Considered one of America’s most acclaimed storytellers, Kevin Kling has a fan in Jim May.
A nationally renowned, award-winning storyteller and author himself, May, of Spring Grove, has wanted to bring Kling to McHenry County for years. He finally got his wish.
Kling will perform “A Unique American Voice” at 2 and 8 p.m. July 8 at the Woodstock Opera House, 121 Van Buren St., Woodstock. Tickets cost $26 for adults and $21 for students at 815-338-5300 or www.woodstockoperahouse.com.
“Perhaps because his own life has been so harrowing and has brought him face to face with death and pain, his humor, his insight, his way of observing the world is razor sharp and hilarious,” May said of Kling, known for popular commentaries on National Radio’s “All Things Considered.”
Originally from Minnesota, Kling has toured the country for more than three decades, delivering humorous and tender stories and has been awarded numerous arts grants and fellowships.
He started in theater years ago, becoming an actor and playwright, but soon found storytelling to be his calling.
“I was a storyteller my whole life,” he said. “We used to say in college, ‘Your night before was only as good as your ability to talk about it.’ “
Encouraged by a friend of the now-defunct Brass Tacks Theatre, he soon began performing his stories professionally.
“I wanted to be more part of my community. I wanted to be as necessary as a plumber, part of the fabric of my community, to be responsive to its need, remember its past, what is funny in our community, what is sacred,” Kling said.
Kling’s autobiographical tales tell of hopping freight trains, getting hit by lighting, performing his banned play in Czechoslovakia, growing up in Minnesota and eating things before knowing what they are and much more.
He’ll tell a story about going to church with his family, sitting in the back seat with his brother. A story that will go on longer than the actual events did, he said. “It’s like ‘M*A*S*H.’ ‘M*A*S*H’ went on longer than the war,” he said with a laugh.
Many of his stories are told through the eyes of being a child, learning something for the first time “so the irony can really come out,” he said.
Kevin was born with a congenital birth defect – his left arm is about three-quarters the size of his right arm, and his left hand has no wrist or thumb. In 2001, Kling was in a motorcycle accident and suffered brachial plexus injury. The brachial plexus nerves in his right arm were pulled completely out of their sockets. He now has partial use of his left arm and cannot use his right arm at all.
“I have two disabilities, one I was born with and one I achieved later in life,” he said.
“I’ll talk about disabilities. When I talk about loss, it can be any loss, and we all experience it and again find humor init and find what is found in what is lost. The idea of finding what is found in what is lost is a pretty important thing these says, and doing it in a way that is welcoming and allows everyone to experience their own journey.”
His stories, like most storytellers with “a few 100 stories in our pockets,” go where the audience wants him to go, more of a conversation than anything else.
“Sometimes, people just need to laugh,” he said.
He sees storytelling as valuable in a time with so many screens, as visceral experiences.
“You just don’t see that many standing ovations after movies,” he said.
“Storytelling is still one of those places where you have that experience that’s unforgettable, that touches you. …When you read or experience something from a screen, knowledge is transferred, but when you hear a story, the actual experience is transferred. … I know a story really worked when a kid comes up and says I’m almost as good as their grandpa. Then I know it’s not just transferring my own experiences, but conjuring an experience in someone else’s life.”