“The brokest I’ve ever been was when I came off from working on Saturday Night Live,” said Mount Tremper resident Beth Broun, a former actress, now obsessed with art of storytelling. “I thought I’d made it, but it turned out I couldn’t get a job. I ended up selling gym memberships on the street. Then I ran into my cousin, who was carrying a big bag full of cash.”
Such is the set-up for the story Broun will be telling at the Phoenicia Playhouse on Saturday, July 30, when she joins a group of local women, each representing a decade of age from 20s to 80s. The event will be first upstate production of Generation Women, a storytelling series that has run monthly in New York City since June 2017, mostly at Joe’s Pub, the Public Theater’s iconic Lower East Side venue. Broun is producing the Phoenicia show, which also features Simi Stone, Martha Frankel, Erica Brown, Verna Gillis, and Nan Tepper.
The series was founded by Georgia Clark, an Australian novelist, who likens it to a salon and to a matriarchal campfire where women of all ages can learn from each other. Her motivation came from a conversation with her mother, Jayne, about the experience of “disappearing as an older woman. The older she gets, when she walks down the street, she finds people are looking through her. When she walks with me, they look at me, but when she’s alone, they see no one. It hit home because she was my own mother. I wanted to create an event where everyone would feel heard and celebrated.” The producers assemble a diverse group of performers, including women of color, women with disabilities, and LGBTQ storytellers.
Each show has a theme, and the audience hears takes on the topic from a sequence of chronological perspectives. “The theme expands like the night sky,” said Clark, “and shows us something greater than the sum of its parts. But particularly I wanted people to hear the stories of older women.” The theme of the Phoenicia show is “My Big Change: Stories of New Paths.”
The most recent presentation focused on “My Greatest Achievement.” Clark was especially inspired by June Duffy, appearing for the fourth time. Duffy described how she has, by her 80s, recast failures of her life, such as divorce and downward career moves. “Now she sees them as achievements,” said Clark. “She wouldn’t have the life she has now without those events. When we hear stories from regular people who have navigated life challenges with grace, it reminds us we can do the same. We can prevail through resilience and tenacity.”
Unlike The Moth and many other storytelling events, Generation Women isn’t competitive. “I like that,” said Broun, who first attended a show at Joe’s Pub about five years ago. “They say to the audience, if anyone has a story, reach out to us, so I did. I told a story about my diagnosis of multiple sclerosis and how I processed it — I ended up going shopping.”
After performing several times in the series, Broun was inspired to invite Generation Women to the Catskills. “I love what they do,” she said, “and the Playhouse is always looking for someone new.” Both Woodstock Bookfest organizer Martha Frankel and “sit-down comedian” Verna Gillis have appeared in Generation Women shows in Manhattan. Nan Tepper is a graphic artist who has performed in the Woodstock Bookfest storytelling contests. Erica Brown is a host on Radio Kingston and serves on the board of the TMI storytelling program. Musician Simi Stone recently sold out the Maverick Concert Hall.
More about the story of Broun’s two years on Saturday Night Live and the aftermath: “In one sketch, I was wearing an original costume from the movie The Ten Commandments. Charlton Heston was the guest host, and I was a belly-dancing concubine. After SNL, I went to auditions, Broadway, Off-Off-Broadway, nothing. When my cousin unzipped her bag of cash, she said it came from working as an escort and offered to set me up.” The story details Broun’s dilemma. Did she do it or not? Come and find out.
The Phoenicia Playhouse presents Generation Women on Saturday, July 30, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25, available through https://phoeniciaplayhouse.com/. Masks and proof of vaccination will be required. The theater is located at 10 Church Street, Phoenicia.