RB60: Masquerade

“Masquerade” at Sandy Creek Park was a remarkable, transcendent night of stories. Under the starry sky, surrounded by the sounds of the forest, we heard from storytellers sharing their unique, authentic, hilarious and charming selves. John Rogers was our mellow Master of Ceremonies. Storytellers wore masks and costumes and brought along some props to share with us their interpretation of a “masquerade.” The storytellers were: David Bothe, Nico Isaac, Jennifer Bray, Laura Rupers, Cricket Bancroft, Neal Priest, Tommy Tye and Donna Fee Smith.

Jennifer Bray (aka Long Tall Jenny) brought her inner (and outer) clown to the stage. After an eventful year of big changes and growth, she shared some insight about her ongoing journey of discovering “what she wants to be when she grows up.”

Nico Isaac stopped into a general store in Atlanta one day to pick up some cleaning supplies. The man at the cash register showed her something that would leave her forever changed. “Some people wear masks that are obvious,” she observed of the experience, “while others’ masks blend in so seamlessly that you don’t notice them until it’s too late.”

Laura Rupers’ sister sometimes struggled, and Laura would help take care of her three nieces whenever called upon. In order to make the girls laugh and forget their worries, she developed a hilarious hillbilly character who would read books to them. The outsized character raised everyone’s spirits so much that Laura found herself compelled to bring the character back for a potentially inappropriate appearance at an emotionally charged, family gathering.

Tommy Tye‘s wild intelligence began by communicating with dogs, then birds and other animals — even trees. Listening carefully to the wild animals he’s gotten to see things most people don’t ever experience. His mom was sure that by the time he was 18 he’d either be in jail or dead. He avoided both by tuning into a wild, true voice inside.

The evening’s Cracker Jack Surprise storyteller Donna Fee is a real estate agent. She went to show an expensive house to a couple that was obviously occupied by a recently divorced bachelor. Something had her on edge about the house, and her instincts kicked in.

Neal Priest went to medical school — and many a great Mardi Gras party — in New Orleans, where he made brilliant and wonderful friends. At one party an inebriated friend dressed as the Tin Man disappeared during a period when the city was wracked by random gun violence. Would Neal and his friends be able to save him?

Cricket Bancroft is a “keeper of quilts.” Every quilt has a story, but not all are of interest to her. But when she went to an estate sale at an infamous old Athens house, she knew she’d found a quilt she wanted to keep. The house had a history of violence, and when she got home and looked at the quilt, she realized she’d brought some of that history home with her.

David Bothe was the underwriter of his friend’s vision quest. His friend was gone out West for months and when the man returned, David realized that he was jealous and wanted his own vision quest. Who would be his guides? Who were his mentors who had wisdom to share? Whom would he see emerge from the cliff walls?

RB59: Toil & Trouble

September 13, 2017
“Toil & Trouble – Stories about Work”
by Marci White

Tim Denson ably did the honors as emcee for our show in honor of Labor Day – “Toil & Trouble.” Tim is an advocate for labor rights and in the past has worked as a cowboy, mental health counselor and touring musician, among other jobs.

In 1956 Tom Kenyon became the first person in his family accepted to a university. He was 17 and desperately needed a job to be able to pay for college. He answered a newspaper ad looking for a “strong man” needed for heavy labor for $1.25 an hour. Would he be able to hack it?

After college, Robin Whetstone and her friend Susan shared an apartment and worked at Ray and Dawn’s Seafood Grill, where it was impossible to make enough to live on. But one of their new coworkers “knows a guy” with some really “good stuff,” and if Robin and Susan will help him move it, he promises that their financial situation will be much improved.

Dr. Walter Freeman, early in his career as a chemist, was misled about a job. He took the job only to find out that he would not have access to the superconducting NMR he so longed to use. His determined quest for this treasured and expensive tool would call for him to develop skills not directly related to chemistry, and those came in handy throughout his career.

