Stories from the Stage

S3 E4 | FULL EPISODE

Sounds Like Summer

In honor of the season, tales of joy and disaster under the summer sun. Caroline becomes a Pilgrim and finds herself curious about the lives of its tourists; Colin battles his fear of sharks with scuba diving lessons; as a Peace Corps volunteer, Theresa breaks the rules to go on a rafting adventure. Three storytellers, three interpretations of SOUNDS LIKE SUMMER, hosted by Theresa Okokon.

AIRED: November 18, 2019 | 0:26:59
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TRANSCRIPT

CAROLINE CHAPIN: You're a real life farmer.

You probably have 5,000 acres.

I'm a pretend pilgrim. (laughter)

I'm not keeping anybody alive.

THERESA OKOKON: It would have been breathtaking

had I been able to breathe.

It would have been beautiful

if I wasn't so terrified.

And then we slip effortlessly down

into this whole other world.

And all we can hear is the sound of our own breath.

OKOKON: Tonight's theme is "Sounds Like Summer."

ANNOUNCER: This program is made possible in part

by contributions from viewers like you-- thank you.

OKOKON: I love summer.

It's this magical time

where I get to go on weekend trips away from the city

and have picnics in the park

and invite myself to other people's barbecues.

I love the summertime,

and in honor of that season,

our storytellers tonight are going to tell you

some of their favorite memories of joy and disaster

under the summer sun.

CHAPIN: My name's Caroline Chapin

and I live in Plymouth, Massachusetts,

and I work for the Plymouth Philharmonic Orchestra.

I understand that you're new to storytelling.

So what got you started in it?

I'm a librarian by training,

and I ran an art center that had a library in it

on the South Shore of Boston,

and I had a wonderful venue that was perfect for spoken word.

And so I was looking for someone

who might want to bring a story slam to our library.

And unbeknownst to me,

there was someone on the South Shore of Boston

looking to host a new series in our area.

And we met through social media, and I told my first story there.

So I understand that you are a self-taught storyteller.

Yes.

What do you feel like

is the greatest lesson that you've learned so far?

CHAPIN: I didn't know stories had shape and arc.

I just thought you stood up and told a story.

And I've learned a lot

from listening to others at slams,

that there's timing involved,

and beginning, middle, and end,

and I've just learned from watching other people.

So how has storytelling impacted your life so far?

I think it's just given me confidence.

And it also surprises people.

My friends and family are really surprised

when they hear about this,

and it's kind of fun to surprise people

this late in life, you know.

OKOKON: Mm-hmm, yeah. (laughs)

CHAPIN: Years ago,

I had the best summer job ever.

I was a pilgrim.

(laughter)

I worked at Plymouth Plantation,

a recreated living history museum south of Boston.

And I brought history alive for tourists from 9 to 5

in character, in a pilgrim costume.

Now, how do you learn to be a pilgrim?

Well, you learn on the job, and they throw you into it,

but they give you the tools.

There's lectures, there's primary documents,

there's secondary sources, and you study on your own time.

You're really into it.

You've got this gorgeous costume...

and it comes with rules.

Yes, even pilgrims have rules.

They were the basic sort of interpreter rules.

When you're in the village and talking to a tourist,

you know, no earrings, no tattoos,

no drinking coffee or even having hot chocolate.

You're period all the way.

We took that really seriously.

But the golden rule, from 9:00 to 5:00,

you stay in character and you never break, no matter what.

So, off I went.

Met people from all around the world.

For some reason,

we had thousands of British visitors.

They came in droves

because the English love to come to New England.

They like to check out

those crazy forebearers of theirs who left.

"Let's see how it worked out."

(laughter)

Well, we loved the Brits,

because we loved a good, good question.

There was nothing better than a really insightful question.

And then we could, like, show off

and show how well we were trained

while in character, and off we'd go.

But the problem was they asked these great questions

in a real-life English accent.

(laughter)

Because part of our training

was to respond in a real-life English accent.

(laughter)

My real-life English accent was, well, not so hot.

We had a character.

Let's say I was Jean Cook.

My character came from Kent.

