Living Positive

“Living Positive”
by Tara Stuart

A collaboration with Live Forward (formerly AIDS Athens), the Rabbit Box: Living Positive show drew a crowd of 200 to the Foundry on September 12th. The evening’s storytellers captivated the audience with their marvelous stage presence, spunk, and joie de vivre. Our emcee Riley Kirkpatrick provided heartfelt, thoughtful commentary for this remarkable night of storytelling that illuminated not only the stigma attached to the diagnosis but also its transformative nature.

Rick Schott had been close to someone who died within six weeks of learning he had HIV. Rick got tested often — usually a quick process, and he was on his way with a paper that verified he was free and clear of the virus.

Known as “Sister Paula” or “Grandma” by everyone in her community, Paula Venable gives hope and advice to those newly diagnosed.

Upon receiving her diagnosis in 2003, Phyllis Beard’s immediate response was “I’m gonna get busy living,” after which she fulfilled her lifelong dream.

Asynaka Willis lives his life with no shame and no stigma. He believes his diagnosis has made him a better person, except when it comes to dealing with 9th graders.

Our Cracker Jack Surprise storyteller, a Marine combat veteran, told of a Marine he knows with HIV and his sense that the two descriptors could not go together.

In a story that spans decades, Rob Hagwood shares his encounters with HIV: from witnessing the social and physical pain of his friends’ suffering to receiving his own diagnosis and thriving.

A recovering addict who was first diagnosed with HIV 32 years ago, Tammy Kinney knows what stigma looks like and encourages others to embrace their status and ask for help.

Olive Aneno grew up in war-torn Uganda. She details the pain and confusion of witnessing in glimpses her mother’s illness as she lay confined to a single room, with every precaution taken not to spread what seemed to be a highly contagious virus.

It’s the Law

“It’s the Law”
by Tara Stuart

Joan Prittie — the quick-witted and charismatic Executive Director of Project Safe — graced the stage as mistress of ceremonies for Rabbit Box’s August show “It’s the Law.” The evening’s theme inspired first-hand accounts of defending, questioning, breaking, and taking steps toward changing laws in America and abroad.

Through these thought-provoking tales, the audience was transported into prisons, courtrooms, an Iranian paddy wagon, and to Capitol Hill and sold-out rock shows in Dublin, Ireland. The inspirational common thread pulling together all of the night’s stories was the persistent nature of the human spirit in the face of adversity

While campaigning on bicycle with his four-year-old son, Athens-Clarke County Commissioner Russell Edwards saved a potential voter’s life. Was that enough to earn a vote? Edwards also describes the impact John Lewis has made on his own life and tells the audience how he strives to be a pilot light for others.

Never one to conform to the gender expectations for girls, Shahrzad Roshan was arrested while in Iran by the Guardians of Islam for not dressing “appropriately.” An immigrant who came to the United States as a teenager, she describes being torn between two starkly different worlds — though both counties have one aggravating thing in common.

Suffering for years with Crohn’s disease, Lee Verner found relief in marijuana. Now an ardent and high-humored crusader for cannabis, Lee just couldn’t resist including a sales pitch for marijuana legalization.

Serving twelve years as a public defender, Edward Brumby made it his job to see the humanity in everyone. He represented thousands of people over the course of his career, but his very first successful case involved an unwelcomed batch of instant grits.

Riley Kirkpatrick was the Crackerjack Surprise storyteller of the evening. His experiences as a trans man in America’s criminal justice system shed light on the legal implications and inequities facing trans people in our country.

Bertis Downs’ life has taken him from bellhop for The Rolling Stones to lawyer/manager of REM. He shares why he went to law school and tells a few of his adventures traveling the world with the band.

At eight years old, Terry Kaley was taught to drive by her beer-loving grandpa who advised her to look at distant goals instead of focusing on the immediate curves in the road. When an officer saw 11-year-old Terry at the wheel and gave her a firm warning that he better not catch her driving again, could Terry — smitten with the lure of the road — stop her law-breaking ways?

Although he didn’t pull the trigger in a robbery that turned deadly, Shane Sims received a devastating prison sentence when he was just 18 years old. After he was given a second chance at life upon his release, he questions whether or not our legal system serves the best interests of all citizens.

