‘We are all storytellers’ – Debbie From

Debbie From, writer and storyteller, performed her new show Mamalogs, a collection of stories about motherhood, last weekend at the Elgin Fringe Festival. I got the chance to chat with Debbie about her performance. 

How long have you been a storyteller? What is your history with performance and writing?

I’ve been telling stories since I could speak, like all of us. We are all storytellers. That’s how we communicate with one another throughout the day by sharing short little stories. It also helped that I grew up listening to the stories of my elders around the dining room table, sitting out on the porch or at bedtime. Stories about past relatives and history not found in books were a part of my early education.

I have been performing as a storyteller and crafting stories to perform since 2005. I began working for a non-profit in Southern Appalachia as an artist specialist. I would go into Head Start Centers to sing songs and tell stories. While working at the non-profit, I had a mentor who introduced me to the wonderful world of storytelling. I never knew there were storytelling festivals that adults would actually pay to sit and listen to stories. I was so fascinated by this art form that I decided to go to grad school for storytelling at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee. The National Storytelling Festival, which is the oldest storytelling festival in US, is right down the road in Jonesborough, which just happens to be the oldest town in Tennessee.

Why did you decide to create a show about motherhood? What does motherhood mean to you, and what are you hoping to convey with your show?

I love listening to others talk about how they became parents. I enjoy commiserating with other parents about our parenting adventures and failures. It helps me feel better to know I am not alone. So I decided to record these conversations and create a program so that others can be a part of the conversation.

Being a parent comes with all kinds of challenges and surprises and there is not one right way to trek through. I believe that by sharing our stories and listening to others share their stories, we build community. Once we hear another person’s story, we are connected to that person and are forever changed.

Being a mom is the hardest job I’ve ever agreed to do. It is also the most rewarding. I absolutely love being a Mom. My kids are some of my favorite people and I am completely in love with them. They make me want to be better and do better.

My hope with the show is that people are moved to share their stories and to take the time to listen to others.

Storytelling is magical…it heals, validates, educates and entertains.

Your stories are often collected from interviews. What is your interview process like?

We usually talk with one another for a couple of hours while I record our conversation. Coffee is usually involved and possibly something sweet. Most times I have an idea of what the bare bones of the story will be but sometimes I am pleasantly surprised by what else is revealed during the interview. I transcribe the interview and edit the conversation down to a 4 to 6-minute story that I will share from the stage.

Are your stories ever compilations from several different interviews?

Yes, there are a couple of stories that are compilations. For example, the Nonagenarian Wisdom piece from the show is based on my interviews with two women in their 90’s. The incontinence piece is based on conversations/interviews with several women when talking about the side effects of pregnancy and getting older.

All of your characters have distinct voices and mannerisms.  What goes into make each character unique?

I try to implement bits of the character’s personality, style, mannerisms and voice. And then I practice, practice, practice. Some of the characters are still a work in progress.

What’s next for you as a storyteller? Do you have a new theme you’re interested in tackling?

Next summer, I will be working with women in prison. I’ll introduce them to the art of storytelling and then they will work on one of their stories. We will use digital storytelling to create a multimedia arrangement of their story, which involves narration, pictures and music. They will have the opportunity to share their stories with other prisoners. My hope is to carry their stories outside the prison to share.

For more information about Mamalogs and Debbie’s storytelling, visit her website www.debbiefrom.com.

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