I was taught a Kentish accent on a tape,

and then roll it back like 400 years,

as it would have sounded in 1627.

I sounded ridiculous.

(laughter)

But did that British visitor make fun of me?

No. They're known to be

the most polite people on the planet.

They just asked another great question.

After these encounters, I'd start to think,

"Hm, am I making history come alive

or am I just sounding like a fool?"

But on I went,

and by the end of the summer, I really hit my stride.

I'm loving this.

Then the farmers arrived.

Now, in the fall, we get a lot of Midwesterners.

I mean, the real farmer guy with the hat and the farmer tan,

and they'd see me behind my garden.

Now we had a character, a house,

and we were assigned a garden where we grew vegetables.

I mean, we took this seriously.

(laughter)

And the usual question was, "So, what are you growing?"

But this guy, one day,

leaned in as I was hoeing behind my house.

And, well, he started asking questions like,

"Let's talk about crop rotation...

(laughter)

"And seed varieties

"and irrigation techniques.

"And, and that drought we had last summer in Iowa,

how did you handle that here?"

So, all in character, my little cap on and my costume,

I look at him and think to myself,

"Okay, you're a real-life farmer.

"You probably have, like, 5,000 acres and soybeans.

"And you probably lost your livelihood last summer.

"I'm a pretend pilgrim.

(laughter)

"Look at my garden.

"I'm not keeping anybody alive.

(laughter)

"I mean, there's five squashes and, like,

"three radishes, and the carrots got eaten.

(laughter)

"I'm fake.

You get that, right?"

(laughter)

(applause)

I'm not sure he really understood I was fake.

(laughter)

Again, I'd come away from these interactions,

"Wow, I really sold it."

But did I just completely boggle this guy's mind, and...

or did I bring history alive?

And on I went into the next season,

which is Thanksgiving.

Okay, Thanksgiving in Plymouth.

You're a pilgrim.

Well, hold on.

(laughter)

The tourists are coming in

by the bus loads.

And, ooh, you're working it.

You're working it.

And it was a cold day, and I was in my house,

and I was in front of the fire and I had a chicken on the spit.

(laughter)

I did, I had a chicken on the spit.

Normal pilgrim routine.

Trust me, we took this seriously.

I don't think you understand that.

So I'm in my house, and I'm cooking,

and the door opens and a family walks in.

And they cluster around the hearth.

And they're a family of Mennonites.

And there are three young women about my age,

and they are hanging on to

every move I make at the hearth.

And they see me there,

and I have my white cap covering my hair.

We called it the coif; it never budged.

And my beautiful handmade costume,

to my sleeves, to my neck,

and down to the ground,

and these plain brown shoes

that were doing their best to look period.

And I looked back at these three young women

with the caps covering their hair...

(laughter)

and their long, modest dress, and their plain brown shoes.

And right then,

I wanted to break the cardinal rule of Pilgrimdom.

I wanted to take my coif off and close the door

and gather them close to me by the hearth,

and I wanted to ask them questions.

I wanted to say, "What's it like

to be a Mennonite young woman today?"

I wanted to know,

what's it like to live a life of faith

in the secular world?

What's it like to have ancestors

who really came here seeking religious freedom?

They were the real deal.

I wanted to ask questions, but I couldn't.

My job was to stay in character and answer questions,

and right then and there,

I knew I had to leave a job I loved.

I was too young to spend my day

inhabiting somebody else from centuries past.

I was answering questions all day.

I needed to get out and live my own little 20-year-old life

and ask a lot of questions.

So I left.

And I went to the costume department

and turned in my beloved beautiful costume

that I had gotten so fond of,

and I went to HR.

Yes, pilgrims have HR.

(laughter)

And I signed out for the final time

and got my huge severance check.

(laughter)

And then I realized I had to go out in the world

and find a job.

And what can you do when you're a pilgrim?

That's gonna look really great on a résumé.

But guess what?

Guess what?

Pilgrim on your résumé makes for really fun interviews.

(laughter)

And it prepares you for a lot more than you think.

And I live a couple of lessons today

by that job,

a couple of my own rules

that don't involve churning butter.