Skin Deep

June 27, 2018
“Anything Goes”
by Patricia Tacuri

With more than 250 in attendance on a sweltering July night, renowned and beloved local artist David Hale shared both his humor and his vast knowledge of tattoos to kick off an epic storytelling event.

David Hale Skin Deep 2018


People told enthralling stories about their tattoos that encompassed a hilarious and drug-induced decision, emotional tributes to lost loved ones, lasting souvenirs of the indomitable human spirit, and tattoos that served as testimonials for keeping an optimistic perspective on life despite life-altering and wrenching circumstances.

Tara Stuart’s tattoo on her bicep captures an optimistic outlook on life despite personal heartache and chaotic events in the world that are often heartbreaking, too.

Melinda Cochran Davis shared how her tattoo, which served as a lasting keepsake of her indomitable spirit, depicted a towering love that had always sustained her in hard times.

Chris Richards’ bold tattoos, a sign of his healing from old emotional wounds, reveal his deep appreciation of Maori and other indigenous cultures.

Emily Nicholos shared with the audience the heart-rending story behind the loving tribute depicted on her wrist.

Our Crackerjack Surprise of the night, Madeline Bates, shared how her tattoo was a permanent expression of her rebirth and renewal after a violent event.

Hunt Brumby told a hilarious story about his face tattoos that involved a drug-induced trip with “friendly” gang members.

Ryder Crosby’s tale of his tattoo captivated the audience with his testimonial to his bravery in the face of life-altering circumstances.

Sharon Mitchell told her story of how a poem kept her from despair in hard times and became — when the title was inked as a tattoo — a literary reminder forever of her own unconquerable strength in the face of adversity.

Anything Goes

June 27, 2018
“Anything Goes”
by Patricia Tacuri

The theme Anything Goes encompassed tales of hilarious vacation mishaps on three different continents, the freeing power of the word “NO,” healing emotional wounds through forgiveness, and timely stories of the enduring bonds between fathers and children.

With more than 200 in attendance, our vibrant emcee Ashley Garrett kicked off a sizzling summer evening with her contagious humor and enthusiasm.

Jade Fernandez took us along to Peru on a long hike in the Andean mountains that was much more challenging than she expected. The steep, slippery paths and ice-cold streams tested her physical endurance and her relationship with her boyfriend.

Sloan Murray recalled hilarious misadventures on family vacations that included his innocent faux pas with a stranger and a bloody mishap with a closet door.

In her story Susie Rawlins Tompkins captured the special affinity southern women have for their daddy — and in her case, a second, surprising target of her affection.

Celest Divine Ngeve had the whole audience shouting “No!” and laughing, too, as she discussed a way to recharge and empower yourself.

Our Crackerjack Surprise storyteller Maggie Hunter shared a hilarious anecdote about her classy grandmother’s embarrassing encounter with the shoe salesman.

David Noah captivated the audience with his endearing tale of learning forgiveness from his own father who had learned this in an unexpected way.

Deborah Gonzalez arrived on a chartered trip to Turkey, but her luggage did not. Colleagues from UGA helped her, but as days and days passed and still no suitcase, she finally had to put her foot down.

Robert Tucker shared his story of how how he learned that blood ties do not always define the love of or for a parent.

Think Before You Move

May 9, 2018
“Think Before You Move”
by David Noah

Life the Griot was the emcee, and his positive energy lit up the Foundry!

We all act without thinking sometimes, and the consequences can change our lives. The Rabbit Box storytellers told what happened in their own lives when they did or didn’t think first. The stories were dramatic, vividly told reports, taking the audience through drug-fueled violent misadventures, scary encounters with police (or maybe they weren’t police), a kid felled by a stroke in a elementary school lunchroom, and what happens when someone’s love for a dog is in conflict with honeymoon plans. Every teller’s tale showed how even small thoughtless acts can shape our lives for decades.

Wendell Byrd vowed he’d never be like his mother. Then one day he had to face a painful truth about himself — all the more important because he had a son to raise.

Christy Lin Moore ran away from home at 17 and fell in with a group of teenage gangsters. One harrowing evening she attended a drug-fueled party interrupted by a gunshot. Escaping with other partiers from the mayhem, she didn’t think at all before she got into a car with two men very high on cocaine.

