When the medicine show was coming to town, you made sure to see it. Popular from 1830 to 1950, medicine shows were touring acts that peddled miracle cures and elixirs with a motley crew of magicians, dancers, acrobats, and ventriloquists who would engage audiences as the salesman sold his inventory.
On August 17th, Red Bull Amaphiko is excited to present our modern day version. We teamed up with Fades and Fellowship for an evening of storytelling where social impact entrepreneurs were paired with poets, comedians, and musicians. We spoke with Diane Macklin, who will be telling the story of Shannon Epps, founder of Loads of Love, a mobile laundry service for the homeless.
Why did you participate in the Medicine Show?
We need better stories and we need to make sure we’re telling our stories in a way that broadens our audience and does something positive. This experience was a way to help someone look into their story a bit differently and see more power in it. If you look at the landscape of America, the telling of stories is causing some communities to erupt and others to come together in peace. It’s all about the story.
Does living in Baltimore impact your storytelling?
I think that Baltimore has the best story in the US. During slavery and before Emancipation Proclamation and the time of Reconstruction, Baltimore had more free Blacks than any other city, particularly in the South. Consequently, during the 1800’s, Baltimore had the largest population of free Americans with African roots.
What does this city mean to you?
This is a city that has a lot of heart. You see people rise up and take care of their community in any way they can. You might be driving around here and see a boarded up building but there will be someone in front of it, cleaning the street. How can Baltimore show other areas how we are able to always come back together and take care of the people around us? No matter gender, identity, nothing matters. What matters is that if someone needs, you take care. For me, that’s the heart of Baltimore.
Tell us about the process of working with social entrepreneurs to tell their story.
What this project is doing, is bring together two groups that serve the community in slightly different ways. One through art and culture and the other through community. Tonight, I’m telling the story of Shannon Epps, the founder of Loads of Love. She didn’t even know how powerful her story was! Shannon knew the bolts of what she was doing but she didn’t have a sense of a whole scope of her story. She just had the pieces.
We are all rooted in this soil of being one human race. As such, the art of storytelling is transformative, communal, and a key ingredient to our human experience. To understand a world, a nation, a person, one must know the story…the stories of those who have passed and the stories of those who are present.
How did you help Shannon put her story together?
We mined for her gems, those sparkling pieces of her past that shine light into why she wants to do what she’s doing. She hadn’t really gotten to that point yet. But by having a deadline and a performance in a short period of time, we pushed. She was able to go all the way back to when she was a child and realized that it was her mother who would always give to the poor and the needy. [Her mother] taught her that we shouldn’t judge what they’re doing with the money, it’s just our job to give.
How did that lead to starting her organization?
That really stuck with her and so when she grew into the incredible young lady that she is, she was able to have one eye open and a heart that wanted to serve. She’s always been about the dignity of the homeless. She was moved by an experience with a gentleman that would put his clothes in a bag in the rain and would ring them out and put it on the church fence. He was making it work - but don’t we all need clean clothes? It’s so easy to take it for granted. She saw this need of mobile laundry services for the homeless.
What does it mean to be a traditional storyteller?
It means that I’m in the art of telling stories not just for entertainment purposes but in service to a larger community. I tell stories that bring people together and lift them up. The more I heard and learned about the art of Jeli, (a West African tradition of storytelling), I realized that’s what is important about being a storyteller: you’re all about engaging with someone’s stories in a positive way. Our friction is when the story is too small; openness is when the stories are big. [We must] make our stories big enough for others to fit in.
Is it ever exhausting to tell the stories of others?
I never take off my role- dancers will take off their shoes, writers will put down their pen- but every place I go is my stage. There’s always two running stories: the one we hear or speak and the one we’re living in this minute. I think of myself as a vessel for those stories to pass through. Sometimes that’s very difficult when they stick and linger. I’m the kind of person who watches the news and cry. So I have to make sure things pass through. I do a lot of that through prayer because I experience so much stuff and I need to be in love and light.
See Diane tonight at the Medicine Show, held at The Arena Players in Baltimore. Hosted by Love the Poet, other performers include Lady Brion, Kenneth Something, Black Chakra, Shelly Says So, Diane Jacklin, Ivan Martin, Queen Earth, Jamaal “Black Root” Collier, Sankofa Dance Theater.
The performance starts at 7:30pm; tickets are free. Register here.