This is the latest in a series of profiles from Carapace, a free event of true personal stories told without notes to a pre-chosen theme at Manuel’s Tavern, 602 N. Highland Ave., on the fourth Tuesday of every month at 7:30 p.m.
She was the first storyteller to take the stage at the first-ever Carapace (then known as MothUP) in February 2010, and she has been a regular ever since, though lately Shannon Turner has held back.
“We have so many new faces,” she says. “I felt like I didn’t need to be one more person in the pot all the time.”
Turner, a Virginia Tech graduate, formerly acted in community theater.
“Even though I haven’t been a regular performer in a while, I do love this opportunity to reconnect with that self,” she says.
While acting experience may not be common to some of Carapace’s newcomers, “the ones who excel are those who see [storytelling] as a natural outcropping of other creative pursuits in their lives.”
Maybe this is why Atlanta’s literary and spoken-word universes so commonly overlap. Turner, of Inman Park, says honing her skills as a raconteur at Carapace has helped her writing and made her “more connected with my creative self in general.” This spring, she wrote and performed a one-woman show that functioned as “sort of a hybrid between storytelling and theater,” Turner says.
'A persona people respond to'
Turner, 37, was born in Chattanooga, Tenn., and raised in various towns around the state, as her father, a United Methodist minister, moved from church to church.
The lifestyle was “a huge influence on my artistic development, starting with the fact that you’re always on display,” Turner says, and “watching my dad spin a good story every Sunday morning” proved to be another kind of inspiration. “There’s also the fact that church life is woven with art – singing, Sunday school drawing, and the good old church play.”
Transferring from city to city “invites you to decide who you are going to be” from one venue to the next, she adds.
As program director at Alternate ROOTS, a regional arts services organization, Turner keeps members connected with each other and with their benefits. Connection is what Carapace is all about, too – and it’s what Turner says she was seeking when, after graduating from Virginia Tech, she left Blacksburg, Va., for Atlanta.
“I had a lot of friends here, and I was already a member of Alternate ROOTS,” she says. “Blacksburg was a wonderful place for me to come into my own as an adult, but it was a small town and, frankly, I was really ready to fall in love, and I didn’t think that was going to happen in a small town.”
Disappointments and near-misses in pursuit of love: such are often themes in Turner’s stories.
“This has been the story that I’ve spun for myself in my life, the lovelorn, missed-opportunity girl,” she says. “It’s a persona I’ve developed that people seem to respond to.”
How A leads to B leads to C
Turner and her sister are “as different as we can possibly be. When she got married, everybody looked at me and said, ‘Don’t worry, honey, your time will come.’ Even though chronologically I’m older, sociologically a lot of people would say she’s older.”
Shaking off her can’t-win persona and shaping a personal narrative that casts her as the hero is a project urged by Turner’s late mentor, Alternate ROOTS founder and playwright Jo Carson.
“I’m trying,” says Turner, who still feels – along with many others in the arts community – the grief over losing Carson to colon cancer in September of last year.
Meanwhile, Turner says, she hopes to see Carapace-like events spread to other parts of the city, such as the far southwest.
“We’ve got a really good model going on,” she says. Organizers have held the line (unlike some other, similar events) against formal judging of the stories told, in order to avoid a Gong Show, gladiator-style spectacle, even if it might draw bigger crowds. “I don’t think that’s necessary and in fact would be quite damaging,” Turner says.
What makes a good story?
A narrative with vivid images and vulnerability, tracking the process whereby a choice is made that lets the audience identify with the teller.
“Maybe they wouldn’t make the same choice [as the teller], but they can see how A leads to B leads to C,” Turner says. “It’s pretty amazing how people find their own ways into your story.”