Malachi Gallagher is a young man who has figured out he needs to the think before moving. In a series of funny anecdotes he detailed some of his youthful misadventures and demonstrated a maturity (and stage presence) beyond his years.

Angela Romito told a powerful story about the difficulty of making tough decisions when needs collide. Her beloved dog’s life was on the line. As a professional decision analyst, she knew methods for making hard choices, but could her mindfulness help her through the ordeal — one happening at the worst possible time?

The night’s Crackerjack Surprise storyteller was Neal Priest, who shared a short story about being a medical student in New Orleans on a day when events might have taken a second bad turn if he hadn’t kept his head. With a gun at his temple, Neal found himself wishing he hadn’t stopped by a friend’s house for a drink.

High school student Michael Morris entertained the audience with cautionary tales from his young life. Pretending guilt (don’t ask about what!) just for the attention, pranking a teacher in a way that could have been disastrous, starting a fire—all these and more made him realize the value of thinking first. Today he is one of the stars of the Chess and Community group.

On the way back to Athens from Atlanta, where she was working with police and other first responders, Jasmine Jenkins was pulled over by a patrolman. She hadn’t realized she was speeding; her mind was on a presentation for her doctoral program, and she was running late. The officer was insulting and increasingly belligerent as the episode unfolded. As a black woman, she felt especially vulnerable on a stretch of highway with no one around to witness the fraught encounter.

Can a choice to give your life to others redeem the mistakes of your past? Shane Sims knows that it can. Now a chaplain with the same police department that arrested him at age 18, he recounted the story of his fall and redemption. Released after twenty years in prison, he mentors troubled youth and has a powerful story about learning to think before you act.

Roam Sweet Roam

April 11, 2018
“Roam Sweet Roam”

Listeners were regaled with both harrowing and heart-warming tales of travel around the globe in a night of vicarious adventure.

Emily Parker, who has her own globe-trotting pedigree, was our charming emcee for the night.

Rhianna Hohbein kicked off the evening telling how, as a teen, she had crippling social anxiety. How could she ever relax with others when they might find she had nothing interesting to say? She hadn’t really known people who traveled, but a boy told her about traveling to Italy and she thought, “Maybe that’s the ticket.” That notion provided the seed of the woman she was to become and gave rise to many amazing stories, one of which she shared on stage.

After many years of schooling, Daniel LePage found himself at a crossroads. Would he take a job as a microbiologist and settle down or perhaps sell everything and set off to hike the entire Pacific Crest Trail? As a fit and confident runner, he decided to go for it, taking the more challenging, north-to-south route and racing the snow and the clock.

Robert Alan Black has decades of world travel behind him, but he told of his first long trip when he’d planned to visit 24 countries. Egypt was not a part of his plan, but he was convinced by some acquaintances, and off he went to Luxor, Cairo and Giza on a trip he barely survived.

Just out of high school, Paul Guillebeau and his buddy set off on a long road trip from Georgia to Alaska. Whether encountering a bear, rapacious mosquitos or “professionally friendly” girls, Paul had the audience in stitches.

The name chosen out of the Crackerjack box was that of Jayashree Jagadis who had just arrived in the United States to visit her daughter after a long trip from her home in Bangalore, India, via the Hamburg airport and on to Atlanta. She and her husband had never taken such a long, complicated trip. Even for sturdy senior citizens like Jaya and her husband, getting from Concourse B to Concourse Z in 30 minutes to catch a flight would be a challenge.

After years of study in Germany, Hungary and England, Jörg Mayer was ready for adventure in the New World. He went to work and travel in the United States. Before long, his German parents made their own journey across the sea to visit him, and the true adventure began. Would Jörg survive his parents’ ten-day visit?

In 2012 Brittany Barnes and her friend decided to take a trip to Leticia, Colombia, the “Gateway to the Amazon.” They wanted to trek through the jungle and experience the Amazon River. They were not very prepared but luckily found Rudolfo (and his 7-year-old son) to guide them on their journey. Supplied with cans of Spam, machetes for all, and an intimate knowledge of the jungle, Rudolfo would see them through, though not unscathed nor unchanged.

