Kling and Chouinard are storytellers — Chouinard also plays the piano and accordion — and on stage they describe their encounters with surprise and humor. They often perform on Minnesota Public Radio, which is a partner in presenting their show at 7 pm March 21 at Empire Arts Center.
Chouinard is a Minneapolis native who plays, tours and records regularly with an ever-expanding roster of musicians and writers, and regularly creates special programs which blend storytelling, interview and music.
When not working as a musician he travels the world by bicycle, with tent and accordion in tow, seeking out new repertoire and music-making opportunities.
Kling grew up in the Minneapolis suburbs and graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College in 1979 with a degree in theater. His storytelling started when a friend from the now defunct Brass Tacks Theatre asked him to perform his stories. Since then, he has been awarded numerous arts grants and fellowships.
Kling was born with a left arm about three-quarters the size of his right arm, and his left hand has no wrist or thumb, and after a motorcycle accident in 2001, he has partial use of his left arm and cannot use his right arm at all.
Kling continues to write plays and stories, and travels to lots of storytelling festivals and residencies and has been invited to perform the acclaimed National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tenn. Kling agreed to an email interview with the Herald. Here is what he told us about himself, Chouinard and the show coming to the Empire.
Q. In the “Walkin’ Shoes Tour,” you and Dan perform as travelers, reflecting on places and describing the encounters you have. Have you done a lot of traveling in real life? And how do you use that in your show?
A. Yes, I’ve traveled through Europe, the U.S., and been to South America and Australia. I love finding what brings us together and things that each place does a bit differently. The more I travel, the more I’m amazed at how alike we are. I’ve also learned there’s the trip you plan and then the one you take. No matter how much I plan ahead travel always has a way of humbling me. I never return as the same person that left. I also love how much I learn about home by visiting far away places.
Q. I read about the commentaries you have done for National Public Radio, and your storytelling. One of the aforementioned stories was called “Tales from the Charred Underbelly of the Yule Log.” What a great title! Tell us a little about this story, and why and how you wrote it.
A. This is a Christmas show I’ve done with Dan and Simone Perrin at the Guthrie Theater (in Minneapolis) since 1995. Every year it changes a bit, but it’s about family Christmases complete with the tragedies and family eccentricities, uncles and aunts, presents, church, snowstorms, told from the perspective of a very subversive kid.
Q. When you write your commentaries and stories, what is your main objective (for lack of a better word)? Are you looking to enlighten, to entertain? To share your take on life or on an issue or politics? To help people see the world and situations in news ways?
A. My main objective is for those listening to remember events from their own lives, to laugh or feel part of a family, a community. Sometimes it is to look at a situation in a new light. I try and use humor often as a means of bringing the room together. It’s important to me to feel a kinship with an audience, and then go from there.
Q. You describe your zodiac sign as “Minnesota with Iowa rising…” – Can you expand on that a bit? And tell about how it affects your storytelling?
A. Sometimes something comes out of your mouth and you kind of wonder why you said it. But when I think about it, I like Iowa, so let ‘em rise. I’m proudly of the Midwest and that really affects the way I view the world. In the way Mark Twain took with him Hannibal, Mo., wherever he went, wherever I go, Osseo, Minn., is the lens through which I view the world.
Q. You were born with a left arm that is shorter than your right arm and a left hand with no wrist or thumb. We were all kids once, and we all know what being different can mean when you’re a kid. Were you bullied about this? How did you deal with your disability and/or its repercussions?
A. I wasn’t bullied much because of my arm. My big mouth got me in way more trouble. As far as my disability, it was never an issue in my family, I was not given any special attention. I always thought I was given something special, so if someone teased me, I felt sorry for them for not getting that.
Q. In 2001, you had a motorcycle accident which further damaged your arms. How did this affect your life and your writing and performing? Has it changed the way you look at life?
A. Yeah, it’s very different to acquire a disability later in life. I had to grow into the new person I had become. It has changed my outlook, my life has become more focused. I know why I need to tell stories now.
Q. What are you working on right now?
A. Some wonderful upcoming projects. I just finished my second children’s book. Chris Monroe is doing the illustrations. She’s incredible. I’m on my third year of a residency for Minnesota Public Radio. It’s a dream job, I get to do commentaries, teach workshops, tour shows and perform at The Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul. Working with Dan is a dream. He’s known for being a great musician but he is the best storyteller as well.
Q. Tell us about the Walkin’ Shoes Tour show with Dan Chouinard? What can the audience at the Empire on March 21 expect?
A. We’re telling about our travels, adventures and misadventures on the road. The audience can expect to do some laughing. The music we’re working on also invites folks to join in. Both Dan and I are excited about this show, in our rehearsals we’ve been cracking each other up and I think the audience is in for a good time.
If you go
• What: Walkin’ Shoes Tour with Minnesota storyteller Kevin Kling and accordionist, pianist and writer Dan Chouinard.
• Where and when: 7 p.m. March 21, Empire Arts Center, Grand Forks. Presented in partnership with Minnesota Public Radio.
• Tickets: Adults, $12; MPR members, students, senior citizens, military, $10; call (701) 746-5500.