Two More Saturdays to See Storytellers Anne Thomas and John Donvan by Ellouise Schoettler

                SOLO  SERIES Double Feature – Two more Saturdays to see this
Outstanding Performance by two Fine Storytellers. (For Adults).


SpeakeasyDC, the leading storytelling organization in the DC area, inaugurated a SOLO Series. For September the spotlight is on Anne Thomas and John Donvan, two fine tellers who have extraordinary personal stories to tell. They will present a Double Feature Show every Saturday in September at Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint – 916 G Street, NW, in Washington, DC, across the street from the Martin Luther King Library. The performance is a two hour show with a break in the middle. Each teller tells a 50-minute story.

Both Thomas and Donvan have told stories at the popular SpeakeasyDC  monthly shows which feature a line-up of seven or more  tellers performing a seven-minute true- lived story. The seven-minute constraint is satisfying to many but  there are those who eventually want to take more time and tell a story that reaches deeper into their personal experience.

Before going any further I should disclose that I too am a storyteller and I lean toward the long form story in my performances. I have heard Anne Thomas tell her stories before this show. I do not remember hearing John Donvan tell a story before.

When listening to a storyteller I look for a well-crafted story that draws me into a new world and holds my attention until the end. I particularly appreciate a story that is peopled with memorable characters who show who they are by how they handle the problems they face. I prefer listening to a long-form story because it gives me time to get to know the storyteller and to experience how they connect with their audience.

Curious as to why Thomas and Donvan, both successful in other professions, had undertaken the solo show challenge. So I asked each of them quickly before their show.

Anne Thomas. Photo courtesy of Anne Thomas.
Anne Thomas. Photo by Alexander Morozov.

In the Green Room before the show Anne Thomas was excited anticipating her second of the four performances. “I enjoy the actual performing and knowing that there will be more than one show. During the performance I feel like something takes me over – that I am free to make changes during the telling if I see a new possibility or if something in someone’s face leads me to make a change. For the first time I am feeling that as a storyteller I am actually in the creative process and the audience is the magic.”

No More Helen Keller Jokes.
Anne Thomas

Anne opens with the story of her tragic car accident in Europe when she 18 years old traveling on her own. The accident robbed her of the use of her body below her waist, shattered dreams, and left her a vigorous young woman confined to a wheel chair for the rest of her life. But Anne Thomas is not an ordinary person. She turned her struggle into victory. She changed her paradigm and set herself to succeed in rehab, college, law school, and the professional work world.

With a wry sense of humor, a steady voice and a straightforward approach Anne not only tells the audience her story – she leads them into the difficult world she lives in as a physically disabled person – a world she refuses to allow to define her. Her story is one of determination, strength and the ability to laugh when that is the best – often the only – medicine.

With an unemotional style and wry humor she leads the audience into the world she woke up to after her accident, and lays before them the tough truth about what its like to be disabled in a world that would rather hide that reality than see it. The story is skillfully knit incident by incident into an inspiring picture – not just of survival – but of triumph.


John Donvan.
John Donvan.

John Donvan is a well-known Emmy Award-winning ABC news journalist whose career is built on telling real news stories on television. We talked for a few minutes before the show.

“Stories are like quicksilver. After telling the story several times you wonder if this is really the way it happened, or has the story taken on a life of its own.” After a career of talking into a camera where additional takes are possible, he says being in front of a live audience initially “terrified me,” but then “working in front of people close up  became important to the storytelling dynamic.” His purpose when he is telling a personal story is “to tell the story exactly as I want to tell it with no editorial changes.”

John Donvan

If Donvan was ever nervous before a live audience he is well-over that now. At ease and appearing totally comfortable – he launches right into his first story of himself as a young kid who wanted to be inside the television box where families were Brady Bunch ‘normal.’ Within minutes, he drew the audience into the story as he sheds his celebrity and reveals the naive man-boy who wanted to separate from his father’s weirdness. As the story progresses, he gives the audience two memorable characters, himself as a young guy with a goal, and his father as a WWII veteran who is silent, frugal, and steadfast. By the end of the story, the son comes to know and appreciate his father.

It’s a warm, touching, and humorous passage story that is knit together through carefully chosen life-incidents which flit across time. They have been woven into a well-crafted story which reveals a subtle and timeless lesson about the father-son relationship.

Donvan’s easy style of storytelling and casual manner welcome the audience into a relationship with him during the performance. In several important dramatic passages his style serves the story well: he brings the audience up close as he helps his father bury the family dog, and later when he brings them to stand with him as he encounters dead battle-field casualties turned into “meat.”

Lose the Kid is far more than Brady Bunch storytelling.

Two standing ovations speak for the impact of the tellers and the stories. Smiling faces on the people leaving the theater said, “satisfied.” As for me  – I was definitely well satisfied.

Don’t miss this chance to savor a full afternoon of really good storytelling. It is so much more satisfying than the “quickie” we are used to from the seven-minute story.


Solo Double Feature with Anne Thomas and John Donvan plays on Saturday, September 21 and September 28, 2013 at 3 PM at Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint – 916 G Street, NW, in Washington, DC. Purchase your tickets at the box office or online for the 21st here and for the 28th here.


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