Gabe Newman grew up near a golf course in a small town in Georgia and spent much of his time “in the woods…looking for golf balls.” He’d really wanted to be a baseball player for the Cubs but found himself living precariously in Athens. In 2007 he had a dream that proved to be a good omen and led to a series of new opportunities that continue to unfold.

Steven Bellan’s name was chosen out of the box to be the Crackerjack Surprise storyteller of the night. As a wildlife biologist, Steven worked in Namibia studying jackals. Part of his job was trapping them to put on, remove or replace the collars that collected data about their movements. This could be very tricky, and late one night it all came to a head.

When Christy Lin decided to stop freelancing to get a steady job at an ad agency, at first it seemed intense but good. The five “creatives” at the agency worked fast-paced, 60-80 hour weeks. It was fun to be part of a creative team, work hard and be compensated well. But when a personal issue came up that demanded some time and healing, she had to face the true nature of what she’d signed on for.

The second job Joe Willey got driving a tractor trailer was a truck driver’s dream gig: hauling carpet and yard from Dalton, Georgia, to New Orleans and to Andalusia, Alabama, and then home for the weekend. But then Hurricane Erin came along to shake things up.

As a professional paramedic and Emergency Medical Services educator, Roscoe McCoy knows how things should go, ideally, when the police and paramedics are called out to deal with an emergency. One day nothing goes according to plan.

RB58: I Didn’t Sign Up For This

August 9th, 2017
“I Didn’t Sign Up For This”
by Sean Polite

A rollicking Rabbit Box offering, “I Didn’t Sign Up For This,” took place on Wednesday, August 9th, a pleasant, cool evening at The Foundry. The assortment of tales spanned juvenile rivalry, impossible missions, international goodwill, rashly taboo purchases, accident recovery, the slow and steady slope of progress, solemn reckonings made to family, and amusing journeys to reveal one’s identity.

The inimitable Tara Stuart served as our Master of Ceremonies.

Connie Crawley kicked off the story set, taking the audience back to her elementary school days. The bliss between her and a best friend was interrupted by the arrival of a spunky usurper to their affections. Connie’s parents sent her to play with the child as the girl faced ever-worsening challenges.

A lifetime ago during his time working for the EPA in Washington, D.C., Paul Guillebeau took on the noblest of off-duty tasks: helping a co-worker move. The furniture-transporting team had issues from the outset as recounted by the always-wry, expert storyteller Guillebeau.

Dr. Leara Rhodes‘ first trip to Haiti found her in the middle of boiled-over political strife. Passage home came only through body-strewn streets and a rampaging crowd of desperate people.

Bard Jim Lavender returned to Athens to regale us with a humorous tale of the power of what hard-earned money can buy. The crate that boy Jim ordered by mail sounds rather like Pandora’s Box!

Laura Hanson was selected as the evening’s Cracker Jack Surprise storyteller. An expert working in the field of neuro- and bio-feedback, Laura found that her world turned awry after getting news that her daughter had been in a terrible accident.

Patricia Tacuri, a Rabbit Box Engineer, recalled the developmental differences her first child exhibited. She educated herself once she learned the diagnosis, nursing his (and her) spirit by always seeing his potential.

Elsa Durusau stepped up to fill a spot in the line-up left vacant late in the day. As in all our lives, the spectre-like presence of death grows as the years go by, and the miles seemed to widen between even the tightest of friends. Elsa told a touching story of the sudden and tragic loss of two beloved friends.

Evie McGovern, our final storyteller of the evening, remembers a special crush when she was 11 that led to a redefinition of her identity in relation to attraction to others. A charming storyteller, Evie recounted the sometimes-confusing path she has traveled and the ways she informed others about what she discovered about herself on her journey.

Special thanks to The Foundry and all the Rabbit Box family and audience for another wonderful evening. Thank you, storytellers that night — and you storytellers of nights to come! See you soon!

