2023 Beaver Tales Storyteller: Ed Stivender
Ed Stivender and his sister, Nancy, started working together in 1953 when they set up the clothesline curtain in their suburban Philadelphia backyard to regale their neighbors with theatrical renditions of their favorite Fairy Tales. For the past 33 years she has played the role of his manager, and, according to Ed, is the “brains of the outfit”.
Lately, she has been keeping him busy, appearing at Storytelling Festivals like the ones at Cape Clear, Ireland; LaGrange, Georgia; Charleston, South Carolina; Mount Timpanogos, Utah; and Cave Run, Kentucky.
Wherever he’s been he has entertained audiences of all ages with his unique blend of wit, whimsy and wisdom and has been doing so since l975. (He’s real old.)
He made his formal stage debut in the Third Grade at Holy Cross Grammar School when Sister Patrick Mary, RSM, (with whom he still has an occasional lunch) directed him in the St. Patrick’s Day classic, “The Virtuous Shamrock Grower”. In eighth grade he portrayed Tiny Tim in a musical version of “A Christmas Carol” (when he was still a soprano). At Msgr. Bonner High School for Boys he appeared in the Joe Hayes Musicals, and in the plays at Archbishop Prendergast High School for Girls right next door. It was in this context that he learned that he had a skill for improvisation, with his forgettable Bus Driver routine. Applying this craft to the classroom, he became a formidable Class Clown, for which he was justly punished by several teachers, all to no avail, apparently.
At St. Joseph’s College, he played several Shakespearean roles under the direction of Dr. Frank Olley, including the Fool in King Lear, The Second Messenger in Richard III, Pistol in Henry V (under John Gallagher). In 1966 he appeared as Puck in the Philadelphia Shakespeare Festival’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Academy of Music. It was then that he started classes at the Philadelphia Ballet Guild.
He went to Notre Dame University for a Master’s Degree in Theology, where he studied Story Theology under Father John Dunne, CSC, Old Testament under John McKenzie, SJ, and Ecclesiology under Dr. Hans Verweyen.
In 1970 he founded “The Bread and Circuses Street Theater”, performing agit-prop guerrilla theater as part of the peace movement in Philadelphia.
Later that year he began teaching Theology at Northwest Catholic High School in West Hartford Connecticut, where he honed his skills telling stories from the Bible. In May of his fifth year there, trying to keep the attention of Spring-Feverish sophomores, he asked, “Do you think I’m up here because I like to hear myself talk???” When some of the alpha girls nodded, he knew he needed a new line of work. So he helped co-found “The Plum Cake Player” with Tony Wilusz and Regina Mocey, performing shows in schools throughout New England, developing thirteen scripts, including one for four species at the Mystic Marinelife Aquarium. He studied Mime with Angel Vigil and dance at the Hartford Ballet.
In 1976 he saw The Folktellers (Connie Regan and Barbara Freeman) at the Hartford Folk Festival and became their self-designated “roadie”, offering to carry their bags and go for coffee and Krispy-Kremes, and listening to their Siren Song of a Storytelling Movement out of Jonesborough Tennessee. He attended the Festival that year and met Kathryn Windham, Ray Hicks, Doc McConnell and David Holt, and saw the possibilities of a new life.
In 1977 he registered as a “Storyteller” in the Connecticut Commission on the Arts Directory, and began his solo career. Under the guidance of Professor Francelia Butler of the University of Connecticut he appeared every semester in her Children’s Literature class, being voted “best lecturer” several times. During the next two summers he worked as a Performance Artist with Sidewalk, Inc., producing such memorable pieces as “Harry Gray-Face”, “Mock Twain” and “Punk Monk”. He produced, scripted and directed “The Myth America Radio Show”, a comedy and Public Affairs program for WWUH-FM. He was instrumental in the founding of the Amelia Earhart Memorial Mens’ Club which produced the annual “Arts Turkey of the Year Award”, a send-up of cultural organizations in Hartford.
In 1979 he moved to New York, studied improvisation with Karen De Mauro, tried his hand at stand-up at the Improv (learning that drunks were not that much fun to perform for), sold “Indulgences” on Times Square, and volunteered at Covenant House, writing his first rap (“Christmas Rapping”).
In 1980 his Fairy Godmothers (Connie Regan(-Blake) and Barbara Freeman) invited him to appear at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, when his repertoire consisted of five stories. David Outerbridge in the Village Voice termed his performance of Reverend Ed “outrageous” and “blasphemy”. But the sponsors of the Flint Storytelling Festival liked it enough to invite him to go there, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Since that time he has appeared at Festivals, schools and theaters in Indonesia, New Zealand, Ireland, Austria, Canada and the United States. He has presented seminars and workshops in storytelling and improvisation, teaching at Temple University for a semester where he developed his workshop – “Storylab: Five Foolproof Rules of Storytelling (the opposites of which are also true)”.
His early work consisted of original renderings of classic American folklore with a comic twist, leading Jimmy Neil Smith (founder of the National Festival) to call him “the clown prince of storytelling”. In the early eighties Jim May suggested he try his hand at growing-up-Catholic pieces, resulting in a their two-man cabaret, “Raised Catholic” which debuted at the Great Lakes Pastoral Gathering in Chicago. Soon August House approached him to join their American Storytelling Series and he wrote two books for them, Raised Catholic (Can You Tell?) and Still Catholic After all these Fears. He was dubbed the “Catholic Garrison Keillor” by Kirkus Reviews.
His current repertoire includes religious comedy, American classics (O. Henry and Mark Twain, e.g.), world folklore and personal stories. He has produced several audio recordings of his work, including Tellin’ Time featuring Rosa Hicks, live at Jonesborough. His video credits include three Family Specials with The Christophers, an appearance on NBC Today, American Storytelling Series by H. W. Wilson, and numerous YouTube pieces.
He has won several awards in the Philadelphia Mummers’ Day Parade where he marches in the comic division as “Most Original Character” or with the Kingsessing Morris Men.
He was inducted into the “Circle of Excellence” in 1996.
Called the “Robin Williams of Storytelling” by the Miami Herald , “a cross between George Carlin and Mark Twain” by Mara Liasson in The Vineyard Gazette, and “My son, my son” by his mother, he is always entertaining and ever accessible, more interested in giving the audience a break from their everyday lives by inviting them to a dance of interactive imagination than persuading them to change their point of view to accept his higher way of thinking.
A Google search will yield some 21,000 results, though his own website, edstivender.com, might be more informative than the Cialis ads listed therein.