It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, my hometown…
For years I’ve listened to Garrison Keillor’s radio show A Prairie Home Companion, and—thanks to Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts—last night watched a practice of the show that will be broadcast live tonight.
Garrison is a fabulous storyteller and I love seeing him up on the stage in his light blue summer suit with his red tie, red socks and red sneakers. Red, white and blue might be his uniform dress for Memorial Day, but that’s my image of him on the standing weekend his radio show performs at Wolf Trap.
He always talks to both parts of the audience at Wolf Trap, which features outdoor covered theater seating and uncovered lawn seating. (I’ve attended in more than one rainstorm and have very clever ways from my camping days to use a tarp and umbrellas for cover.) A few years ago he began talking to the ‘wolves’ in the audience. We howl back. My last visit he decided to risk a walk out to see us. To the crowd’s delight, he did it again last night, singing with guest Sara Watkins. I have no idea what they sang, I was so excited to see him up close.
He then held an interview with the purported leader of the pack. I noticed Garrison did not use a script for the dialogue he had with sound effects man Fred Newman. The piece was off the cuff, all very fun and made me realize once again how clever he is. I have read that Garrison writes the entire script for Saturday night, including the regular skits and his monologue about his hometown, on Thursday.
I’ve come to realize he knows his world—or worlds, in this case—so well that he just talks about them. Talks about any tangential thought that occurs to him and relates it back to the world and the characters and what they would do. The monologue is delivered with no notes, pacing across the front of the stage, with glasses off, and, I think, eyes closed. He gestures, shrugs and smiles at the parts where the audience laughs.
I realized in watching him this is key for storytelling. Immerse yourself in the world, so deeply you know it as well as your characters.
And that’s the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, the men are good-looking and the children are above average.