When Mark Redmond began his career helping at-risk kids, he would make the daily trip from his studio apartment in New York City to a youth shelter in Times Square, passing by the Manhattan theater district along the way. Now, nearly 40 years later, Redmond is heading back to where it all began — this time, with a few stories to tell.
The 62-year-old Essex resident will perform his solo story-telling show, “So Shines a Good Deed,” to a sold-out crowd later this month at the 2019 United Solo Theatre Festival, held at the Theatre Row Building on 42nd street.
Redmond first performed the show last year at the Main Street Landing in Burlington. It draws on stories from his 38 years of working with homeless and at-risk youth, the last 16 of which has been spent as executive director of the Spectrum Youth and Family Services.
A week after the Broadway gig, Redmond will perform at the Flynn Theater, sharing different stories for a show titled, “The Mustache Diaries” (He didn’t want to give away the punchline, noting part of the show will be an explanation of where the name comes from, though one may assume it has something to do with his trademark facial hair).
Redmond describes the shows as a mix of humorous and somber reflections — not exactly a comedy, but not oppressively morose, either.
“I’d be lying to you if I said every kid who comes to Spectrum is a happy ending,” he said, recalling some former clients who have died from overdoses or suicide, or ending up homeless or in prison as adults.
“On the other hand, I just got invited to a college graduation in December [for someone] who eight years ago was living on the street. Both happen,” he said. “I don’t want to go up there and just tell everybody about all the great success stories. There are a lot of them, but there’s bad stories, too, and then some are in the middle.”
The shows arrive amid a brief but highly-successful story-telling career that, according to Redmond, began with a simple phone call. An avid listener of the Moth Radio Hour, Redmond left a few voicemails on the pitch line in 2012, but when a producer emailed him months later, he couldn’t even remember what he had pitched.
“I called the [producer] up and said, ‘What did I say again?’” he said last week, laughing. Once he was reminded of the pitch, he ran through the story over the phone and he was in, scheduled to perform among some of the Moth’s best story tellers for a show at the Flynn Theater in Burlington.
Some of the Moth’s veteran storytellers who flew in for the show laughed when Redmond asked when they thought the performance would hit the airwaves; one said he had been performing with the Moth for years without making it onto the podcast. But a year later, Redmond’s story did just that, introducing him to an audience around the country.
Since then, he’s performed at a handful of other Moth events in addition to shows for a podcast called Risk!, a weekly live storytelling show in which people tell stories they “never thought they’d dare to share in public,” according to its website.
Redmond will often come up with a story and share it with his family and friends in the storytelling community, who offer feedback on what to cut and where to expand. He then records the story on his phone and listens back to it so he has it mostly down. But he is careful not to over rehearse.
Sometimes that means he leaves out a line or two, but “I’ve come to accept that i’d rather miss the one line and keep the passion in,” he said.
“If the passion is there people feel [it],” he added.
Redmond traces his love for storytelling to growing up in a big Irish Catholic family. “My dad was definitely the storytelling chief,” he recalled. “He would sit at that dining room table … and each time he told a story, it would get bigger and more fantastical.”
Redmond has dabbled in other forms of storytelling. He wrote a book in 2004 about his experiences as a counselor, and has the “skeleton” of his second book, which he’s considering turning into a graphic memoir with the help of a Vermont artist.
He’s also been asked to speak before some Vermont groups, like a recent gig before a group of Champlain Valley Union teachers just before the school year. Redmond said the educators can point to his story as a lesson for their students.
“Whatever you’re passionate about — for me it’s storytelling; it could be math, it could be politics, music — put it out there in the world, because you don’t know,” he said. “If you had said a one-minute phone call was going to lead to these things, I never would have believed you. But it happened.”