Lone storyteller recreates spooky scenes from the Appalachian Trail

Arts / Article

Wandering Aesthetics may have the most intriguing show title at the moment: “Boogers, Witches and Haints.” The performance itself also was extremely well-received when Kyle Josza did his one-man storytelling event at the Standing Rock Cultural Arts facility in Kent, Ohio. Two more performances are scheduled for this weekend.

The show’s subtitle, “Spooky Stories from Appalachia,” says it all. It was developed when Josza and Benjamin Rexroad, co-founders and directors of Wandering Aesthetics, hiked along nearly 2,200 miles of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail as it winds its way from Georgia north to the state of Maine. If you make it to an upcoming performance, you’ll hear Josza very slowly and emphatically let you know the exact distance. He knows it to the tenth of a mile.

Intermixed with tales from the trail, Josza dropped character at several points. He broke down the venerable fourth wall of the stage to talk off-handedly and passionately about life along the path. It was cool to learn about things like “hiker boxes,” where those who were finished on the trail (or had given up for one reason or another) would deposit gear, food, clothing and the like for those coming along. It was also interesting to know how much such little items could mean to someone when he or she was without them.

Josza and Rexroad ran into all sorts of characters during their trek, as one might imagine. They even stayed in some pretty grimy, seedy places that loosely passed themselves off as hostels. Those settings got merged into a symbolic make-believe hostel called the Cuckoo’s Nest for “Boogers, Witches and Haints.” The name alone sets the tone for the characters and tales that Josza recounted.

Kyle Josza in “Boogers, Witches and Haints.” Photo by Michael Carrino.

Josza is a masterful and practiced storyteller. In the three tales he told–one each for the Boogers (bogeymen), Witches and Haints (haunts, ghosts or wandering lost souls)–Josza created around 15 different characters. They included devils and saints, specters, mountain men, a buzzing bee and still more. Through them he rendered stories of trickery, thievery, stubborn meanness and mayhem, all designed to keep his audience enthralled. Those in attendance laughed, oohed and aahed, shrieked and shifted uncomfortably, or jumped in their seats as Josza moved his tantalizing narratives along.

Since successful storytelling means getting the audience invested in the journey and plot, it’s best to not go into details. Go see the performance and join in the fun. Besides, as Josza noted before the show was fully underway, the stories may change as performances proceed.

Standing Rock Cultural Arts is a small, intimate venue, but it works well in this context. There are around 30 seats, all or most of them fold-up chairs. Yet the stage is elevated and dressed to effect having full curtains and wing space. The lighting board is fully adequate. Technical director KIX set plenty of moods through unobtrusive but highly effective lighting. Funky art adorns the wall. The place seems off-beat and therefore pretty charming.

The set and costumes are done in mountain cabin rawness–handcrafted signs, a rocking chair on a porch, an unpainted storage box. As with other production elements, it all worked during the performance that I saw to evoke the ruggedness of the mountain trail that Josza brought to life.

During a pre-curtain speech, director Rexroad noted that “Boogers, Witches and Haints” will be playing before too long in Pennsylvania, close to the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. Wandering Aesthetics also plans to bring the production to Akron around Halloween in a venue yet to be decided.

In the meantime, catch this version.

As reported in a previous post, Wandering Aesthetics has been at work on related performances concerning the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. Its one-woman production, “Trail Magic,” told the story of Emma Goodman, who, at 67, was the first woman to walk the complete trail. Wandering Aesthetics operates under the Center for Applied Theater and Active Culture, a Knight Foundation grantee whose current projects under production include a Knight-funded trilogy about Akron’s rubber industry. Read more about that project here.

“Boogers, Witches and Haints: Spooky Stories From Appalachia” will be performed at 8 p.m. on July 31 and Aug. 1 at Standing Rock Cultural Arts, 300 N. Water St., Kent; 330-990-5138. Tickets are $15 and available here.