• Staff Illustration/Andy Castillo—

  • At left, David Bulley. Above, an artistic rendering of the Shea Theater Performing Arts Center in Turners Falls. Staff Illustrations/Andy Castillo

  • A rendering of Storyteller David Bulley. Staff Illustration/Andy Castillo—

For the Recorder
Published: 2/20/2020 1:23:40 PM
Modified: 2/20/2020 1:23:29 PM

If you like The Moth radio program on NPR or have enjoyed Valley Voices, a periodic local storytelling event hosted by New England Public Radio, or are just looking for a fun night out, David Bulley’s got you covered at Storypalooza happening this Saturday, Feb. 22 at 8 p.m. at the Shea Theater.

Four storytellers, David Bulley, Sue Schmidt, Janelle Codianni and Tone Nunes will present two stories each with an upper limit of 10 minutes per story. Bostonian Dan Foley will act as MC for the night, opening the show with a surprise performance. Bulley is tight-lipped about what it will entail but promises that it will “literally knock people out of their seats.”

When asked what the difference would be between Storypalooza and other storytelling events, Bulley says, “I got involved with the Valley Voices and really enjoy that. I’m pretty successful with it, but also, it’s a hard five minutes, where they ring a little bell.”

For Storypalooza, he wanted to change things up a bit, “so, I wanted to experiment with not having a time limit and letting a story reach its natural conclusion.” He adds, “It’s not a contest. It’s more like a concert.”

Additionally, parents should be aware that this show is for adults only: “On The Moth and Valley Voices — for very good reasons — it’s usually PG or G-rated. I thought it would be really fun to take away that convention. We let people talk about what it’s like to be an adult.”

“Usually when I perform, there’s a little filter, and I just wanted to experiment without that inhibition,” Bulley says of his reasoning to let the PG rating go. “Audiences should be prepared for filter-less stories. But as far as I know, there’s not going to be any nudity.”

In the spirit of most creative innovations and inventions, Bulley says he decided to create Storypalooza, because, “I was looking for someone else’s event I could join or try out for, and it really wasn’t there. So, I just decided to do something. It doesn’t exist, so I’ll make it exist.”

He’s very excited to be hosting for his fellow presenters. Especially Sue Schmidt, who was a big help to him in organizing and publicizing the event when he was first getting started.

He knows Schmidt and Tone Nunes through Valley Voices, where “they both won ahead of me. They’re both amazing story tellers and really great people,” Bulley said.

About his own performance, Bulley says, “I’m going to tell a story about a time I was hitchhiking and got stabbed. That was very scary — and also, now looking back, very hilarious.”

He says that his method is similar to that of most performers: “I go off the cuff, but I have a kind of outline. I’ve always loved to tell stories, through this or in writing. So, I have a feel for a natural arc. Then it just depends on the audience and how I feel and it just seems to work out.” He adds that he’s met very few people who memorize a script beforehand. What’s interesting about a live storytelling performance, he says, is that the story comes out a bit differently each time it’s retold.

This kind of performance, where you’re on the spot and improvising likely seems daunting to most people, but Bulley claims, “I’ve never been nervous (on stage). I’m nervous for interviews. I’m nervous for meeting new people. Walking out on stage, since I was 5, that’s been the most comfortable place for me to be.”

In part, he says he got his storytelling chops from his family. “I came from a long line of storytellers. My father used to go ice-fishing in Maine and would come back and tell us just ridiculous stories about how cold it was. We would just laugh and laugh. I came to appreciate his kind of humor and mimic it when telling my own stories,” he says.

Also, he credits being the oldest of four siblings — “Being the firstborn, parents tend to appreciate every little thing you do, even if it’s not very impressive. You get used to that attention.

“I’m pretty good at this. I keep people engaged. I also have a lot of experience from being a classroom teacher for a long time,” Bulley says, adding, “the reason I’m a good storyteller is that I’m excited about life and things delight me. I seek out those things and then I like to share it.”

Currently, Bulley works as a disciplinary administrator at the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School in Hadley and was previously a history teacher, although certified as an English teacher. “Restorative justice is a passion of mine. I’ve worked in several schools and worked hard to implement restorative justice programs in them.”

His on-stage storytelling overlaps with his work, because, “history is full of stories.” He also points out that teaching is a lot like improvising on a story you’re trying to tell, “with a really great teacher, you’re taking kids on a voyage of discovery, where you might not know the outcome either, you just have the expertise to get there.”

So far, Bulley says, he has not used stories from his work on stage, but notes that if he did, he’d probably have to change a lot of details enough to make everyone in question unrecognizable.

Otherwise, he says “I try to stick to the truth and find the humor through some alternative perspective. Everyone has stories, but most just don’t realize the potential in them.”

It’s all in learning how to tell the story, Bulley explains, “my stories are true stories. They’re really anecdotes. But the audience needs a narrative arc to stay completely engaged. But my stories mostly just end with ‘and then it was over.’ So, finding the arc is what brings it all together.”

Bulley has pursued storytelling in written form as well. He’s published a novel titled “Weapon in Heaven” and a chapbook “Myself: and Other Mythological Creatures.”

“A million years ago I was very pursuant of that whole literary thing. I published short stories in tons of magazines. But then submission fees started coming in and contest submission fees. It just really turned me off to the whole idea. Now my motto is, if they want your money, they don’t really want your work.”

However, he still enters Greenfield Public Library’s annual Poet’s Seat poetry contest every year (which has no entry fee), saying, “I always encouraged my kids to write and enter and I encouraged my classes to write and enter. And one year it happened that both my sons and myself were all finalists in different categories. ... It was super cool.”

Aside from his educational career and his storytelling, Bulley also plays guitar and sings in his own indie/folk/rock band, The David Bulley Band.

“Because we’re all grown-ups with lives, we can’t always practice as much as we might like or make every gig,” he says. It works out fairly well on average, though, because “I have a whole giant cast of revolving characters who are willing to play depending on who’s available.”

Storytelling carries over even into his music, “I write a lot of songs. Everybody does covers, and I do covers. But I write a lot. That’s where my heart is. Lately, it’s been about the state of the world. So, a lot of it has been pretty angry, but the ones I like the best are when I somehow manage to cling on to some kind of hope.”

The performance will take place on the Shea Theater main stage from 8 to about 11 p.m. Tickets are $12 to preorder at the Shea’s website (sheatheater.org/d/1620/Storypalooza-Returns-to-the-Shea) and $15 at the door. Drinks are available before, during and after the performance at the Shea’s bar.

For more information, visit Bulley’s website at dbulley.wixsite.com/mysite.

Nicole Braden-Johnson, of Conway is the author of “Unheard Melodies,” a monthly poetry column in the local “The Visitor,” and has also been published in several literary journals. She is always on the lookout for poetry news and events and can be reached at bradennicole@gmail.com. For more information, visit her website at unheardmelodiesnkbj.blogspot.com.


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