RB57: If These Walls Could Talk

July 12, 2017
“If These Walls Could Talk”
by Marci White

More than 300 people came out on a sultry Georgia night to hear stories on the theme “If These Walls Could Talk.” The stories were an extraordinary mix of antebellum walls containing romance and Chippendale furniture, Facebook walls, psychiatric hospital walls, dilapidated party-house walls, prison walls and walls haunted by ghosts. It was a night to remember. Thanks to all the storytellers, our co-sponsors the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation, and to all the people who came and listened to the stories so raptly.

Adam Hebbard, president of the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation, was our convivial emcee for the evening.

Daniel Epting is a 4th-generation Athenian who was raised steeped in Athens history. True to his roots, he restores historical homes, and his home in the historic Boulevard neighborhood is a perennial job-site. Daniel told a short history of some of his preservationist work, including some of the very odd, old things he’s found on job sites.

The mansion at 150 S. Milledge Avenue is currently the sorority house of Alpha Delta Pi, but its history includes the adventures and international intrigues of Ned Hodgson and family, who bought the house in 1906. Tom Hodgson told us the story of his grandparents Ned and Mary Hodgson and the role they and their house played in an unlikely international romance.

When a group of student ballet dancers at UGA left town for a long holiday, they asked Rhett Crowe and her boyfriend to house-sit the antebellum house they were renting. Only after they returned did they ask, “Did you notice anything strange about the house?” Um . . . YES!! This story gave us all the creepy chills.

Riley Kirkpatrick, in his previous life as a non-violent drug offender and addict, got acquainted with the gritty, claustrophobic confines of many county jails. Those walls can tell stories of hard, hard times, sickness and perseverance.

Kristin‘s name was chosen out of the Crackerjack box to tell an impromptu story. She told of being in a locked ward for the mentally ill in New York City with lots of doors, lots of keys. The only thing to do was to be fully herself — to face the fear and boredom and connect with the people stuck there with her.

Lee Epting, a native Athenian responsible for the renovation of many old homes and buildings in our town, told the story of an old woman he knew who was house rich but cash poor and needed to sell her historic mansion. She asked him to help her put on one last dinner party in her beautiful home. The meal had to be perfect in all its particulars. “Yes, ma’am,” he said. Things didn’t turn out as planned, but the dinner party turned out to be unforgettable.

As a freelance journalist, David Ferguson spends a lot of time hanging out with co-workers in online chatrooms and on Facebook walls. He got to be close friends with one coworker, Dan, long before he ever met him in person or even talked on the phone. When Dan’s life started going downhill, David saw it all happening, sometimes even before Dan did. They finally did meet in person but not in the way either of them had planned.

Starting in 1977, Paul Butchart participated in the Athens music scene and laid-back, bohemian lifestyle of the times. In 1980 he moved into a famous party house on Milledge Avenue that he rented from a Latvian immigrant with a mysterious and colorful past: Mr. Antons. Paul lived in the house for 28 years, and his life became intertwined with his eccentric landlord’s.

RB56: Acting Up

May 10, 2017
by Marci White

Ashley Na, activist and board member of Athens for Everyone, was our emcee for the evening. She directed the proceedings with an unpretentious grace, musing about everyone’s astrological signs and what they’re prepared to fight for.

Benjamín Milano Albino grew up in a housing project in Caguas, Puerto Rico. In 5th grade, a boy in his neighborhood, Jose, drew attention for being effeminate and acting out. While the dreamy and timid Benjamin looked on, Jose fought and danced and by the time he was in 8th grade, was openly gay and still fighting to be who he was. Jose couldn’t have known that he way a hero and role model for his straight-laced neighbor, Benjamin.

When Lori Hanna started UGA as a “wide-eyed freshman” she stumbled across the food activist group Real Food, and dove right in. She and her friends organized, had rallies, lobbied, educated and petitioned. Lori spend part of this past winter in Cuba, where her “house mother” had other ideas about what it meant to be a radical activist.

