What’s Going On
Marie and I had a great weekend.
This was our third trip through the Whistler to Cassatt: American Painters in France exhibit.
The exhibit takes up the entire basement of the museum. And as someone who reads every placard the curators post and as someone who does not read quickly this has been a slow haul.
Frequently, I’ve walked back into the exhibit to look at earlier works to better understand the development of these artists.
As with the Tsherin Sherpa exhibit there are museum staff stationed at the end of the exhibit and I told them I’d sit down with them when I had completed the exhibition. I’m looking forward to their questions.
Then, I had lunch with Charles Wax, Board President of Chamberlayne Actors Theatre (CAT). This is the second time they’ve asked be to join their Board of Directors.
Prior to the pandemic I led their Strategic Planning process. I developed a true appreciation for this little community theatre. The last time they asked was at the height of our taking care of Momma, but now that she has transitioned to her reward and I’ve had some time to grieve, I’m open to considering serving.
I was quite transparent in my reasons for considering accepting the role. I want a strategic alliance for The Storytellers Channel with a theatre community. As such, I agreed to attend their Board retreat later in the month and if the Board agreed I would sign on and if not, no foul, no harm.
CAT lost their lease on their theater during the pandemic. Their landlord wasn’t willing to work with them and paying rent for 18 months with no income would have bankrupted the organization. Moving out was the fiscally responsible thing. They had occupied the Northern Henrico Civic Association’s (formerly the North Chamberlayne Civic Association) community center since 1964. The cohort had a deep since of nostalgia for the facility, but the conditions for staying were insupportable, and so they have become gypsies.
Over the last two years they have performed at Dogtown Dance Center, The Gayton Kirk, Atlee High School, and will open a two-week run of Fireflies this weekend at the HATT Theatre in Richmond’s West End. Sadly, Dogtown is another victim of the pandemic. Word is they’re closing their doors; a great blow to the RVA dance community.
This mix of fiscal responsibility and willingness to overcome obstacles to achieve their mission makes them an ideal strategic ally. I’ll keep y’all abreast of the developments.
This past Thursday, Van Payne, our resident cinematographer, rigged lighting in what had been Momma’s suite and is now my studio. I began Zooming content that afternoon. I’m told the new backdrop and lighting were beautiful. I’m excited to start creating new video content. Thank you, Van.
We finished off the weekend with a party celebrating our niece, Samantha McGranahan’s graduation from VCU and her cousin Sage’s high school graduation. Sage will be rooming with Stephanie, Sami’s little sister, at Richard Bland College in the Fall. And Sami, after completing a successful internship with WWBT- Channel 12, (the local NBC affiliate), is how part of their weekend web team. We’re all celebrating her finding a job in her major.
NOTE: My sister-in-law, Pat Bayer, is a nurse anesthetist. She saw the ad for Susan Landers’ book, So Many Babies, and ordered a copy for Marnie Blalock (the daughter of a friend from her med school days) who just graduated from the Medical College of Virginia. Marnie will be moving to Houston to Baylor Medical Center for her residency in Pediatrics. Marie and I just received our copy of So Many Babies and are looking forward to reading it.
These are just a few of the many things Marie and I accomplished over the weekend. I need a vacation.
Shelli Jost Brady
Shelli is a woman of many talents: entrepreneur, designer, facilitator, consultant, coach, leader, storyteller and Mom.
As gifted as she is, Shelli is very humble. Regardless of the recognition and rewards she has received, she continues to struggle with owning her glorious splendor.
Check out her story by clicking here.
After attending Auburn University, she graduated from the Medical University of South Carolina, in Charleston, South Carolina.
Then she completed three years of pediatric residency training at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, Texas. Next, she completed three years of neonatology fellowship at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston.
Dr. Landers practiced academic neonatology for fourteen years, serving on faculty of two medical schools, and private practice neonatology for eighteen years. While caring for patients full-time in private practice, she served as a speaker for the Texas Department of State Health Services.
She was also the Medical Director of the Mothers’ Milk Bank at Austin and served on the milk bank’s board of directors.
Additionally, she served for six years on the Executive Committee of the Section on Breastfeeding for the AAP.
Together with her husband, Dr. Phillip Berry, she raised three children, one son and two daughters. Her family resides in Austin.
I had breakfast yesterday morning with Shelli Jost Brady, our COO. I’m the only person solely involved with The Storytellers Channel. Everybody else has other responsibilities. A good thing, because the pandemic totally disrupted our original business model and while I have managed to keep the doors open, there’s no way we could have made payroll. So much of our revenue was dependent on ticket sales from theatrical performances. I’m so very thankful for all the people who have remained faithful to our vision.
Shelli is finishing up a PhD program in Leadership, as well as preparing to take the Realtor’s exam. I cannot tell how honored I am that she finds time for The Storytellers Channel.
I was bringing her up to speed on our cinematographer, Van Payne’s lighting work in the studio and she agreed to design the rest of the space. Shelli was one of the founders of the architectural firm SMBW before she went on to start the consulting firm, Alchemy. Once again, humbled. Then she agreed to work out the specs for The Storytellers Channel’s new studio space. We are coming out of this pandemic with a vengeance.
Before the pandemic, Shelli asked me, “Why The Storytellers Channel?” My answer at the time was, “I need to leave my wife financially secure when I die?” We both agreed this wasn’t a particularly engaging mission or vision to recruit staff, storytellers, or audiences. Candidly, the fact is I was so in over my head taking care of Momma at the time, that all I could think of were my familial responsibilities.
I’ve been wrestling with the question ever since and the pandemic gave me ample time to grapple for an answer.