Sarah Vaughn’s first big overseas trip was with a big group of college friends to Istanbul, Turkey. After an evening of drinking, Sarah was feeling sick and decided to go back to her hotel while her friends went on to a club. She got in a cab at the same time a stranger climbed in the door on the other side. Should she share the taxi?

RB65: A Life Well Read

In March, Books for Keeps collaborated with Rabbit Box to present, “A Life Well Read.” Emcee Rachel Watkins called it a “match made in heaven,” noting that a good story can, “change your life; it can teach you empathy. It can give you direction and give you purpose.” Eight bibliophiles took the stage to tell stories about how books – or one particular book, changed their lives.

When Wallace Arnold had to go to a new school, he latched on to reading lists as a lifeline. In middle school he became even more of a bookworm. During the long, awkward years of adolescence, books were his refuge, solace, and eventually a doorway into being social.

On Ashley McKelvy‘s first day of college, she felt certain she would drop out. A professor’s joke went right over her head. But she’s a “fear-based” person, and motivated by fear, she began to read. A boring, arcane book gave her more confidence and became an unexpected guide past the barriers she encountered along the way.

Benjamin Milano Albino remembers learning to read in Puerto Rico when he was five years old. Even then, the poet recalls, he “dealt in metaphors.” Over time he realized that “the more a person reads; the better writer a person becomes.”

In high school Ashley Garrett, a budding Anglophile, was very excited to take her first British literature class. Unfortunately her teacher, on the verge of retirement, was phoning in the lessons. Ashley forged ahead, reading the thick book on her own, but that turned out to have at least one unanticipated disadvantage.

Kristy Moran was the Crackerjack Surprise storyteller of the evening. She credits books with getting her through an “awkward phase that lasted four years.”

As a child John Mincemoyer had a rough time growing up in a military family with an abusive stepfather. John credits his love of words and books as among the greatest joys of life — and reading reading reading saw him through the darkest times.

Leslie Hale, who is now the executive director of Books for Keeps, was the type of girl to wear her heart on her sleeve. After hurting someone in a difficult breakup, though, she thought she would “play it cool” for a while. But then she met an especially neat guy. A book she came across seemed to capture just the right tone to convey her feelings, but was it too risky a vehicle to rely on to put herself out there?

Angie Pendley was the first person in her family to go to college. She started out as a theater major, then switched to education, and — years later — became a librarian. But her vocation actually started in first grade, in her closet, where she ran “Angie’s Library.”

RB64: Duets

February 14, 2018
by Patty Tacuri

Andreana Williams and Celest Ngeve — who perform together as African Soul — were amazing and energetic MCs for our Valentine’s Day show called Duets that featured two people telling a story in tandem on the stage. The storytellers shared stories of harmonious and unexpected love, lifelong and enduring friendships, the deep-rooted bond between parent and child, a harrowing brush with death while traveling abroad, and an act of kindness to a grieving widow.

Noel Holston and Marty Winkler shared their harmonious story of love through song. What started as a possible professional collaboration became that and much more.

Denise and Mike Mount talked about their contrasting memories of screen doors slamming when they were kids. Mike’s joyful recollections mellowed Denise’s memories that formerly always had come paired with her mom’s exasperated cry.

Cindy Karp and Connie Crawley told Cindy’s story of how an expeditious bond with a stranger helped save her life.

Laurie Allen and April Taylor told a story about their enduring friendship that extended from childhood shenanigans and mishaps through the trials and tribulations of adulthood.

Crackerjack storyteller Terry Kaley experienced an unexpected and random act of kindness from a stranger on a particularly hard Valentine’s day.

Beau Shell (AKA the Lil’ Ice Cream Dude) and his mother Vickie shared their story of Beau’s intrepid spirit of entrepreneurship that helped him start a successful business Vickie has supported and encouraged since 2012.

Dave and Raquel Durden swept us along in their humorous telling of their passionate whirlwind romance in South Korea while both were serving in the U.S. Army.

Dan Everett and Kate Blane described their family’s colorful adventures abroad in multicultural Malaysia where Dan taught for a year.

