Ushers found themselves scrambling for extra chairs last night at the presentation of Ted Swartz and Shirley Hershey Showalter’s memoirs.
Their presentation, called “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Our Memoirs (And Some Not So Funny Things, Too)” relaunched Swartz’s year-old book, and gave insight into Showalter’s newly released collection of life stories, “Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World.”
The show began with a brief introduction of the authors by Mark Metzler Sawin, History Professor and concluded with the revealing of Swartz’s new cover for “Laughter is Sacred Space: A Not-so-Typical Journey of a Mennonite Actor,” questions from the audience, and a book signing.
The writers transitioned into “Act 1,” which they labeled, “The Importance of Laughter.” “Memoir is just a fancy word for telling our personal stories,” Showalter began. Showalter and Swartz began to demonstrate this by describing the difficulties of growing up, often reading directly from their own memoirs.
First, they spoke on how their birth order directly influenced their early years, with Swartz describing the struggles of being the “second son,” and Showalter expanding on the idea that “all firstborns have the opportunity to be tyrants,” which she exemplified by telling the story of how she once locked
her younger brother in a chicken coop. Later in the show, Swartz recalled how he met the man that would be his future acting partner, Lee Eshlemen, in 1987. “He was seven years younger, and I felt like I had another brother… it wasn’t always smooth.”
Towards the end of the first act, Showalter described the process of writing as “picking stories out of the grab-bag.” She then summarized and acted out a part of her book in which her parents are counseled by a minister who gave austere rules on the bride’s wedding attire.
Swartz acted the part of the minister, bringing waves of chuckles as he laid out the rules for the wedding. Showalter played the part of her mother, asking tough questions that challenged the social norms of the time. Swartz’s befuddled responses to questions of the permission of white shoes and flowers brought roars of laughter that filled the chapel.
The second act of the night, labeled, “Our photos through memoirs’ eyes,” brought about a time in which the authors told renditions of family history through the visual imagery of bent and faded photos.
Showalter told narratives of three generations of women by showing pictures of them as 17- year-olds, saying that each of the photos contained a seed of the stories told.
Swartz continued act two by touching on the grief of losing his previously mentioned acting partner, by reading and describing scenes from his memoir, and by, during the second act, quoting Mitch Albom, in saying, “photos are intent to steal something from death’s suitcase.”
Through photos of his late partner, Eshleman, Swartz was able to positively relive their acting career, often through laughter, which Swartz claimed was “an unparalleled avenue to truth.”
In act three, entitled “Memoir and Mission,” Showalter said that the writing of her memoir led her to deep appreciation of her Mennonite roots.
Regarding the title, Showalter said, “Blush is a metaphor between the grasping self and the authentic self,” and expressed a hope that all reading her memoir would grasp the need to share their historical and familial stories.
Before taking questions and signing books, Ted Swartz and Shirley Hershey Showalter concluded the presentation with the unveiling of Swartz’s new cover for his book entitled “Laughter.”
Instead of featuring pictures of Swartz himself, the cover now holds a workman’s tool belt, pockets stuffed with a Bible, and a rubber chicken.
-Lani Prunés, Managing Editor; photos provided by www.shirleyshowalter.com and www.tedandcompany.com
Tags: Lani Prunés