It is hard to tell sometimes whether Connie Regan-Blake is a storyteller or a comedian.
Her tales provoke so much laughter from audiences that storytelling simply does not fully describe her talent.
Yet, that is exactly what she is, and is proud to be. One of the most celebrated storytellers traveling the world today, sharing folktales and true-life stories, Regan-Blake has spent her adult life spinning tales. For many of those years, she traveled with cousin Barbara Freeman who helped her get into the storytelling business.
“My cousin Barbara worked at a library in Tennessee and told me they were looking for a storyteller,” she said. “The job sounded good to me, and I’d be working with Barbara. Within two weeks, I knew somehow storytelling would be a part of my life in some way.”
Alabama-born, she has taken tales that originated on the front porches of rural Appalachia across the world. Her somewhat unusual career has seen her perform before audiences in 47 states, 18 countries and on six continents. Her archive has been adopted by the Library of Congress.
Regan-Blake is the only performer invited onstage each year since 1973 for the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee. And amid those performances, she met her mentor Ray Hicks.
A rare local performance
On March 10, local audiences will have the rare opportunity to see Regan-Blake live at the Isis Music Hall in West Asheville. The woman who travels the world very rarely performs at home but plans to celebrate the release of her new CD, “Leap and Laugh! Tales of Adventure,” in a 7:30 p.m. show.
“I don’t do a lot of performing here. It is the first time in Asheville in a while so I am delighted about it,” she said.
The CD was recorded during a performance at the Black Mountain Center for the Arts.
Regan-Blake is excited to be performing in the town she has called home since 1978. She and Freeman settled in Asheville after spending four years traveling in and living out of a pickup truck as they began their freelance storytelling careers together.
“We were looking for that perfect spot and we picked Asheville,” she said. “I have loved it ever since.”
Making a living by telling stories
The cousins continued to perform together after moving to Asheville, spending some 20 years as storytelling partners. From 1986-92 and while still touring, they presented a play called “Mountain Sweet Talk,” Asheville’s longest running theatrical production that they wrote, produced and starred in.
Regan-Blake said during the early years of her career, people found it hard to believe a person could make a living telling stories.
“People would roll their eyes,” she said. “A lot of people thought it was only for kids or would surely be boring. They had no concept of how it could be entertaining.”
Today, she said, some people still have that misconception. “Often it is a friend or spouse dragging someone to a performance,” she said.
Once there, however, it does not take long for Regan-Blake to capture the audience’s attention. Sharing tales of unique and most often comical life’s experiences, she quickly turns skepticism into laughter. There is the tale of her husband Phil’s appraisal debacle that had him chased by somewhat vicious dogs into a house with unsuspecting homeowners who were stark naked. Or, her firsthand and comical experience hang-gliding over New Zealand.
Teaching how to tell stories
In addition to telling her own stories, Regan-Blake offers guidance to others who would like to enter the field. For the 14th year, she will host daylong and a weeklong summer workshop in Asheville that will be attended by individuals from around the world.
“We immerse ourselves in this supportive, creative atmosphere and spend the week of storytelling and story listening,” she said.
Regan-Blake offers workshops around the world to aspiring storytellers. She also offers her expertise in storytelling and as a coach to businesses and professionals who are looking to tell a better story of their business in marketing campaigns. Information on the workshops can be found at www.storywindow.com.
For her efforts to continue the age-old art of storytelling and for raising public awareness of the art form, Regan-Blake has been awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Storytelling Network. Among her numerous other awards is recognition as a master storyteller with the prestigious Oracle Awards Circle of Excellence.
As for the timing of her CD release, Regan-Blake said, “I just decided it was time. I’m tickled about all the stories on it. I just love them and I love the energy of the Isis performance space.”
Contact freelance writer Angela Nicholas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go
What: Connie Regan-Blake CD Release
Where: Isis Music Hall, 743 Haywood Rd., West Asheville
When: 7:30 p.m., March 10
Cost: $15 advance/$18 day of show