Acting Off The Grid

Sometimes I go as a storyteller.

Last week I went through southern Virginia and east to west in North Carolina, driving a distance equal in miles to the length of England. Visits with old friends and a book reading with stories in Winston-Salem, and another on the North/South Carolina border. I call this acting-off-the-grid. Why? Because this stuff takes you outside the infrastructure of the business. No agents, directors, casting directors. As an actor-for-hire you’re always waiting to be invited to a party. But when you go rogue you take the party with you.

Here’s what it looks like at its best. This is a picture of my friend Jenny Harmon setting the tone!

ImageTrish (AKA Patricia Conolly, Broadway veteran and a storyteller with vintage material herself) joined me in on one gig and together we did an hour of “Tales from the Backstage” at an amazing community south of Asheville which also runs a healing center called Free Rein.

Troubled people come and learn to ride, lose their fear of horses, get better…

One of several highlights of this delightful trip in The South was brunch with Joe Bly Snr. Joe Bly is a man of such positive voltage that he lights a place up when he walks in. He is a man who’s been telling stories since he learned to speak. Now in his ninth decade of life he’s still telling them. He gave me some good technical advice too …

Me: When you tell stories to a group, you hear great stories too …

Joe: And you LISTEN! Because that’s where you get your best material!

Or to put it another way, there is no shortage of product out there, but meaning is sometimes in short supply. Story is one way to find it.

So with respect to a master of the craft, here’s a brief tale about him …


Joe came to visit us in New York City a few years back and he and I went one time to the drugstore on the corner of Thirteenth Street and Sixth Avenue, to buy—I can’t remember what.

Inside it was one of those retail situations that sometimes develop in corporate retail situations. A long line of people all standing in tense silence, two people behind the counter moving at one speed, DRS—dead resentful slow, the air thick with passive hostility, impatience, anxiety, and other related negatives.

All lit with over-bright fluorescent lighting, short on vitamin D.  And none of it any one’s fault, just a turn in the psychological weather from sunny to cloudy. Standing in line were New Yorkers of all colors and sizes, a mixed, egalitarian demographic. But so drab was the atmosphere, that no one could see the point of anything any more. Amongst the diverse customers in waiting was a young mother, carrying a baby in a wrap-around pouch.

Joe Bly loped into the place maintaining a stream of optimistic commentary. He took in the atmosphere at a tissue level, took a stance apart from the waiting line, and pointing to the mother and then to the baby, announced in a voice that instantly gathered focus:

“Every time you don’t believe in heaven any more, you get to see one of these!”

‘Course, on the paaaiiige, there’s no way I can riiiightly conveeaay, the swooping vowels in Joe’s North Carolinian accent, nor the hopeful tone always present in his voice, nor the emphatic cadence in the final word: theeese!!! Delivered in such a manner that we all recognized the revelation in what he said. It was at once a quotidian commonplace and a universal truth.

It was magical.

Even the lighting seemed to respond, losing some of its harsh edge. The people behind the counter smiled, and the smile rippled through the line. The childless woman standing next to the young mother turned and asked in shy praise, “How old is she?”

The mother bloomed like a flower opening, her cheeks pinked, and she admitted with blessed, gentle delight, “She’s four months.”

Four months! Four months of miraculous new life next to us all in the line at the drugstore! The information rippled and splashed around the place which was no longer a drugstore simply, but rather a crucible of joy, bright in a dull world. Revealed now because an angel spoke through an old man who’s lived a positive life. Spoke aloud against the denial of the light.

Magic. What would we pay for this?

We cannot pay. This is worth beyond gold.

It’s always seemed that way to me anyway.

Meanwhile, a journeyman storyteller, I am available for weddings, christenings, bar-mitzvahs …

12 replies on “Acting Off The Grid”

I live with bated breath for your next tale of wonder. “Trish”, if I’m not mistaken, was playing the female lead in a play I came in to cover for briefly as the understudy. I dont think she could possibly remember me since it was for a short 2 week engagement. I shall never forget her performance though. She was brilliant. It was called “The Elephant Man”. I went on to tour in it with your countryman, David Bowie. Please send more stories. Mary sent from my IPad

Dear Colin I am in Paris briefly. Quel city! Together with NY it is my fave. Wish I were going to visit you two, but …

Enjoyed yr last blog ( enjoy them all!)

With love to you both, Terry

Sent from my iPhone


Oh Terry, City of Light – wish we could nip over there for a glass of rouge and a baguette with you on the Rue St. Honore (ref: Hay Fever, maybe not the best place for a snack. Le Lapin Agile perhaps) Hope you’re enjoying very much

Well done Colin! I am very pleased you are doing this. Glad to know it’s happening. And I look forward to reading more!

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