But the first one is some...

I really think long and hard about putting on a costume,

because I think costumes kind of...

they can confuse you, not always connect you.

And I always, always have taken jobs

where I could drink coffee on the job.

(laughter)

But also I want jobs

where I can speak in my own voice

and I can ask questions any time.

And I've done that,

and it's been quite a pilgrimage.

Thank you.

(cheers and applause)

RYAN: My name is Colin Ryan.

I live in Burlington, Vermont,

and I am a comedic financial speaker.

And I understand that this is a job that you invented.

(laughing): I did invent this job, yeah.

So what do you do as a comedic financial speaker?

You know, essentially, I talk to people about

our relationship to money,

and what I had noticed is that it's a very boring subject.

It's a very depressing subject.

And if you bring humor and, really,

a sense of honesty to it,

it becomes something else entirely.

And how did storytelling shape your life

when you were younger, like as a child?

RYAN: My mom is an amazing communicator and storyteller.

My grandma was the best storyteller I'd ever met,

And so I think I just tried to, like, follow in their footsteps.

What would you say

is your grandmother's storytelling style?

(laughing): So, my grandma is the type of person

who would walk up to any stranger

and ask them really personal questions...

(Theresa laughs)

Which is amazing, because you would think,

the rules are, "This is not okay.

People are gonna push back."

But people would open up to her

and she could, you know,

she could change the temperature in a room.

I mean, it was really remarkable to watch.

And I think it taught me that, you know,

listening is also a form of storytelling.

Somebody sharing something and you go,

"What was it like? Tell me more.

What kind of car were you driving?"

Like, let's get into the details.

Not because they're, you know, necessary,

but because they make the story come to life.

It's the first day of

my scuba dive certification course.

I'm sitting in this smelly basement classroom

and I'm smiling, but I'm panicking.

Because for my entire life,

I have been afraid of sharks in any kind of water.

(laughter)

Like a lake or a river,

even a good-sized pool.

I know that it is irrational.

I also know there's a photo of me

on the fridge in my mom's house.

I'm four years old.

I'm standing in front of a swimming pool

and I'm crying my eyes out,

because that little boy is picturing sharks

hurtling toward him.

And now I'm an adult,

and every summer of my life, even the thought of swimming

fills me with dread.

Now, summer is a time to relax, to unwind,

and for some reason I decide

this is gonna be the summer

that I'm going to face my fear of sharks.

And I go home and I sign up for this scuba dive course

in Lake Champlain.

(laughter)

It's a...

it's a courageous half-step.

(laughter)

Class begins,

and we learn hand signals and safety skills,

and then we're paired up with our dive buddy,

and mine is Tanya.

And she's the wife of a dive master,

and Tanya doesn't know it yet,

but I'm a real short-straw dive buddy for her.

(laughter)

There is a panic attack in my immediate future,

I'm sure of it.

And then we're driving to the beach.

We're putting on the gear

and we're wading out into the water.

And as soon as we go beyond where I can touch,

all I can picture are sharks swimming

all around me.

Every second, every sound I think will be my last

and my hands are shaking.

I think I'm actually sweating

in this freezing cold lake water,

and my mind is shutting down.

And so I look, I need something to focus on.

So I look over at Tanya,

and Tanya is going through something.

She's floating on her back,

she's looking into the sky.

She's not talking to me.

(laughter)

And I think, "This is not how I saw this going."

(laughter)

I don't know if you've ever had to

improvise a motivational speech

to a catatonic complete stranger.

It will not go perfectly.

Uh, I began with "Hey, Tanya, do you do yoga?

"Because you should.

"I mean, not now, but you should do yoga.

"I-I've done two classes of yoga,

"so I feel qualified to share something I've learned,

"which is, you know, if you have a thought

that's overwhelming you, to just focus on your breath."

And Tanya doesn't say anything,

but I can tell she's listening.

So I keep going.

I said, "Now, take that thought

"and picture it like a note,

"and tie that note to the leg of a bird.

"Because there's a string on the note,

I should have said that..."

