SALISBURY, N.C. (WBTV) - From Rowan Public Library: If you ask Andy Offutt Irwin what storytelling means to him, he will tell you that “if eyes are the window to the soul, then stories are the soul’s door.” If that is true, then Andy has spent over twenty years opening that door and sharing his soul with audiences across the nation. Irwin has a broad range of storytelling and performance experience, from being part of an improvisational comedy group at Walt Disney World, a keynote speaker at the Library of Congress/Viburnum Foundation Conference on Family Literacy, and an Artist-in-Residence position at Emory University’s Oxford College in the theatre department.
This week, Irwin will bring his talents to Rowan County at Rowan Public Library’s 20th Millstream Festival. As the featured storyteller, Irwin will share his stories with all of the second grade students currently enrolled in Rowan-Salisbury public schools, as well as a number of private school and homeschool students. He will join 24 other regional storytellers who will share tales at Sloan Park in Mt. Ulla.
On Thursday, at 7 p.m., Irwin will perform a public Storytelling Hour at RPL Headquarters’ Stanback Auditorium, located at 201 W. Fisher St. in Salisbury. An encore performance will occur in the Stanback Room on Saturday, September 21 at noon. Admission is free, and all ages are welcome to this family-friendly storytelling performance. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m.
According to Andy, the most enjoyable part of sharing stories is when he can see the audience “seeing” his stories. “That’s when I know we are in sync.” Most of his performances revolve around the character of Marguerite Van Camp, Irwin’s eighty-five year old aunt that has just graduated from medical school, complete with Irwin slipping into a shaky Southern drawl as he imitates her speaking voice. In reality, this fictional character was inspired by Andy’s mother and grandmother, whom he credits as the source of his love for storytelling. “I tell the truth,” he explains, “Even if it’s fiction. I tell about my people to show that we are all each other’s people.”
Irwin’s proudest moment as a storyteller was his appearance as a Featured New Voices Storyteller at the National Storytelling Festival in 2005, which he has previously referred to as the “Super Bowl” of storytelling. This is only one of Irwin’s many accomplishments, as he was also given the Circle of Excellence Award from the National Storytelling Network in 2013 and has earned multiple honors for his storytelling recordings, including a Parents’ Choice Gold Award for his first audio CD for children, Andy’s Wild Amphibian Show!
When creating his own stories, Andy explains that “the biggest task is to capture ideas as soon as they hit. Then I have to have the discipline to sit down and get into some ‘deep work.’” Irwin’s stories often focus on topics such as growing up in a small town, growing old, family bonds, racial relations in the Deep South in the 1960s, and practical jokes. He credits his background in the theater as helping him develop his storytelling skills, as well as his experience as a stand-up comedian and singer-songwriter.
Andy continues to write and perform his own songs in addition to the other creative pursuits that fill his time. He also has a regular column in “The Covington News,” the weekly newspaper in his hometown of Covington, Georgia. He continues to work as a director as well, currently working with Grammy award-winning folk musician Marcy Marxer on her upcoming one-woman play.