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Bil Lepp’s latest tale stranger than fiction

Jessica Fischer • Aug 18, 2013 at 5:27 PM

Bil Lepp, a world-class humorist, storyteller and award-winning author, will serve as Jonesborough’s teller in residence the week of Aug. 20-24.

While Lepp is known for his tall tales, his newest story is a 100 percent true historical piece that easily falls into the category of “stranger than fiction.”

The subject is General Daniel Sickles, a peculiar and hilarious character that Lepp encountered in the unlikely environs of a Civil War wax museum in Gettysburg, Penn. Rained out from a real tour of the battlefield, Lepp and his family spent an afternoon taking in a series of life-sized dioramas.

“I think the whole thing was built in the 1960s, when it was probably cutting-edge animatronics,” Lepp says. “The spotlight would shine on two or three wax figures. The recording would say things like, ‘General! General! Oh lord, I think he’s dead.’ And then they moved onto another part.

“When it came to General Sickles, they said his leg was crushed by a 12-pound cannonball during the Battle of Gettysburg. Subsequently the leg was amputated and he donated it to the American Army Medical Museum. He sent it in a little coffin. I thought, wait. He did what?”

Lepp immediately recognized the strange story as comedy gold. “As soon as I heard that part of this crazy wax presentation, I knew it was the kind of story I wanted to tell,” he says. “Honestly, it seemed like the sort of thing that I would make up. The fact that it’s true just made it all that much better.”

Lepp will share General Sickles’ story, along with new and classic tall tales, during matinee shows throughout the week of his residency. All performances are scheduled for 2 p.m. at the International Storytelling Center.

There will also be two special programs during the week. At 9 a.m., Wednesday, Aug. 21, Lepp, a former Methodist minister, will lead “Stories in Sermons,” a two-hour workshop geared toward pastors and lay people. Admission to the workshop is $30 and is open to the public. Spots are limited, so advance purchase is highly recommended.

On Thursday, Aug. 22, Lepp will present a special evening concert, “Hard Hat Area.” Tickets to the 7:30 p.m. performance are $15 and are expected to sell out quickly. The program will include several new stories, which Lepp is excited to debut in Jonesborough.

“One of the nicest things about TIR is that the audience is often so storytelling savvy,” he says. “It’s a great place to try out new material because I have such a wonderful audience who knows how to listen.”

A number of shops and restaurants in downtown Jonesborough will extend their hours Thursday evening before the concert. Shoppers can present their receipts at the International Storytelling Center to be entered in a weekly drawing for special prizes.

Tickets for all matinee performances are $12 for adults and $11 for seniors, students and children under 18. Ticket holders for all matinee and evening performances will save 10 percent on same-day dining at The Olde Courthouse Diner, The Dining Room, Jonesborough General Store and Eatery or the Main Street Café.

All concerts will take place in the Mary B. Martin Storytelling Hall, an intimate theater in the heart of the International Storytelling Center. Shows are appropriate for all ages and reservations are strongly recommended.

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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