(laughter)

"And... and there's a bird,

"also should have said that.

"And there's a window.

"You're gonna want to open the window

for the bird..."

This has gone off the rails.

(laughter)

It sounded way cooler when Yogi Patrick did it.

I tried to take the pressure off.

I say, "Tanya, look, we don't even have to dive."

"We can just float here.

"It's a beautiful day, and I don't know about you,

but I am loving how it feels to pee in this wet suit."

(laughter)

And that's when I find myself saying something

I had not planned to say.

I say, "Tanya, do you know why I'm in this class?

"I'm in this class because I'm afraid of sharks

"in any kind of water,

like a lake or river or a good-sized pool."

And Tanya laughs, because everyone laughs.

"But I also believe that every minute you face a fear,

"you are one minute less afraid.

"I just have to do this minute.

If you want, we can just do this minute."

And that's when the worst possible thing happens.

Tanya completely recovers, puts on her mask,

and gives me the hand signal to descend.

(laughter)

And I think,

"Yeah, thumbs down, Colin.

Why did you do such a good motivational speech?"

And then we slip effortlessly down

into this whole other world,

where sunlight streaks around us.

There are so many fish to look at,

and all we can hear is the sound of our own breath.

I look up at the surface.

It's 25 feet above me,

and I realized that for the first time in my life,

I am in water and I am totally calm.

Six months later,

I dive down to 65 feet

in the very much shark-inhabited waters of Bali.

And I am terrified.

But I make myself do it anyway

because down there it is truly the blue world.

Colorful fish, coral reef, sea turtles.

At one point, my dive guide sneezed underwater.

That's a visual you'll never forget.

(laughter)

And down on the ocean floor,

I think about that four-year-old boy

crying next to a pool.

And I think "You are not going to believe

"where this story is going to take you.

"And all you need to know to do

"is to take that thought

and tie it to the leg of a bird."

(laughter)

"And when that doesn't work, focus on your breath.

"Find a buddy, feel the fear, but act anyway.

"And remember, every minute you face a fear

you are one minute less afraid."

Thank you.

(applause)

OKOKON: All righty.

So, are you ready for your next storyteller?

I am too; the intro is very easy to do.

Your next storyteller is me.

(applause)

There are a lot of rules in Peace Corps.

Don't drink the water, don't eat the lettuce.

Don't eat raw pig skin.

Don't take rides in unmarked taxi cabs

and don't fall asleep on public buses.

It's all in the name of safety.

You know, Peace Corps is just trying

to keep us volunteers safe.

And it's for this reason, safety,

that Peace Corps volunteers in Ecuador

are not allowed to go white water rafting

without specific permission from the headquarters office

and clearance from the medical team.

Now, in the country of Ecuador,

it's basically like eternal summer.

It's located on the equator,

and for some of it, it's cold and mountainous.

But for most of the country, it's all day, every day,

sunny skies, maybe a little bit of rain.

It's my favorite kind of weather.

Now, I don't know a whole lot about weather patterns,

but maybe because of those weather patterns,

the country of Ecuador has rivers

that are world-famous for their white water rapids.

People come from all over the world

to go rafting there.

But us Peace Corps volunteers there,

we know that those are the rules.

We're not allowed to do it.

Now, when you imagine a Peace Corps volunteer,

do you imagine a rule follower?

I do not.

I imagine myself,

and I have been a lot of things in this life,

but a rule follower has never been one of them.

Good at swimming

is also a thing that I have never been.

And for that reason, and that reason alone,

I should never go white water rafting.

I headed out to a volunteer party

on an endless summer night in October before Halloween.

And during that party,

I had a couple of drinks.

So, maybe because of that,

when one of my friends came up to me and asked me

if I wanted to go white water rafting with them

the next day,

I threw away all of those

aforementioned rules and realities,

and I said yes.

The next morning, me and a group of

similarly hungover Peace Corps volunteers

woke up and made our way down to the river.

We started off in this sort of kiddie pool area.

There were two Ecuadorian guides there to teach us.

They gave us helmets and life vests

and paddles for safety, and they got us

into this gigantic plastic raft.

