The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

April 22, 2012

MSU storytellers to regale public at free event

The Register-Herald

— A group of Mountain State University theater students known as the “Fantastic Few” spin colorful yarns — some of them funny and some of them serious, most of them outlandish and a few of them perhaps even true.

The group, formed from MSU faculty member Marina Hunley-Graham’s Introduction to Theatre class, will put their storytelling reputations to the test at 7 p.m. April 30 when they present “Truth and Beyond” at the John W. Eye Conference Center. The event is free and open to the public.

These storytellers and wanna-be actors weave incredible tales from their past, from their future, and from their imaginations.

Featured tellers include Sue Atkinson, who specializes in telling stories from real life. Always an avid reader and a dreamer, Atkinson grew up in small-town Georgia. Her family would sit at the supper table long after dessert to talk about the day. Her dad made his work day sound like so much fun, and he would laugh until tears rolled down his face. That was when Sue discovered a love of stories.

A former leader and trainer with the Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts, she practiced her storytelling craft as a Sunday school teacher, at 4-H camps and church gatherings. Retirement in 2004 hasn’t slowed her down one bit.

Richard Barber and Fred Powers tell stories ripped straight from their experiences as coal miners under these West Virginia hills. Barber spent nearly a decade at U.S. Steel Mining Co. in Gary, then taught school for 24 years in McDowell and Monroe counties.

Coal mining’s challenges, adventures and dangers form the foundation of his personal and occupational history, and storytelling affords him the freedom to remove the media sugar-coating and tell it like it is — the unvarnished truth.

Powers, also a retired coal miner, offers realistic depictions of life in the mines: eating in the ole dinner hole; giving the rats fantastic names; and making sure his canary stayed alive — because if the bird died, so might he. Powers makes his presentations in the working attire of the miner and from the perspective of the dinner hole, where miners took their only break of the shift.

Leon Swafford joined the Marine Corps after graduating from Mount Hope High School. His travels to Japan, Thailand, the Philippines and Fallujah, Iraq, offer an abundant supply of epi-sodes and anecdotes, both serious and humorous. Back in the states, he has called San Antonio and Charleston home, before finally settling down in Beckley.

Danny McMillion, a retired librarian, has been telling stories since her youngest son, Patrick, innocently asked one day, “Mommie, how old are you?”

What followed was a tall tale about how Danny was so old that she had a pet brontosaurus (“Bronty,” of course) to play with while she grew up. Patrick and brother Brent heard many stories of antediluvian romps through prehistoric swamps. Danny likes to stretch the truth well past the unbelievable, and she’ll mix in a few scary stories just to change the pace.