Sporting the white suit that defined his later years and smoking the ever-present cigar that characterized his whole life, Mark Twain came to Beaufort over the weekend to kick off a new storytelling festival to be held in March.
The legendary lecturer, played by Stan Gill, had plenty of tales to tell during performances at ARTworks on Saturday and Sunday. They included advice on how to live to the age he was during his final tour when he was "70," the last age he professed to be because the years afterward carried "too much risk."
"I never smoke more than one cigar at a time," he said. "I have no other restrictions."
Twain said he told an elderly woman who was ailing to give up drinking, smoking, eating and swearing in order to get better. But other than eating, she told him she had never done those things.
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"She had neglected her habits!" Twain told the audience. "She was a sinking ship with no freight to throw overboard."
Gill's visit to Beaufort was a precursor to the inaugural Beaufort Intergalactic Storytelling Festival & Liars Competition from March 8 through 11, which include many more presentations, performances and workshops.
ARTworks director J.W. Rone said the festival, presented by ARTworks and Literacy Volunteers of the Lowcountry, has been in the works for several years. It aims to reach storytellers of all varieties, from singer-songwriters to stand-up comedians.
"What I love about storytellers is that, in just a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, in a matter of moments they can whisk you away to another world...and suddenly you're somewhere else," Rone said.
During the four days of events in Beaufort, visitors can catch concerts by Ronstadt Generations and folk singer John McCutcheon, learn about the oral tradition in Gullah culture from Natalie Daise of Nickolodeon's "Gullah Gullah Island" and tell tall tales of their own, so long as they register the whoppers by March 2 for the Liars Competition.
Gill, who has been portraying Twain internationally since 1971 and is an actor, lyricist and director of SPROUT Theater in Charleston, said his advice for beginner storytellers is to know their audience through cues, such as the size of the crowd, their ages and how much they're laughing.
"No two audiences are alike," Gill said. "You have to adapt the way you tell the stories."
Gill's popular portrayal of the humorist, which included tales of Adam and Eve, a monologue delivered by Huckleberry FInn and plenty of witticisms, is the perfect kick-off to the festival, Rone said.
"You see the story come to life and that's what a true storyteller does," Rone said.