'Stories connect us': 'Stories on the Lawn' returns to the Neill-Cochran House Museum
“The truth is I love stories,” says producer Susan Mack, explaining the origins of Stories on the Lawn. ”I believe stories connect us, especially true personal stories. It makes a big difference both for the people who get to tell their story and for the people who sit in the audience and get to hear these wonderfully entertaining, moving, sometimes funny, sometimes deep, often both at the same time, stories.”
Stories on the Lawn is just what the name implies – a recurring event in which storytellers share stories with an audience gathered on a lawn, in this case the front lawn of the Neill-Cochran House Museum.
“We started this coming out of the pandemic because a lot of Austin's historic storytelling shows were slow to come back and we missed stories,” Mack says. “Especially when we'd been so disconnected from each other. Having a chance to connect with stories in a live audience and people being together, sharing them. But at the time, no one wanted to gather inside and it just so happens that the Neill-Cochran House has a really wonderful lawn and a wonderful porch. So we started the series with four shows a year, where we have five or six storytellers each time we do it, telling stories on a theme. And it's underneath the Great Live Oaks, bringing their form of oral history to Austin.”
Each iteration of Stories on the Lawn revolves around a different theme, but that theme is very much meant as a point of departure, not a strict guideline for storytellers. “People will interpret the theme in a really wide variety of ways and we try to give prompts that can take people in a lot of different directions,” Mack says. “And so, for example, in the Star Wars storytelling event [held on May the Fourth], other than my intro, only one of the stories actually had anything to do with the movies. We had one person who grew up in Pakistan who talked about being enough of a rebel to smoke a cigarette as a woman. We had someone else talking about jumping out of an airplane in order to make friends.”
The next Stories on the Lawn will take place on September 7, the birthday of painter Anna Mary Robertson Moses, better known to the world as Grandma Moses. “And in honor of this wonderful woman who only found art in her eighties and then became such a celebrated painter,” Mack says, “We want to talk about stories around themes… inspired by Grandma Moses's life. So reinvention, art, relationships to grandparents.”
This will be the first Stories on the Lawn since that Star Wars themed event in May – this is an outdoor event, so they’ve avoided scheduling anything during this historically hot summer – and Mack is eager to get started again.
“It's been a few months and I am really looking forward to the connection that happens between the audience and the tellers,” she says. “I hope that they feel connection. One of the things I believe is that stories connect all of us. You know, if you look through research, people don't change off of facts, they change off of story. And by giving this venue where people can come and experience story together… because it's not just that you sit and listen, it's that you're feeling things with the storyteller as they're telling their story and you go through this collective experience in a room of people who are feeling this thing together.”
'Stories on the Lawn' will share stories inspired by Grandma Moses on September 7, followed by stories on the theme of legacy on November 2. Both events will take place on the front lawn of the Neill-Cochranco House Museum.