Nationally acclaimed professional storyteller Dolores Hydock is one of the most engaging people you’ll ever meet. She is self-possessed, wickedly funny, fiercely intelligent and has an unquenchable curiosity for and delight in the human spirit. A storyteller and writer with a diverse repertoire of original works, she infuses theater into her performances, losing herself in each character so that her audience may find themselves in the story. We are delighted to introduce Dolores Hydock as today’s FACE of Birmingham.
How did you get into storytelling?
In the summertime, in my hometown of Redding, PA, the city paid for teachers to run these all-day programs in the public playgrounds, free to any kid who showed up. We had every kind of contest. Every kid won something. The first contest I entered was the storytelling contest, 6 and under, and I won the blue ribbon with real gold lettering! The gold convinced me there was a fortune to be made in the performing arts, so I was hooked, eventually doing oratory and drama in high school.
And you continued in college?
I was at George Washington University for two years and took a year off to go to Europe. One of the things I learned in Europe is that every person knew what nationality they were. You were Belgian, French, Swiss, German, and you might live in a town 20 kilometers from the border of the next country, but you were not that. But back home, we swim in a culture 3,000 miles wide. If I said to someone in Pennsylvania, “What nationality are you?” They’d say, “I’m Polish, I’m Russian, I’m Greek, I’m Italian,” because most people were two or three generations away from Ellis Island. I was fascinated by this idea of what makes an American. So when I came back, I transferred to Yale and majored in American Studies, which is a fabulous crossdisciplinary program. My area of concentration was American folklore. And for your senior year, you had to write a big paper on your area. Well, I hate New Haven winters, so I came up with this independent study project where I was going to go to “The American South” to study folklore.
Had you ever been to the South?
Never! If you asked someone in the South what nationality they are, they say, “I’m American, and I’m Southern by the grace of God.” There is a real sense of place here. So I came down and I started driving around the state for two weeks, searching for the “folklore of Alabama,” and there’s like 50 different kinds of Alabama folklore! There’s Fort Payne snake handling; there’s Mobile French tradition; there’s Black Belt. And somebody said, “Well, if you’re looking for folklore, go see Warren Musgrove up at Horse Pens Forty. He’s the biggest liar in St. Clair County.” So, I went up to Horse Pens Forty on Chandler Mountain. And Mr. Warren Musgrove was a brilliant man who loved anything old-timey, and he understood what I was trying to do. So he introduced me around to the people up there, and for four months, I lived up on Chandler Mountain with these incredible people. And it’s become a story that I tell called “Footprint on the Sky.” But when I graduated, I thought, “I gotta go someplace. I know some people in Birmingham. I’ll move down there for a year, maybe two.” And life happens. (she smiles) Life happens.
Where do you perform now?
One of the things that is fabulous about Jefferson County is our library system that has exciting and extensive programming for adults. I perform at festivals, theaters and universities all over the country, and I’ve had professional storytellers say to me, “You mean, you can make a living telling stories at home?” Very few communities have a library system like ours. So libraries, the Botanical Gardens and the Terrific New Theatre, where I’ve done three original 90-minute stories that now I take around the country. For instance, I’m going to be at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesboro, TN, where I’m going to be telling one of the stories I wrote, called “In Her Own Fashion.” It’s about this woman in the 1950s, who was head of fashion at Loveman’s department store in downtown Birmingham. I interviewed her when she was 96 years old, this woman who was born in 1913 and saw the 20th century. I tell that story partly as me, the Yankee interviewer, and partly as her, this quintessential Southern lady. I tell Christmas stories at holiday parties where they just want something different, or women’s retreats where they have me tell a story that complements the other speakers. Maybe it has something to do with kindness or ‘Do you wear your goodness on the inside or the outside?’ So I perform at all kinds of places and it makes it exciting.
What do you do when not performing?
I love to garden. And I love the lessons I learn in my garden, particularly that things don’t last forever, and that you need to enjoy them and notice them while they are there, because they will go away. And it also teaches you that there’s another season coming and that the end is not the end, it’s the end of this cycle. And patience—you cannot hurry a garden, no matter how much you’re pouring on that Miracle Grow. Nope, it’s doing things at its own pace and in its own way. The garden also teaches me that some things are hybrid tea roses and some things are dandelions and I don’t understand why one thing is this highly prized and pampered plant, like some people, and why another one’s a weed that you can’t wait to get rid of, just like some people. It helps me understand that we’re all part of that natural process.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Don’t go over your time, not just in storytelling, but in life. Don’t take up more than your space on the dance floor. Be aware of where your boundaries are. Be aware of what’s enough.
Favorite place to eat out?
At a friend’s house or with my sisters or with my sweetheart of 24 years—just sitting around talking and laughing.
Name three frivolous or lighthearted things you can’t live without.
New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle, my Oster breadmaking machine and my front porch swing
Visit Dolores Hydock’s website, StoryPower.org to hear stories and learn more about this talented actress and story performer.
Thank you to Brian Peters and David Miller for the wonderful pictures of Dolores onstage, connecting with her audience through stories.