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  • Writer's pictureKen Wolfe

MO-TELL Member of the Month: Ken Wolfe

Like it’s so often cited in a teller’s bio, it was during his tenure as an English teacher in this nation’s fine public schools that Ken Wolfe started telling stories. He warmed up his scholars by having them draw some shape or squiggle on the board and he’d give an extemporaneous “significance of the frame”that explained the shape and integrated it into a 5-10 minute story (some of which have gone on to be performance staples for him). Wolfe then studied at Webster University under Lynn Rubright who mentored him with her usual enthusiasm. In 2001, he earned a Master’s degree in the subject and Lynn exhorted Ken to take his work to the public so he created a popular gig at City Museum in “Art City” telling those same kinds of extemporaneous tales under the title he coined, “Stories

& Lies While-U-Wait”.

Since those days, Ken’s been a regular regional teller in the St. Louis Storytelling Festival and, due to his full-time teaching gig, finds events and gigs wherever he can outside school hours and dates. “Anywhere,” he says, “where I can lie to children for money.”He’s been a returning guest in summer academic programs, schools’ night time events, and Chatauqua communities. Wolfe writes most of his own material, still building the huge catalog of standards and adaptations that full-time tellers need, and the biggest feathers in his teller’s cap are his four wins of the Missouri State Liars’ Contest. (Remind him to get started on this year’s entry...)

Since 2006, Ken has led a vibrant storytelling course at the Pierre Laclede Honors College at the University of Missouri, St. Louis. Of it, Wolfe says, “It’s a great class to teach. I’ve taken what Lynn taught me and created a method of adopting stories from text to performance; reducing a tale to it “bones” to visualize and learn them, then adding the “crucial bits of soul” with each of many tellings.” The teller adapts the story as a false memory of sorts, which is then much easier to tell smoothly, allowing the teller to hone their style, take risks, and make performance decisions. “I get to help young people realize their potential and enter this form of art. We have a final performance each term, which Lisa Overholser graciously includes into the STLSF events. We have to grow this art with young blood that goes past the purely anecdotal, personal tellings of these days.”

His college scholars listen to a banquet of tellers whom Wolfe admires including (but not limited to) Bil Lepp, Bill Harley, Milbre Burch, Syd Leiberman, Bill Cosby, Garrison Keillor, Andy Offut Irwin and many others. “Cosby, especially, is my favorite,” Wolfe says, “Say what you want about him, but his work is too brilliant to disregard.”

COVID has changed the class to require much more Zoom classes and performances over the camera; not ideal at all. “Storytelling isn’t meant to have that weird electronic barrier. The exchange of energy between teller and audience is oddly muted and delayed. Still, the scholars take to it pretty easily. It intrigues me to think that there may be a whole new direction, a new avenue that storytelling is taking.”

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