Music, storytelling and the theatre of personal experience
I have lived and taught in the rural South for a long time. I didn’t mean to… it just worked out that way. Partly because I was fortunate to be raised in an area known for its natural beauty, music, and storytelling, the Ozarks. I didn’t know how tied to that area I was until I left it… for too long for a part of the country that is COMPLETELY unlike the Ozarks. The rural South doesn’t have a whole lot of professional theatre, especially if you live in the middle of nowhere. And you know how it is, theatre folks have to work like they have to breathe. I had a wonderful grad school professor that once told me to, “quit bitchin’ and make theatre.” So I did.
I owned my own theatre company, The Hard Corn Players, which also happened to be the last traveling Toby Show tent theatre in the world. Toby shows were hillbilly slapstick comedies where the rural hero wins over the urban villain. I toured it in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Southern Illinois for 10 years. A lot of this old material was one and two person bits. I took some of that material, as well as biographical information, and wrote my first fringe-ish show, a one-woman show about a Kentucky actress’s life on a tent show. and toured it in Kentucky with the Humanities Counsel’s Chautauqua series from 2001-2007, entitled Maxine Lacey, tent show actress.
I recognized that one-woman shows were a great way for me to do theatre in areas where there was none. AND I didn’t have to bring an entire show’s worth of equipment and cast with me. I especially enjoyed the opportunity to break the fourth wall and connect with the audience, an audience that I related to because of where I was raised… and that was THE important epiphany for me. Though I had done some storytelling before and, of course, traditional theatre, a one-person show was like an intimate conversation, not as me… but using a part of me that connected with the subject matter. I had some incredible experiences especially with elderly folks who had seen Maxine when they were children. It brought back wonderful memories for them and to share in those experiences was some of the best theatre I’ve ever been a part of. I WANT MORE OF THAT!
The last couple of years I have participated in the Southeastern Theatre Conference Fringe Festival where I met some fabulous St. Louis Fringe people. The Vicious Hillbilly show all began because I had been making a conscious effort to work on my original music. I’d been singing and writing since I was a teenager. I wrote several new songs and released a CD in March 2016. I realized, as I was driving down the road one day, trying to figure out the order of the songs on the CD, that the CD was really a chronicle of my pathetic love life since moving to South Carolina. I tend to write songs about things that I’m negatively obsessing over. When I performed the songs, I’d tell the funny stories about how the songs came to be. Over a sabbatical (when I was supposed to writing a chapter in a book… hee hee), I wrote this show.
With this show, I get to tell my stories as a version of ME. I discovered that my audiences, especially women have very similar experiences with the world of dating as a mature woman. Have you tried online dating? In the South as a progressive woman? It’s brutal. It’s depressing. It’s soul-sucking. I found that writing songs about my experiences, then telling the funny (not at the time usually, but later) stories was virtually therapeutic. When I first started performing them, I was delighted to find that other women (and men sometimes) had similar experiences and many said they found it cathartic through laughter and fellowship. Several people suggested that I “write a play” because if you are in theatre, everybody knows you should be able to just “pull one of those right out of an orifice in no time!” So I took my stories, found the arc, and wrote a show.
My fringe walks that fine line between theatre as a character and storytelling as me. But what is most important is that there is a definite audience connection. It’s like telling those stories in to my friends, only framed as a journey! And that’s what performances are, right? Journeys… That’s why I love performing and I look SO FORWARD to sharing my journey with folks in my home state!
Storyteller/singer-songwriter, Dawn Larsen grew up in the Ozarks amid lots of mountain music, arts, and storytelling. While driving and thinking one day, she realized that the CD she was working on was a chronicle of her pathetic online dates as a mature, progressive, educated hillbilly girl living in the deep South. She fashioned those experiences into a one-woman show, "The Vicious Hillbilly or Dating in the Deep South," a tale of woe in story and song. A poignant comedy, the show combines her original songs with the story of the journey of her discovery of who she is, what she wants, and that love is her divine right. She is working on a brand new CD full of original songs inspired by the beauty of the Ozarks, working title, Hillbillyland. Find out more about Dawn, her music, and show at www.DawnLarsenMusic.com.