The Living Room makes a space for everyone's stories
Adriene Mishler sat quietly in a corner of her boyfriend's mother's Living Room. As she looked around at familiar faces – now several dozen animated middle-aged Austinites – Mishler remarked frankly: "This feels like a family reunion. It's like a family obligation – but in a good way."
Her boyfriend's mom, Amparo Garcia-Crow, was running the evening's festivities, buzzing around the classroom at the Casa de Luz educational community center. Without warning, someone flicked off the lights and the crowd settled into folding chairs, cheering as Garcia-Crow took her place on the stagelike area before them. "Who is here for the first time?" she asked with a sweet, dimpled grin. About a third of the audience members raised their hands. The veterans applauded enthusiastically.
"The stories that you're going to hear tonight are not an open mic and they're not exactly rehearsed and memorized," Garcia-Crow announced. "They're ... organized." She introduced the evening's storytellers, which included a lawyer, a sex shop owner, a rock & roller, a cop, a massage therapist, and Garcia-Crow's son Alejandro, who would also be the musical guest. Together, these folks would offer a narrative smorgasbord of sex, drugs, and rock & roll, a nod to the theme of the very first Living Room two years ago.
This evening of storytelling may have been a family show, but Garcia-Crow is no ordinary matriarch. She's neither here nor there – an in-between sort of woman. In her mid-50s, with long, gray-black hair swept into a bun, Garcia-Crow is a somewhat eccentric jill-of-all-trades: an actress, director, playwright, screenwriter, mother, musician, filmmaker, dreamer, psychic, and storyteller rolled into one. She even wrote reviews of dance and art shows for the Chronicle in its nascency but discovered that she could never be a journalist because of her penchant for telling alternate truths. "I had no interest in fact," she says. "I know for a fact that truth is not a reality. What is true for you cannot be true for me!" So Garcia-Crow abandoned journalistic pursuits and stuck with theatre – and storytelling.
She was once a faculty member of the University of Texas Department of Theatre & Dance and has bounced from coast to coast in pursuit of theatrical ventures. Garcia-Crow currently freelances for a living, producing events such as a recent seminar with famed sacred chanter Krishna Das. She will return to the stage as the lead in the upcoming production of The Spitfire Grill at St. Edward's University.
The Living Room is but one of these many moving parts. It began as a fundraiser for her monthly travel to the Big Apple as an artist-in-residence with avant-garde theatre company Mabou Mines, whom Garcia-Crow calls her "artist heroes." She cultivated a professional relationship with the company during an National Endowment for the Arts directing fellowship in the Nineties and in 2010 won the opportunity to work with it again on her original burlesque musical, Strip. "Think Godspell meets The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," says Garcia-Crow of the piece. But she was short on funds for six months' worth of airfare to workshop her unique tale of infamous rascals Lenny Bruce and Candy Barr. And so she did what she does best: put on a show.
But the Living Room is not a show. Not really. On the first Saturday night of each month, Garcia-Crow assembles six storytellers to talk about their lives. She compares herself to a pilot who flies the evening up and then lands it with a story of her own. Some of the participants are actors, such as Living Room regular Annie La Ganga, who has bridged the gap between storytelling and theatre with some help from Garcia-Crow. La Ganga was most recently seen in Drawing a Paycheck at this year's FronteraFest. But most of the folks who volunteer to share stories are just regular people who have an itch to scratch. Greta Gardner, a somewhat introverted fiftyish blonde with an air of subdued glamour, says that her stories are a means of personal growth. "It's always scary," she admits. "[Telling stories is] one way that I can get over my own fear and open up about part of my life that might not be as acceptable or normal. It helps me to remember. As you grow older, there's so much that is lost if it's not relived." Storytellers and audiences alike agree: Even grown-ups need to tell stories.
Like Garcia-Crow herself, the Living Room is an in-between sort of thing. Neither here nor there, neither improv show nor performance, the Living Room is exactly what it sounds like: a cozy, informal setting where people can share. "Everyone has a story," insists Garcia-Crow. "You were born, right? You have a story to tell!" According to Garcia-Crow, with a little coaching, even the most ordinary people have the makings of a great story stashed away somewhere within.
So on the chilly first Saturday of February, my roommate Sarah and I drove down to Casa de Luz not quite knowing what to expect. It didn't take much convincing to get Sarah to come once I realized who would be telling a story that evening – none other than Garcia-Crow's son (and Adriene Mishler's beau), songwriter/performer Alejandro Rose-Garcia, better known by his stage name, Shakey Graves. The evening truly was a family affair, with Alejandro, who won acclaim from KUT-FM as one of its 12 bands to watch in 2012, telling a charming story about the precious, unexpected gift of a 1932 Gibson L-7 guitar. He also wooed the audience with musical interludes, playing mysterious, smoky, smooth tunes atop a buttery yellow homemade suitcase kick drum.
In the ensuing two hours, a rapt audience heard Gardner candidly relate her postgrad adventures as a porn novel proofreader in New York City. The most entertaining trick of her former trade was the endless cache of genitalia euphemisms: "massive marauder," "flesh tube," "cum button," "juicy pearl," and so on. Next was gregarious Jarrett Crippen, a South Austin cop whose story lampooned an old pot-smoking hippie he'd encountered on the job. Then we had Herndon X, decked out in full steampunk attire complete with goggles, top hat, and waxed silver mustache. X, the lanky lead vocalist for rock band Marshall Dylan, shared his improbable transformation from rock & roller to holy roller and back again.
After a short potty break, Terri Lynn Raridon, the vivacious, no-nonsense owner of Austin's beloved fetish boutique Forbidden Fruit, told us what it was like to be the proud purveyor of so many dildos. Next, prominent environmental attorney Brad Rockwell remembered an acid trip in a Volkswagen van. Then our host stepped up to tell the final, eagerly anticipated story. Alejandro accompanied his mother on guitar as she danced the twist to describe her sex education – namely, her discovery of the "pharmacy in her own body," that wholly satisfying feeling that only comes from "twisting" in private. Yep, we're talking about masturbation. Garcia-Crow grinned gleefully as the audience giggled at the authenticity of the whole thing. Perhaps for Amparo Garcia-Crow and her Living Room family, the real pleasure in life comes from sharing your stories.
The Living Room storytellers gather on the first Saturday of each month at 7:30pm at Casa de Luz, 1701 Toomey. For more information, call 441-6085 or visit www.amparogarciacrow.com.