It was in this kiddie pool area that I learned

that the number one rule of whitewater rafting is

do not let go of your paddle.

If for some reason your body ends up in the water,

your paddle is going to help you swim through

until you get back into the raft.

And once you're in the raft,

you're still going to need the paddle

to get back to shore.

It was also in this kiddie pool area

that I learned that white water rapids

are rated on a scale of one to four.

Now, this course that we were going to be taking

was filled with rapids that were levels three and four.

Because, of course, this makes perfect sense.

Right?

A bunch of hungover Peace Corps volunteers

who had 20 minutes of training

in a language that we're not fluent in

should definitely get into a plastic raft

with a couple of guides

and just do an advanced course in white water rafting.

Like what could possibly go wrong here?

We get started and we go through

the first couple of level threes and, you know,

our breath is kind of beating,

but we're all still in the raft with our helmets on

and our life vests, still got paddles in hand.

We make our way around a bend in the river

and come up on our first level four rapid.

This water was racing.

I can hardly describe for you what it feels like

to be surrounded by water that is moving that quickly

except to say that it feels like

you're giving up all control of your one life

over to this river.

We started to go through this rapid,

and the raft tipped up, and then it came back down.

And then it tipped up,

and, plop, it came back down,

and we'd make our way through the rapid.

My heart is beating,

but I still have my paddle in hand.

Everyone is in the raft and we're fine.

We head around another bend in the river,

towards another level four rapid.

And then it happened.

The raft tips up, plop back down.

It tips up, plop back down.

It tips up, and I realize

that it seems like we're completely perpendicular

with this raging river underneath us.

But then, plop, it goes back down.

I catch my breath for a moment, it tips all the way up again,

and over.

It tosses all of us out of the raft

and into this raging river.

I am terrified.

My head breaks the surface of the water.

I look around, I'm gasping for air,

and I realize that the raft has capsized on top of us.

So we are underneath it.

I hold my breath, go back under the water,

push my way up to the surface.

And then I realized that I have broken the rule.

Because the moment that my body hit that water,

the first thing I did was go "Ahh!"

And I tossed my-my paddle off into the air.

So now it's just me and my body in this river

with nothing but a helmet and a life vest.

I floated through another level four rapid,

because there was no other option.

There was nothing else that I could do.

And finally I made my way towards a rock.

And I grabbed onto this rock for dear life.

I'm panting, gasping for air,

and I watch one of my friends float by,

and she finds another rock, and she grabs on to that rock.

I take a deep breath, and I start to look around me.

I toss my head up to the sky.

I realize that it's like there's no ground.

There's just this river underneath us

and these thousands of gigantic tall trees

reaching up to a clear blue sky.

It would have been breathtaking had I been able to breathe.

It would have been beautiful

if I wasn't so terrified.

My friend holding onto that neighbor rock

tipped her head up to the sky and screamed,

"We're never gonna get out of here!"

(laughter)

And then the vast nothingness around us

caught that into an echo.

(mimicking echoing): "We're never gonna

get out of here, here, here."

(laughter)

But I stand here before you,

so we did eventually get out of there.

The guides did not toss their paddles into the water,

and so they got back to the raft,

got back into it, and paddled it down the river,

picked all of us up like an unmarked taxi cab.

(laughter)

I got out of that river with not even a scratch,

just a stubbed finger.

Except I did lose a shoe.

I was wearing sandals that day because, you know,

I know what to do when I'm white water rafting.

And they were these strappy sandals

that sort of wrapped around the heel,

one of my favorite pairs of shoes.

I lost one of them in the river that day

and I keep the other one on a shelf in my bedroom.

I keep it there as a reminder

that as eternal as summertime might feel,

summer's always gonna keep coming back.

But we've only got one life, right?

So, I drank the water, and I ate the lettuce,

and I ate raw pig skin,

and I rode in unmarked taxi cabs

and I fell asleep

on every single overnight bus ride that I took

because screw the rules,

I'm going to live.

Thank you.

(cheers and applause)

ANNOUNCER: This program is made possible in part

by contributions from viewers like you-- thank you.

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