RB63: Rising from the Ashes

January 10, 2018
“Rising from the Ashes”
by Marci White

Storytellers shared intense and marvelous stories at Rabbit Box’s “Rising from the Ashes” at The Foundry this January.

More than 250 people listened to moving accounts of trauma, shock, difficulty, despair, and conflict followed by healing, renewal or self-insight. The healing was assisted by some combination of time, acceptance, perseverance and personal support. Some people rose from their ashes many years ago. Others roses more recently, and, as one crackerjack storyteller said, “I’m still kind of stewing in my ashes.”

Our friend Tara Stuart was on fire as the night’s emcee!

Krystle Cobran told about some of the pain associated with everyday racism — the worst of which is when a trip to the grocery store can turn into an anxiety-producing, emotional experience.

After a traumatic event, Sarah Bradley wanted to dissolve into the earth one summer and just disappear. She realized what she really needed was a long “conversation with anger” and a path to healing.

Between Brad Smith and his dad, things came to a head one Christmas when his dad had yet another angry outburst in front of the family. Brad didn’t want his kids exposed to that and told his dad so. But his father, a Presbyterian pastor, wasn’t about to back down.

Abbey was raised in a dysfunctional family, with a parent suffering from mental illness. Now in college, Abbey has had to confront and try to find help for her own mental illness, which manifests as a severe anxiety disorder. She’s learning to accept herself for how she is, to be okay with that, and also seek help. For now, every day when she gets out of bed she is “rising from the ashes.”

John Roper found himself taken to jail again — “this time, for something serious.” If convicted he could be facing a lot of jail time. He had to go through a week of drug withdrawal in a holding cell. Then at Christmas, the harsh lights of jail softened into something golden and reassuring, and his outlook changed dramatically.

David Bothe’s name was chosen as the Crackerjack Surprise storyteller. He talked about an old mini-van with some serious issues that would be costly to repair for him or some unsuspecting future owner. Hard-pressed to pay, could he take the ethical path?

Faye Fleming wasn’t sure she could ever recover from a devastating loss. What she dug out of the ashes of that loss — and something beautiful created from what she found — finally enabled her to go on with her life.

RB62: Holidazed

December 13, 2017
by Marci White

For this special holiday show, our MC Brad Smith wished everyone a merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah and joyous Kwanzaa. Brad’s warm and welcoming spirit added a great energy to the show.

Rebecca McCarthy told about her engineer father and how he was “good at many things” but not gift-giving. After he gave his wife a green plastic trashcan for Christmas, something had to change.

Donna Fee Smith grew up in rural Oconee County in the 1970s. The only thing she knew about religion was from seeing Billy Graham on her grandma’s TV. Even after college she didn’t know much, but a Jewish boyfriend she met after college opened her eyes to the unexpected joys of multiculturalism.

Bert Parks owned and managed a trailer park in downtown Atlanta in the 1980s and ’90s, a challenging period that included difficult characters and some dangerous encounters. In this story he tells about a longtime tenant, a woman who suffered fits of paranoia and slept with a pistol. She decided to finally move her trailer one Christmas day to a “better” trailer park, but that wasn’t the end of dealing with one of his most irascible residents.

Emily Parker told a funny and self-deprecating story about being an overly confident college student traveling abroad in Germany. She soon met her comeuppance.

Raquel Durden was chosen to be the Crackerjack storyteller for the night. During her 25 years in the military, she spent Christmases all over the world and was the recipient of much-appreciated Christmas care packages – some more cherished than others.

Hannah Angel was devastated when her boyfriend dumped her abruptly during the holidays. That Christmas could hardly have been more terrible. And then her cat went missing.

Paul Guillebeau grew up in northwest Georgia, the third of four boys. Every Christmas the three oldest boys would take their grandmother’s Jeep and head off to the woods seeking the biggest Christmas tree they could possibly fit into their house. One year there was a Christmas tree disaster and a small miracle.

As a stubborn 18-year-old, Terry Kaley married a man 24 and 1/2 years older than she was. On their first Christmas together she discovered that he was too thrifty to spend the money on a tree. But a friend owned some woods and told them they could hike into the woods and cut down a tree for free. That sounded good to him, but their quest led to a difficult situation they found hard to extract themselves from. Christmas was never the same again.