When Adam Lassila and his friend Laura flew into Mexico to begin a long adventure hitchhiking through South America, they were surprised to find themselves in the middle of an intense confrontation between the striking teachers of Oaxaca and the Mexican police. Should they join the strikers? The roads were blocked, but their path was clear.

As a young child, Maggie Schmidt was passionate about protecting animals. As a young adult with a new job at a poultry vaccine company, she had an occasion to remember her love for animals and her passion for trying to help them. Sometimes it helps to have a reminder that “we can give ourselves permission to act up.”

Crackerjack storyteller Alan Black was walking through Detroit when he saw some picketers outside a building. These picketers had extraordinarily good-looking picket signs. Who could they be?

Beto Mendoza and his brothers were raised in Mexico by their hard-working, community-helping, obstacle-overcoming and religious-minded mother. She set an example of selflessness they never forgot.

Sarah Bradley grew up in Athens and was a sweet, obedient little girl…until around 5th grade, when she turned into a terror. By middle school, she was a raging rebel and the bane of her teachers. Many years later, Sarah found herself full circle, with a job as a middle school teacher, at the same school she had gone to, teaching kids just like herself.

In 1978 Maureen McLaughlin went with a defense legal team to Reidsville, Georgia, to defend six men accused of killing a guard during a prison uprising. Maureen was the consultant for helping to pick the jury. Hosea Williams showed up. The KKK was there. The town was tense, and more than 100 people were arrested for demonstrating. After this historical trial, Reidsville would never be quite the same again, and Maureen had found her calling.

RB54: Getting Even

Wednesday, March 8, 2017, at The Foundry
by Sean Polite

Very much the even point in the show was Mr. Russell Cutts, previous Rabbit Box storyteller and MC extraordinaire. With an effortless mix of warmth in the messages he gave to the audience, and the coolly composure of a solidly running host, Mr. Cutts charmed newcomers, encouraged the storytellers, boasted upon the board members/volunteers, and entertained the return crowds at The Foundry in his own inimitable way.

Once was the era of a precocious young Jim Lavender, a Possum Town, Mississippi scamp whose sense of mischief knew no bounds.  In his day-to-day pursuits of perfecting the art of Getting Even, his accomplices included his pet snake and possum.  His targets, the culture the southern debutante culture, racially-endorsed class designations in Civil War re-enactment society, and even his occasional rival prankster — his older sister (along with a precious hemline of hers).  Want to know more about execution of his schemes and the results?  Listen and find out!

When she attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts at age 19,  Cricket Bancroft‘s study of performance enriched her growing belief in the beauty of life.  Two relationships would organically blossom at this time.  One begat a warm courtship, intimating a romance newborn.  The other marked the blossoming of a platonic friendship, and the hope that it would stay its’ sweet  course.  One of them would change, with six stark words.  Unknowingly and suddenly, Cricket‘s belief would be in danger…and so much more.  Where canGetting Even apply when a situation demands Getting Away?

Returning to the Rabbit Box stage, Mr. Paul Guillebeau invites us to the Alaskan frontier (University of Alaska).  He and his buddy Kit are thick as thieves, until the classic foil of an attractive lady bids their attention.  Both eyeing her affections, even a competition of Gentlemen can yield only one winner.  But oh, when you hear how they one up each other!  So who will win?  And will their friendship be at a loss?

She was the very reason that David Stroud first stepped foot here in the Classic City, to be with the one.  Though this woman was everything to him just the way she was, he could only be everything to her by being everything he wasn’t.  Love at such an imbalance couldn’t bear well for anyone — let alone Mr. Stroud.  What the mind figures would inevitably happen from here is quite possibly catastrophic and saddening.  What the heart hopes that occurs would by redemptive by his story’s end.  Listen and see..

Many moons ago, Donna Smith Fee and her pally roommate take the leap and attend their first party together.  A reckless wind (to put it mildly) provides a stark interruption of their libations.  Donna witnesses the vivid invocation of a pranking spirit prepared for the moment of payback — by the offering of some performing players not yet prepped for the prime time.

