PUTNEY—This town has stories to tell.
Once a month, beginning June 13 at 7 p.m., Next Stage Arts will present a new storytelling series, Fables, hosted by local radio personality Peter “Fish” Case. On each second Wednesday, a variety of guest storytellers will take the stage to recount tales that are amusing, moving, exciting, or all of these combined. Each Fable session will highlight four 15-minute stories and feature different themes. Admission is by donation.
Fables will launch the Next Stage Café. Featuring a cash bar and homemade pizza, Next Stage Café is a new venue in the first-floor community room of Next Stage at 15 Kimball Hill in downtown Putney.
Smaller than the main Next Stage theater upstairs, this intimate space offers cabaret-style seating, a beer and wine cash bar, homemade pizza, popcorn, and snacks. Here Next Stage Arts Project plans to present new and emerging artists, as well as literary, open stage, and family events, in the café.
“The new café space will work great for Fables,” says Case. “Audiences can enjoy a cash bar and refreshments while enjoying the storytellers in this casual setting. It seats around 100, which seems about right. If we find we overflow this space, perhaps in the future we will push into the big theater.”
For each Fables session, Case will choose a theme that loosely ties together the stories told. For instance, the opening evening will feature Vermont-themed stories, while a future session will highlight stories about something that transformed the storyteller.
All storytellers for Fables opening night were hand-picked by Case. These include Steve West, former radio host at WKVT who runs Fearless Computing, the one-person tech repair shop; Sara Levine, part of the Emerge Vermont Leadership Group and Program Coordinator for Girls on the Run; Don Cuerdon, pioneer of mountain biking and writer for many cycling publications; and Senate Majority Leader Rebecca Balint, D-Windham.
In addition to hosting, Case will also tell his own short stories that night.
“Maria [Basescu, Executive Director], approached me with the idea of starting a storytelling series for Next Stage Arts,” Fish says. “She knew it was my passion and that I was someone who could get the project off the ground. Immediately, I was all over it.”
Case is perhaps the ideal point person for Fables. He’s been in radio for nearly two decades, most recently as the host of “Fish in the Morning” on WKVT-FM. He has also been active in the community for a variety of causes.
Long involved in storytelling events himself, Case will also curate the speakers for Fables.
“I wanted to get together some really great storytellers to get the series off with a bang,” Fish says. “I selected storytellers from different age groups and walks of life in order to present an exciting show. All four I have hand-picked for this occasion are well known in the area to be terrific speakers.”
Don Cuerdon, whom Fish characterizes as “sort of a legend in the area,” is a pioneer of mountain biking in the Northeast.
“He built one of the first mountain bikes, Big Pink, which got its name from its flashing pink paint job,” says Fish. “He has written for many years for many prestigious cycling publications such as Mountain Bike magazine. He has a huge following.”
Sara Levine, on the other hand, comes from a different community.
“Sara is a young, emerging force in the community,” explains Fish. “She is a dynamic presence behind such events as Emerge Vermont and Girls on the Run. She is a real go-getter.”
Songwriter and musician
In addition to hosting “Live and Local,” on WKVT-AM for several years, Steve West is a songwriter and musician who recently self-released his new album, Holding On, on the CD Baby website.
“If I had no concern for income, I’d spend 24 hours a day recording music,” West recently told The Commons. Case said he thinks West’s wide range of life experiences makes him a great storyteller.
Case said Rebecca Balint of Brattleboro, who is going for her third term as one of Windham County’s two state senators, has the inside track on what’s happening in government. She is also known as a forceful personality and storyteller.
“I think she fills out our really impressive line-up of storytellers for our first session of Fables,” Case says.
Fish will mostly work as the host of the event, introducing each speaker and keeping the evening moving along nicely.
“I will also be telling a story or two,” he admits. “But these will be in a much shorter form than our invited speakers. The stories I tend to tell are tragic ones that make people laugh. Like Steve West, I tend to gravitate to dark humor.”
Case encourages people who have a story they want to tell to go to nextstagearts.org/pitch-your-story-to-fables and fill out the application for Fables.
“I will work with anyone to help him or her develop the full potential of what they have to tell,” says Case. “For instance, I can pull out the funny parts of your story. Some people are natural storytellers and need no help, but others benefit from a little friendly guidance.”
One person and a microphone
Case aptly characterizes Fables as simply one person with a microphone looking out at an audience.
“Everyone knows what it’s like telling a story you told a hundred times to a group of friends, but it is different with a roomful of people you don’t know,” he says. “The goal is get them to see what you see. This is a theater of the mind, where you must learn how to connect to your audience.”
Although sometimes speakers can have cues to tell their stories, one thing is forbidden at Fables: reading a written text of your tale.
“Nothing kills the mood like that,” Case says. “The whole thing becomes like a speech. The idea is to make it seem as if it comes off the top of your head.”
Although Case says it’s fun to pick storytellers for Fables, he also wants to cultivate the unexpected.
“If we have time, on any given evening we may pull someone on stage impromptu to tell a story that has not been planned,” he says. “Of course, this way you can sometimes stumble on some really drop-dead bad stories, but more often the audience gets caught up in the occasion. Many times these turn out to be the best stories of the entire night.”
Looking ahead, Case hopes to celebrate Fables’ sixth month at Next Stage in November by changing the format for the occasion and presenting a Story Slam. Here, eight to 10 storytellers will compete by telling five-minute stories, and the audience will pick the evening’s winner.