Storytellers in focus: Pierce McManus
Pierce McManus has been performing in a variety of venues and acts in DC since the 90's. However, it wasn't until a year and a half ago that he turned to storytelling – both as a creative outlet and as a way to make sense of his life after being misdiagnosed with lung cancer in the Fall of 2011. With a strong sense of humor and a knack for performing, Pierce turned to SpeakeasyDC to enhance his storytelling skills.
What brought you to SpeakeasyDC?
I had known Amy and Stephanie for a long time from classes and watching improv theater. Years later when I was diagnosed, I qualified for the Boston marathon and all the doctors kept telling me, “You know, you're not gonna run again” and I retorted, “No, that's bullshit, I'm gonna run again and I'm gonna show you”. Even though the tumor would later be found benign, it was in a bad spot, and there was a chance that I was going to lose a part of my lung if not all of it. Eventually I met a doctor whose daughter was also a runner and he assured me I would only lose minutes off my time. He performed the surgery and miraculously enough, none of my lung was removed. After six months I ran the Boston marathon and having gone through this amazing experience, I just wanted to tell so many people about it.
You’re an alumni of storytelling class here at SpeakeasyDC. What was taking the Storytelling 101 course like?
Going in I didn't know what really to expect. To be perfectly honest, after the first class I still don't think I was quite sure what was going on, but as we continued to meet, we would find our stories. They put us through exercises and soon all the pieces began to fall into place. I realized during that class that I couldn't tell my “fake cancer” story just yet, I was much too close to it emotionally. I really wouldn't be where I'm at as a storyteller now if I hadn't taken Storytelling 101. It helped me understand the craft of storytelling as opposed to just going up in front of a lot of people and telling a funny story.
Tell us about your experience as a live storyteller?
Well, there are similarities between being in a rock band and being a storyteller. I still get the pre-show jitters. There's still that rush of excitement as you're getting on stage and hear the reaction from the audience when you know you're in the zone. What's different is that I don't drink at all before I perform because I don't want to risk forgetting my lines. I also don't have an extremely talented band behind me to back me up. You're all by yourself up there. It's terrifying and thrilling. What's even more exciting is when people come up to you after the show and are like “I really enjoyed your story”...I'm getting emotional now just thinking about that...that means the world to me.
How do you prepare for a show?
I write it out. I'm not someone who can completely improvise or create an outline and go for it. I like to have a script and then record it with GarageBand. Then I will listen to it and make further edits based upon how I hear it and what the pace and the beat is. So after I get it on lockdown, and I do a recording of it, then I basically have my earbuds in for about a week leading up to the show. I'll do a couple of run throughs and then I will arrive on the night of November 11th at SpeakeasyDC and I will hide in the corner and ask no one to talk to me before I go on... as soon as I say the final words, it's party time! But until that moment...
Your blog “Me with a fish…” is a very personal journey through your family’s slide photos, what inspired you?
“Me with a fish...” came out of my two month stint recovering post surgery at my folks place who still live in New York. For years my mother had talked about scanning the thousands of slides she had from the early 70's, and since I was home and on a leave of absence from work I thought “Well, I have a lot of free time. I might as well scan these slides!” In light of those circumstances, I could not help but be reflective living under my parents' roof again, recovering from this terrible surgery, and seeing basically my childhood documented in slide form. Storyteller that I am, I couldn't resist creating all these phony back stories for each picture, most of them nonsensical. A psychologist might say that I'm trying to rewrite my childhood.
When will you be performing next?
I'm appearing in SpeakeasyDC's Swan Song on Nov 11 and this will be the third time telling this story: once at Story League, once at Better Said Than Done, and now at SpeakeasyDC. Each time I've told it, while it's the same story, it's completely different. It continues to be an amazing process of...its not recycling, it's almost reinventing...
Pierce is a Washington, DC storyteller. You can find out more on his website http://www.piercemcmanus.com.