Emily Parker + New Job + Newly Svelte Figure + New Wardrobe + New Relationship + Return To Ahens = New Day
New Chance To Try The Art of Seduction + Inspired Purchase + Fantastic Dining + Opportunity With Her Honey + Apt Timing – The Best Laid Plans = An Unintentionally (Albeit Luckily For Us) Hilarious Romp For The Ages

In 1976, Mony Abrol is making his way up the shipping company ladder, and a super-exclusive luncheon club is so far a leap up, that the rung on which he gracefully hangs seems like entry level.  He’s an outsider ethnically and socially to the $500 a plate conglomerate, but he’s a good, genuine, hard-working man with a wonderful, supportive wife.  Patience and perseverance aside, can the underdog Mony even up the odds to score a spot in the big house?

To carry the mantle of baby of the Benson Brothers, playfully sabotaging people isn’t simply a thing to pass the time.  In late 1970’s Philadelphia, it’s a way of life which Greg Benson dabbles into, and then cherishes.  However, with a hit list of cars, the infamous Whaley family. and tractors, the high speed and intensity of the pranking is long overdue to catch up with him.  Taking the risks that he does through the years, his conscience and the fast lane of pranking loom like spectral figures to get even with his silly ways….maybe?

RB53: What I Did For Love

Wednesday, February 8, 2017, at The Foundry
by Marci White

Jesse Houle was the rousing emcee for Rabbit Box’s “What I Did for Love” show in February. The house was full, with about 270 people packed into the Foundry to listen.

Connie Crawley has been a regular attendee at Rabbit Box (along with the large group of OLLI members she comes with), but this was her first time telling a story. She described a funny scenario about going to a wedding shop to buy her dress and coming away with something she didn’t even want.

A Fulbright teaching assistantship brought Sonia Sharmin from Bangladesh to the University of Georgia, where she taught Bengali. She was a long way from home when she spotted a handsome, shy Southerner who lived in the same apartment complex.

In 1966, Tom Kenyon was dreading going on a blind date to a dance. His first two dates had bailed on him for different reasons. It seemed unlikely anything good would come from the third try.

At a dinner meeting about investment advice put on by Edward Jones, Michelle Commeyras met an interesting, friendly woman who was also retired and also into real estate. Card-playing, wine-drinking and confidences traded over dinner and by a bonfire ensued. But then what?

Our Crackerjack Box storyteller of the evening, the high-spirited Sondi Baker, told of working with a colleague whose health began to decline precipitously. Their relationship became more intimate as his health deteriorated.

David Bothe has been through heartbreak and survived to tell the tale. His feelings for his first love were intense, tenacious and loyal . . . but unfortunately not reciprocated.

As a girl, Deby Lantz-Sorenson realized she possessed a capacity for risk-taking — within reason — and a love for adventure. In high school she signed up to do a year-long exchange program in Europe. She was prepared to go to France, but right before she was to go, they said no host families were available in France, and she’d have to choose between two other countries they offered. That detour determined the course of the rest of her life.

When Tommy Valentine saw a beautiful girl in the doorway of the movie theater, the world stopped. A self-described, “confident, egotistical, mess,” he still didn’t have the courage to go talk to her. Lucky for him, later the same girl walked through a different doorway and straight into his life.

Rabbit Box Teasers: Stranger in a Strange Land – Immigration Stories

Stranger in a Strange Land – Immigration Stories
October 12, 2016
by Marci White

More than 200 people gathered around a bonfire at Sandy Creek Park’s forest amphitheater to listen to stories on the theme, “Stranger in a Strange Land – Immigration Stories.” Nine people shared their stories, including immigrants from seven different countries and four continents.

Our emcee was Brad Smith, longtime resident of Jubilee Partners, a Christian community that provides resettlement help to newly arrived refugees.

