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Witching Hour: Failing or Flying @ The Mill 11/5/2016

2016 — what an exhausting year it has been. I don’t need to list out all of the terrible things that have occurred, but they’re enough to make us sad and hopeless. If there was one thing that happened this year that sparked a little bit of hope in me, it was this Witching Hour event “Storytelling Event: Failing or Flying.”

I sat secluded in a corner booth at the Mill, sipping on water and ready for the event to start. The lights dimmed, and hostess Maria Vorhis took the stage. She introduced the event, and then the first speaker, Philip Earl Johnson.

Photo: writerstheatre.org
Philip Earl Johnson Photo: writerstheatre.org

Johnson spoke about a story where his 16 year old self told his father that he wanted to pursue acting. His father was skeptical, but figured that Johnson would learn life lessons for himself. Johnson got off of a train before realizing that he couldn’t find his wallet anywhere in his duffel bag.

He dashed back to the train, gets trapped in the train, and eventually has to jump out of the train before it takes off to an unknown destination. Once he goes back to his friend, he finds his wallet tucked in his duffel bag. “In spite of the risk, you just gotta jump.”

Photo: theatre.uiowa.edu
Ann Marie Nest Photo: theatre.uiowa.edu

Up next was Ann Marie Nest, a woman who talked about a woman in New York who basically helped house theater kids who were just starting off. The woman was known as Mama, and she treated everyone in ways that made them feel special. Mama told Ann Marie, “You keep doin and sayin what you gotta say because it’s always gonna come out right”. She taught all of her babies (as they called themselves) to never second guess yourself.

Photo: mariavorhis.com
Maria Vorhis Photo: mariavorhis.com

Maria Vorhis was next herself, and she indulged into a story that started with her sitting in a coffee shop writing when she heard an older woman ask her friend, “How do you know if your dream is big enough to follow?” (forgive me if I quoted this wrong as I didn’t quite catch the beginning). The woman then continued, “If your palms aren’t sweating, you’re dreams aren’t big enough.”

Maria then talks about a silent writing retreat that she goes on, where speaking is prohibited and they must only write. “What if I have nothing to say?” Maria thought. In the final days of the retreat, she found the her words spilling onto the paper, and when she was done writing, she looked down to find her palms sweaty.

Christopher Okiishi Photo: oldcreamery.com
Christopher Okiishi Photo: oldcreamery.com

After Maria came a dark story told by Christopher Okiishi. Christopher says blankly that you can tell a lot about people just by their mailboxes. He’s sitting at his brother’s house, staring at the mailbox, dreading going inside. He then recalls to an event that took place before that: his brother took their three firearms that they owned, drove to a Marriott hotel, and committed suicide. Christopher is an expert in suicide prevention, which he deemed useless at this point.

The brother left behind videos for his family; a video for his wife, a video for Christopher, and videos for his three children to see some day. Christopher recalled that there was such kindness in his voice, however in pain and suffering, his eyes were already dead. We go back to the scene outside of his brother’s house, and Christopher really just wants to run over all of the mailboxes in the neighborhood and just start over. He ended his story by saying, “It’s really not a metaphor, it’s just a mailbox.”

Reba Meshulam Photo: linkedin.com
Reba Meshulam Photo: linkedin.com

Reba Meshulam took the stage next to talk about back in college when she changed her major from theater to Geology. Her geology professor inspired her, and she fell in love with rocks the way that he did.

She got to go over to London to study some more geology, however it wasn’t glamourous like she thought it would be: she was studying their sewage treatment. Her theater friends were also abroad in Europe, doing things that Reba wished she could do. The real reason she went to England, besides the experience, was because her old high school boyfriend Steve moved out to England with his family.

He agreed to meet up, and Reba was thrilled. Once she finally met up with him, everything had turned platonic and it took all she had to plaster a smile on her face for the next 24 hours. After, she met up with her girlfriends from the trip and cried her eyes out. On her last day of sewage work, she refused to go down into the sewer. As soon as she got back home, she changed her major back to theater, and at the end of the day, everything was okay.

Nestor Gomez Photo: witchinghourfestival.com
Nestor Gomez Photo: witchinghourfestival.com

Next up was Nestor Gomez. Nestor talked about his first love when he was a freshman in high school. He had a stutter and was shy, so he was too afraid to talk to the girl and tell her that he liked her.

Since he had such a hard time expressing himself verbally, he became a really good writer. He would always write love letters for his friends to give to their girlfriends. So one day, he decided to write one. He had his sister review it to make sure it was good. The sister said that wasn’t what girls like, and she was able to score a double date with the girl of his dreams and a guy that had a crush on her.

Nestor told the girl that he likes her, and she told him she didn’t like him at all and that the only reason that she came was because her cousin (the one on a date with the sister) begged her to come with, as that was the only way the sister would go out with him. The girl even made fun of his stutter. The sister overheard, and came over to comfort Nestor. She told him that the girl doesn’t deserve a young man like Nestor. The story ends with Nestor’s sister giving the girl a bird before they go back home.

Megan Gogerty Photo: theatre.uiowa.edu
Megan Gogerty Photo: theatre.uiowa.edu

Last up was Megan Gogerty (who might I add was one of my favorite professors I’ve had for a class thus far). She talked about the day she realized she wasn’t an actor.

Megan was in grad school as a playwright, and she found all of the other playwrights to be jerks, especially this girl Karissa Mills. She like to hang around the actors, because while they could sometimes be showoffs they were cool, fun to be around, and not snobbish like the other playwrights.

One day, her friends invite her to go cliff diving. Megan’s story included a lot of humor, saying that cliff diving is insane and was the plot of every Bugs Bunny and Wile E Coyote episode. The drive was an hour out (“Because people make their cities far from cliffs!!”) and the entire way she was nervous. Her actor friend Ellie got out of the car and waltzed off of the cliff as if it were nothing.

Megan was last to go when she anxiously thought, “I have got to throw myself off of this cliff.” She realized that actors weren’t showoffs; they were incredibly brave. In other words, crazy. Megan’s issue was that as a writer, she was thinking three steps ahead (“My neck is going to snap!”) and that actors just do things. The thing that finally urges Megan off of the cliff is the thought, “If Karissa Mills were here she would have jumped already.”

The coolest part about this event was how different all of the stories were, but how they were all ultimately about believing in yourself when you really doubted yourself. It was a nice pick-me-up, and I definitely recommend checking out these speakers if they are in the area doing something similar to this again.