This is the hidden Dexter. A crisp, quiet, Saturday night just two blocks from the bustle of Main Street, away from busy-ness that makes me think I’m missing out somehow. Jeffords street has plenty of parking in front of the slab that will soon be condos and a couple shops. My footsteps bounce around the concrete. Mill Creek Park lifts a lazy eyelid and goes back to sleep.
It’s March 24. Jane Fink and Friends Storytelling is performing at the Encore Theatre. I love a good story and tonight is full of promise. Jane I know. Steve Daut and Susanna Zoumbaris I have not heard but am looking forward to hearing them. Any friend of Jane’s …
Inside Encore, people mill about, eager for screenless entertainment. I get my ticket. I get my seat. The smell of fresh cut wood draws my attention to the stage under construction – a cityscape, or maybe a castle. What’s the next production again? I clomp around snapping a few pics. People watch me with bored interest.
Emcee David Moan walks out from stage left and softens us up saying things like “the sacred art of storytelling transports us to a different world,” and “There is nothing more wonderful than an individual telling us a story.” Really? I think, and then remember I’m in the world of drama.
Headliner Jane Fink takes the stage and begins her rendering of James Thurber’s story, The Greatest Man in the World.
“The moment the Wright brothers managed to hip-hop their plane several hundred yards into the air at Kitty Hawk, America became obsessed with aviation. Not just with the planes that flew, but with the men that flew them…”
Jane continues to warm us up as she tells her rendering of Thurber’s cantankerous but comical aviator Jack Smurch. Her steady cadence lulls us into a chuckling murmur.
Jane Fink and Friends Storytelling is an event that supports the Encore Theatre summer camp program. Begun in 2010 with a couple dozen kids spread over three sessions, the popular program has grown into ten sessions with 120 kids. Under the tutelage of Director Thalia Schramm, youth from around the area are instructed in the basic skills of music theatre.
Jane finishes. Thalia Schramm, a performer herself, takes the stage and sings Part of Your World. I have no idea what this song is but emcee David’s cryptic introduction of “our own red-headed mermaid” makes everyone but me laugh. After the song, Thalia tells us why she created Encore’s Summer Program for Kids.
“When I came began working full time for Encore,” she says, “I really wanted to marry my two loves of summer camp and musical theatre. I genuinely think that for a child to be able to get up on stage and speak in front of people and be collaborative is so important. I really love teaching kids.”
Susanna Zoumbaris enters stage left and tells us the story, A Good Man Is Hard To Find, by Flannery O’ Conner that takes place in 1949 Georgia. What is unique about this story is that in procuring permission from the O’ Conner estate to perform the work, Susanna was given permission to perform it … just once, here, tonight.
“So grandma did not want to go to Florida …” she begins. Susanna’s animation and voices perfectly plays out the woeful tale to its abrupt and startling conclusion. Glancing at the program, I learn Susanna often performs darker tales in sharp contrast to her animated personality. I like this. Not everything in life is happy and funny all the time, nor is that the goal.
Former Encore Summer Program students, Jennie Rupp and Mariah Colby, entertain us with show tunes between stories. My iPod isn’t loaded with Broadway tunes, nor do I attend musicals. What I appreciate, however, is the nerves-of-steel it takes to sing in front of a crowd. What’s clicking between their ears that enables them to do this? I wonder. Watching Tyler Driskill on the keyboard, I also wonder how his quick and complicated maneuvers come so effortlessly. People are watching for God’s sake. I’m mystified and amazed.
We are reminded throughout the evening that the Encore’s Summer Program has a larger vision than just putting kids up on stage having fun; it’s a medium to instill youth with confidence and a sense of belonging. Kids discover that they have a role in the bigger stage of life and begin to understand their potential. They learn how to face their fears.
Steve Daut takes the mic for the first of his two stories. Steve strikes me as more of a stand-up comic, who is witty funny. He gives us a tour of hilarious episodes in his life replete with well-timed pauses and twists. We’re laughing.
“My mother was a caretaker. By that I don’t mean she worked as a caretaker, but she had this absolute compulsion to take care of everybody else’s needs often at the expense of her own. That’s why she married my father. He was a bundle of needs …”
I read his bio in the program. Steve is a stand-up comic. He’s also a magician. I look around the stage for a saw and wonder if Steve has ever boxed someone up and sawn them in half over his 35 years of performing. That reminds me that this very room once stored caskets, sharing space with Dexter Builders. Did they build caskets, or just store them? My mind wanders.
David Moan tells us, “We’re not just cultivating future musical theatre performers, we’re cultivating the next generation of citizens of this world … a group of young people coming together and realizing for the very first time the importance of collaboration.”
Steve is going to be hard to follow. I feel bad for Jane, but she finishes the evening with her own story of growing up with a prim and proper mother who wanted nothing more than to clean up the language of her four girls.
“I grew up in a bilingual family. My mother spoke very high, elegant English sprinkled with Welsh words and phrases …”
We’re laughing harder and it feels good. I don’t feel bad for Jane. She knew exactly how to build the evening’s crescendo and it worked perfectly. Well played Jane Fink and Friends. When the applause finishes, we mill out to the lobby for mingling. I slip out the door into an abrupt stillness. Mill Creek sleeps peacefully. With a silent apology I start the Element and leave.
You can learn more about the Encore Theatre Summer Program on their website.
If you would like to experience the art of storytelling, you can find more information on the Ann Arbor Storytellers Guild website.
If you like what We Love Dexter is doing with local news coverage, please consider supporting us with as little as $5 here. Thank you so very much.