Back in Nigeria, most of what Simisola Shebioba-Johnson knew about the United States was from watching “Soul Train,” where young blacks with big afros and platform shoes danced without a care. “That’s where I want to be,” she thought. She married her Nigerian boyfriend, who had traveled to the United States to study abroad. But when she flew to join him in Amarillo, Texas, she was shocked, in more ways than one, by the situation that confronted her.

Humberto (“Beto”) Mendoza immigrated with his brothers from Mexico to the United States, where they opened a mechanics shop together. But hard times came, and they had to close the shop. That year they had a bleak Christmas dinner, along with memories of everything they missed about Christmas time in Mexico.

Patricia Tacuri‘s family lived in Cusco, Peru, where her father was a professor of geology. But when he was ordered to work in a dangerous part of the country controlled by the militant Shining Path rebels, her parents fled Peru and hired a coyote to guide them on the dangerous journey across the Mexican border and into California.

When Neville Anderson‘s mother, Del Rose, immigrated to the United States as a domestic worker, Neville had to stay behind in a boarding house for kids in Jamaica. Eventually he, along with his sister and father, was able to join his mother in Washington, D.C., where he had to defend himself against bullies and learned to run really fast. His mother said, “In this life you fight and then you die.” His parents taught him that you can do anything in the United States if you’re educated — a message Neville took to heart.

Chuck Horne was chosen as the Cracker Jack storyteller. He shared an improptu story with the crowd about his observations on gender roles while working in Saudi Arabia and his encounter with a mysterious woman on a plane.

Benjamin Milano came from Puerto Rico to chilly Iowa to study writing but while in grad school found himself wondering, “Did I come here to write or to learn how to set boundaries against bigots?” The unassuming poet took self-defense lessons from a friend and was soon “prepared like a gladiator.”

Emuel Aldridge was working on a pine-cone picking crew when he accidentally hit a deer with his truck. Not wanting to waste the meat, he took it to some of the Salvadoran immigrants on his work crew. The evening he spent there, working on the deer and listening to stories, was one he wouldn’t soon forget.

Nasrin Rouhani and her husband fled Iran after the Islamic Revolution. As people of the Baha’i Faith, they were a persecuted minority. Eventually they made their way to Athens, found work, bought a house and had two children. But despite achieving the “American Dream,” they were not able to evade violence. Nasrin’s strong faith has carried her through.

As a school girl growing up in a small town in South Korea, Eun Sun excelled in all subjects except English. Little did she know that when she was 12, her father would get a job in the United States, and they would all have to move. For months she didn’t speak at all as she struggled to adjust to the new culture and language. But she rallied and again became an excellent student. She excelled in math and science and got a full scholarship to the University of Georgia. As she noted, this sounds like a typical Asian girl success story, right? But there’s a twist.

Oct 12th Stranger in a Strange Land – Immigration Stories

Join us October 12th from 7 PM to 9 PM at Sandy Creek Park for stories of immigration to the United States from around the world. Rain or shine we will have a crackling fire and stories that range anywhere from tales of heartfelt redemption, to tales of getting smuggled out of the war-torn Middle East. These first hand accounts will give listeners an appreciation for the difficulties immigrants have faced in their move to Athens, GA.

The weather Wed. night is supposed to be clear and cool with a low of 49 degrees, so dress warmly! Some reminders: 

– Stories will begin at 7 pm. However, you may want to plan to get there early to ensure you have a place to park and get a good seat. 

– Sandy Creek Park is located at 400 Bob Holman Road, Athens, GA 30607.

– At the gate, an attendant will collect a $2 per person park entry fee and will direct you to the park’s Fire Circle. (Folks 65 and over can enter the park for free!)

– Although there is some bench seating, people often choose to bring easy-to-carry camp chairs, blankets, and/or cushions. 

– Bring a flashlight! It will be dark when you leave.

– Bring snacks and drinks if you’d like–but remember the park does not allow alcoholic beverages.

– The show will happen rain or shine – there is a covered, alternate venue at Sandy Creek Park in case of rain.