Since our maiden voyage as the Tin Non-Prophets, I have been fascinated by the power of personal story to transform teller and audience alike. I watched the initial eight tellers grow during the process of discerning, crafting, and delivering their stories. But that paled compared to our original audience’s reaction.
Our original audience was made up of family and friends of the tellers. I remember overhearing a fellow at the bar during the first intermission tell another guy, “I had no idea what this was. My wife said we were going and so here I am. But this is great. I’m having a great time.”
Later, during the second intermission, again at the bar, I heard a conversation where two guys explained who they knew among the tellers.
After the show, the audience was slow to leave, as if they didn’t want the evening to end. Several audience members came up to tellers who they had not known prior to the event and shared how they either knew the people in that teller’s story or that they had had similar experiences.
We later learned of two couples who met that night and became fast friends. They returned as audience members later, not knowing any of the tellers, but remembering what a good time they’d had the last time.
Many of you know before my career in advertising and consulting I had had a very successful career in the theatre. Truthfully, while I reveled in my time is advertising and consulting, I have always missed the community and the work of producing plays. My 17-year sojourn through post-secondary academia resulted in my receiving a BFA in Theatre with an emphasis in Directing. My collegiate education has served me well in all my endeavors. That said, I was always trying to recreate the camaraderie, esprit de corps, and commitment to mission found in theatre companies and so often lacking in other work communities.
I’m an avid reader and several of the books I’ve been reading lately have converged to help me better answer Shelli’s question, “Why The Storytellers Channel?”
First is my need for community. I abhor a vacuum, almost as much as nature. And because I subscribe to Peter Senge’s observation that leaders initiate and sustain change while growing leaders I’m inclined to take action to meet my needs.
Hence, my fellow founders and I, all of whom are leaders in our respective fields, started The Storytellers Channel so we would have a place to play, together. We all appreciate stories and recognize the value of stories in building (initiating) and sustaining communities. In fact, we’re inclined to say stories are one of a leader’s most effective tools.
Second, was our shared belief in the value of creative expression. And that one of the greatest obstacles to creativity is the myth of perfectionism. One of the greatest benefits of theatre/live performances is the inevitable deadline of opening night.
We don’t get to delay. Once an opening night is announced, we are compelled to deliver whatever we have developed on that date. There are no excuses. This creates a situation whereby once started; we must deliver. Jon Acuff, in his marvelous book, Finish, explained the toxicity of dreams deferred:
“Goals you refuse to chase don’t disappear – they become Ghosts that haunt you. Do you know why strangers rage at each other online and are so quick to be angry and offended these days? Because their passion has no other outlet. When you refuse to deal in joy, you don’t quit being emotional; you just funnel all that fury someplace else. Many a troll was born from the heartache of a goal he dared not finish. Maybe a troll is just someone who lost to perfectionism so many times that he gave up on his own goals and decided to tear down someone else’s.”
The Storytellers Channel is our vehicle for contributing to the health and welfare of our local community and if we are successful in scaling across the country, we expect to be a force for strengthening communities nationwide.
My mission in life is to enjoy life and to enthuse others to find joy in their lives.
Which brings me to another book that has contributed to my answer to Shelli’s question. In 2020, Matthew Fox released, Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic – and Beyond. Julian was an anchoress during the Middle Ages. She lived her whole life surrounded by the Bubonic Plague. And yet, she never succumbed to the idea that God’s creation was anything but a wonderful gift to humanity.
She invented the word Enjoy.
Considering my mission statement, it’s no wonder her message resonates with me. On top of that she urged people to look for the good in one another. A sentiment echoed by The Gallop Group in their Strengths Finder series and Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Talking with Strangers.
The Gallop folks encourage us to build on our strengths as opposed to shoring up our weaknesses. This supports my opinion there are no well-rounded people only well-rounded teams.
Gladwell explains that while people are lousy judges of whether others are or are not telling the truth; we must default to trusting people or society would grind to halt.
All of this supports my radically optimistic view of the world and is reflective of Julian’s Radically Optimistic Theology. The Storytellers Channel is a place where we can discern and nurture our better natures. A place where we can hear and appreciate the stories of people who may not look like us, but if we listen, we’re bound to discover our shared humanity.
And last, but from my point of view foremost, Catharsis. Storytelling is a form of theatre, and the purpose of theatre is catharsis; defined as the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions.
Which takes us back to Jon Acuff’s explanation for so much of the malevolence in our world today.
Julian of Norwich’s pandemic lasted her entire life. And yet, her reaction was to look for the best in creation.
We at The Storytellers Channel are creating a community dedicated to providing individual, family, community, and business leaders the opportunity to discern their stories and find their voices, so they may have a place to construct their dreams versus striking out in pain and being agents of destruction.
My answer to Shelli’s question is still a work in progress. As I keep ruminating, I have confidence I’ll become more succinct. Thank you for sharing my journey.
I don’t know whether reading this has been even remotely cathartic for you, but I feel a sense of release as I get closer to telling this story in a way that draws tellers and audiences alike to The Storytellers Channel to give them relief from strong or repressed emotions.
Thank you, Marie, John, Deborah, Edie, Greg, Van, Shelli and all our tellers for sharing your gifts and your belief in our shared mission and vision.
Remember, you matter. Your stories matter. Tell them well.
Andy Offutt Irwin is Coming Back to RVA
Tuesday, June 21 7:00 PM
Our dear friend will be giving a house concert in Marie’s and my backyard in Richmond’s Lakeside neighborhood. I’m building him a stage.
Reach out to me at [email protected] if you’d like to join us.
I’d Love to Hear from You
Stories are humanity’s most powerful tool.
I’d love to hear some of yours.
You can share with me at: [email protected]
Til next time,