By Adrian Abel Azevedo
GeNarrations Coordinator/Teaching Artist and Goodman Education and Engagement Associate
The name is Thomas Edwin Requarth, he/him/his pronouns and his favorite candy bar is an Almond Joy. He is also my grandfather and an excellent candidate to join the Education Department’s GeNarrations program, should he learn how to “mute” and “unmute” himself on his iPad.
With his green eyes, silky white hair and German-American skin, bronzed by the SoCal sun for over eighty years, it’s not difficult to watch and listen to his life’s scrumptious stories. When sharing, his storytelling antics usually include a full glass of Ovaltine and the sudden misplaced names of lady friends that are not my grandmother. My grandparents married in the spring of ‘81 in their mid-forties. It’s no longer a surprise to this grandson that neither of them found love behind door number one, nor door number two, but third time’s a charm.
GeNarrations at Goodman Theatre is a staple program in the Education and Engagement department and I think it’s time for him to join. The ensemble of participants share his precarious antics and raw talent for telling stories. The program is almost ten years old and has been under my supervision for more than three Goodman seasons. It continues to be one of the department’s fastest growing programs.
My GeNarrations, or “Gens” as the cool kids call it, elevator pitch is as follows: It’s a FREE personal narrative writing-for-performance program for anyone in the Chicagoland area, 55 years of age or better. Each session is curated by using major themes explored in the plays produced on the Goodman stages; a five minute story is scribed, revised and performed live by each participant. Nothing is off limits and everything shared is one hundred percent true.
The Walter Director of Education and Engagement, Willa J. Taylor affirms, “we share stories to know who we are and where we’ve been.” A simple and boundless explanation of the program. The GeNarrations ensemble is fearless about sharing stories. We’ve heard tales of familial tragedy, mile-high shenanigans, racist injustices, sweet and sour online dating—and that was just Stories of Summer Love.
This ensemble spans thirty plus years of life—yes, there are folks rounding ninety years young in the program—and includes retired teachers, divorce lawyers, flight attendants, and grandmas and grandpas. There is diversity of race, gender, sexuality, politics, zip code and, most importantly when it comes time to order lunch, dietary restrictions. They all gather to their class locations: community centers, churches, sometimes a local queer bar and share. As of March of 2020, the program has also had major success meeting virtually and the ensemble now expands across four states.
After six weekly two-hour classes, every participant performs their story from the session for our invitation only GENS LIVE! livestream on YouTube. During those final performances, my mental and emotional state floats, like a Boystown parade, for how grown-up and powerful my little story-tellers have become. My pride for their growing success is, like many Lollapalooza attendees, high. I feel like I am gifted with a golden ticket and GeNarrations is my chocolate factory. I’ve become chocolate-wasted to the words and stylings of my now more than 150 GeNarrations participants.
“Hips. Tips. Ice cream cones.”
“That’s not my baby!”
“..as Nixon’s helicopter flew over our heads, it was then I knew I wanted a divorce……”
I’m rounding thirty and still “wet behind the ears,” as Grandpa Tom says, but this group of story-tellers welcomes my expertise of writing and performance to hone in on their already-existent talent and help focus the spotlight on their inner artistry. I don’t take the position lightly. I love this program. PERIOD, as the cool kids are saying. I know Thomas will too.
But the fact of the matter is Thomas Edwin Requarth passed on in June of 2018. I was minutes away from landing at LAX to begin his at-home hospice care when his time of death was scribbled on a clipboard: 2:18am—his birthday funnily enough, 2/18.
I missed his final story.
I missed the end.
But this is my story. And so I say, Happy Birthday Tomás! I made a german chocolate cake for my german chocolate grandfather. Look, I’m not late. I didn’t miss it. In fact, I’m early.