 for seniors and military, and $7 for those under 18. A show will stream online each week for people who want to watch from home, with virtual tickets priced at $15 (which covers admission for everyone in the buyer’s household). Discounted season passes will be available for a limited time.

The first sponsor of Storytelling Live! is bioPURE. Additional funding for the program comes from the National Endowment for the Arts, Tennessee Arts Commission, U.S. Department of the Treasury, Niswonger Foundation, ETSU, East Tennessee Foundation, Humanities Tennessee, Hillhouse Creative, Carol & Bobby Frist, the Norris Family Fund, Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa and the Frist Foundation. Media sponsors include the Herald & Tribune, Kingsport Times News, Johnson City Press, Cumulus Media, News Channel 11, WJHL 11, ABC Tri-Cities and Daytime Tri-Cities.

The Center international du conte is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Saturday. For more information about Storytelling Live!, including the full schedule, or to purchase tickets and season passes, visit www.storytellingcenter.net or call (800) 952-8392.

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