Storyteller takes pride in his crazy characters

Jessica Fischer • Jun 30, 2013 at 4:46 PM

The International Storytelling Center’s popular Storytelling Live! series is rolling out the red carpet for its next performer, Andy Offutt Irwin, a beloved humorist from rural Georgia.

Irwin is the latest in a series of prestigious storytelling residents who will offer a week’s worth of matinee concerts in Jonesborough through early fall.

The storyteller specializes in creating outrageous characters that blur the line between real life and tall tales. His most popular character, Dr. Marguerite Van Camp, is so richly imagined that Irwin’s audience often asks after her health — not stopping to think that an 85-year-old woman who works at a place called Southern White Old Lady Hospital just might be invented.

“My favorite thing is for someone to ask if Marguerite is still alive,” Irwin says. “They absolutely believe that she’s real, which means that somehow I’m able to bring her to life. I’ve come to terms with the fact that they like her, but they don’t like me so much.”

“I think most people actually do know she’s fictional, but they have affection for her,” he adds. “Your characters aren’t working unless your audience has affection for them.”

Irwin himself cares a lot about his characters, a trait that he considers essential to good writing. Often, he finds himself taking in the world through Marguerite’s eyes. Even in his hours off the stage, he thinks about how Marguerite would react to situations he encounters day to day.

“The characters have to be developed before I can develop a plot,” he says. “Creating material is always asking questions of the characters about what they’re up to.

“If you create a character that is solid and believable, eventually that character takes over,” he says. “It’s almost like multi-personality disorder.”

Sometimes details from his routines bleed into his stories about Marguerite, who — like her creator — likes to go on long walks with her dog.

Recently Irwin has been developing a new slew of stories about Marguerite. While she’s as outlandish as ever, there’s a new subtlety that Irwin has found himself exploring.

“My new stuff is kind of introspective,” he says. “The way I’m telling these stories — they’re quieter. But the goofiness always emerges.”

In addition to new material and old favorites about Marguerite, Irwin plans to share a wide variety of personal stories and songs. Throughout his residency, July 2-6, Irwin will accompany himself on guitar during a series of afternoon concerts. Performances are at 2 p.m., daily in the Mary B. Martin Storytelling Hall, an intimate theater in the heart of downtown Jonesborough.

Tickets are $12 for adults and $11 for seniors, students and children under 18. (Season passes that offer savings of nearly 50 percent are also available while supplies last.) Tickets are expected to sell out, so reservations are strongly recommended.

Ticket holders will save 10 percent on same-day dining at The Olde Courthouse Diner, The Dining Room, Jonesborough General Store and Eatery or Main Street Café.

Information about all TIR performers, as well as a detailed schedule for 2013, is available at www.storytellingcenter.net.

The International Storytelling Center is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

Storytelling Live! is sponsored in part by Eastman Credit Union. Media sponsors are News 5-WCYB, FOX Tri-Cities, Tri-Cities CW, Johnson City Press, Kingsport Times-News, Herald & Tribune and Cumulus Media.

For more information about Storytelling Live! or to make a group reservation, call (800) 952-8392 ext. 222 or (423) 913-1276.

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