It’s been a year of “the best we can do.” Concerts on laptops. Auctions on phones. Awards presented over Zoom.
But as The Telling Room tried to reimagine its popular Show & Tell literary variety show, originally scheduled for April at the State Theatre, as something that wouldn’t be less-than, director and filmmaker Sean Mewshaw saw potential.
“I realized that we could make it cinematic and surprising,” said Mewshaw, who moved to Maine to direct the Starz film “Tumbledown” in 2015. “As a filmmaker and stage director, this is a kind of a dream come true for me.”
The 80-minute, ticketed fundraiser, pre-recorded at the State Theatre, will go live on Vimeo at 8 p.m. Friday but will be available to view anytime later. Headliners include New York Times best-selling author Kelly Corrigan, singer-songwriter Lady Lamb and Portland author Phuc Tran of “Sigh, Gone: A Misfit’s Memoir about Great Books, Punk Rock, and the Fight to Fit In.”
Tran said, “Working with Sean Mewshaw was such an incredible experience – to have him take my writing and story and channel it through his cinematic genius. He saw all its humor, tragedy and paradox and laminated it with his mastery of visual storytelling.”
The show also brings to life three award-winning poems featured in the nonprofit’s 15th anniversary student anthology “A New Land”: “Grendel’s Mother Takes the Mic,” by Lulu Rasor, dramatized by Sarah Clarke and Matt Delamater; “Plastic Palaces” by Siri Pierce, directed by filmmaker Brooke Saias; and “Drop of Melanin and Blood,” by Benedita Zalabantu, directed by filmmaker Egide Foxworth.
“It’s a visual escape, a bit of magic,” said event co-chair Kate Malin. “It’s storytelling in all these different media to spotlight and celebrate what The Telling Room does, which is programs for Maine’s young people.”
Sonya Tomlinson, a mentor for the Young Writers & Leaders program, said, “I think it won’t feel as much like a virtual event as a feature film.”
The Telling Room serves 4,000 Maine youth annually, with those numbers growing thanks to the online platform SWARM! (Student Writers and Readers Meet!). Students in 14 of the state’s 16 counties have joined in during the pandemic – and, during the school year, all programs are free.
“We’re still offering all our programs virtually, and we’ve done that since March,” said Executive Director Celine Kuhn. “It’s all new this year, pivoting to continue to reach students.”
“Everybody has a story to tell, and everybody can heal from that story,” said event co-chair Alisan Kavookjian of Portland.
Show & Tell 2020 is co-hosted by Salim Salim of Westbrook and Amanda Dettman of Yarmouth, both Telling Room alumni who graduated from college this year and now mentor younger writers.
“One of the most important things in fostering creativity in young people is free writing,” said Salim, who immigrated from Iraq when he was 12. “There’s self-empowerment and validation when you express your story with others.”
Dettman, who was part of Young Emerging Authors, said, “It taught me to be vulnerable with people my own age. And to go through The Telling Room and hear stories from all over the world is something I’ll never forget.”
Tran, whose family were refugees from Saigon, Vietnam, in 1975, said, “Having grown up feeling – and being told – that my own story was not worth telling, I’ve seen at The Telling Room the transformative power of storytelling for young people.”
For more information about Show & Tell 2020, go to showandtellportland.com
Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer from Scarborough. She can be reached at [email protected]