For the past 15 years, Joyce Abell has been talent scout, coach, editor, producer and director for the unique Rappahannock show known as “No Ordinary Person.” This annual evening of autobiographical stories, sponsored by the Rappahannock Association for the Arts and Community (RAAC), grew out of the “Life Stories” workshops offered for several years by Julie Portman, but it was Abell who envisioned bringing personal stories told by local residents to the stage to be shared with the whole community.
In addition to directing, Abell has also performed in almost every show herself, and this year was no exception.
Last weekend (Oct. 18-19), to celebrate the show’s 15th anniversary, RAAC recognized Abell for her work, and brought back several favorite stories from previous shows along with the introduction of new work.
In addition to Abell, this year’s performers included Anne Williams, director of Mountainside Physical Therapy and Mountainside Dance Center; Rappahannock County Administrator John McCarthy; Cliff Miller, owner of Mount Vernon Farm; architect Donald Chandler; artist and writer Nol Putnam; and Nevill Turner, co-owner of the award-winning Virginia Chutney Company.
As always, the stories were drawn from a wide variety of life experiences, blending humor, grief, discovery and delight. Williams recreated the sensory-rich world of a 3-year-old, joyously taking in everything around her and struggling to understand the mysterious language and world of grown-ups. Her story brought a new element to the show, as she incorporated a brief ballet performance in her narrative.
McCarthy, who spent part of his youth in Indonesia, employed his characteristic humor and insight to evoke the life of a young American in Asia, and recalled an encounter with a young Chinese boy there that signaled the end of childhood innocence.
From left, Nevill Turner, Donald Chandler, Joyce Abell and Nol Putnam performed in the show Oct. 19.[/caption]
Miller brought back the deeply personal and moving story of his father’s horse, Traveler, and the painful yet beautifully respectful process of saying goodbye to him after 37 years as part of the Miller family.
Chandler retold his story, “Tobacco Road,” painting a vivid portrait of his remarkable father and sharing both the joys and the challenges of his upbringing as the son a sharecropper in North Carolina.
In sharp contrast to Chandler’s story, Putnam told of his youth in a home where well-known artists and writers were frequent visitors, and where the artist Alexander Calder whirled the young Nol around on the dance floor to the chagrin of Nol’s more conventional wife-to-be.
It turns out that Abell also knew Calder in her youth, and with her characteristic flair, she confided how her attraction to a pair of Frenchmen and to a Maserati led to two near-death experiences, Calder having been an indiscreet witness to one. Putnam and Abell performed as a team, in the end revealing an unlikely connection between the two stories.
And the ever-hilarious Nevill Turner performed both nights, bringing back his riotous tale about an ill-fated adventure running a restaurant in the Caribbean, and recounting a new story about the dangers of padding one’s resume, the difficulties of being an actor in blue movies and the strange series of events and encounters that ended up introducing him to his wife Clare.
As co-director of the show, I am already scouting out local residents who would like to tell a story in next year’s “No Ordinary Person.” I would be delighted to hear from anyone who is interested at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 540-987-8677.