HAVE YOU HEARD THE STORY ABOUT MAPLEWOOD'S BOO TRUNDLE? by Donny Levit
The Moth StorySLAM victor brings her skills to the South Orange-Maplewood Adult School
On a warm weeknight in late spring, Boo Trundle is seated in her living room with a small assemblage of South Orange and Maplewood residents, most of whom have just met for the first time. Over the next two hours, the newcomers will share a wide array of true-life stories.
The material is rich, diverse, shocking, and sometimes hysterically funny. Yet Trundle, who guides the discussion and feedback for this evening’s workshop, does so with an air of great respect and poise. Only days later, the group will tell these stories to a public audience as part of the June 2019 installment of the Mapso Storytelling Show.
Over the last few years, Trundle has worked with dozens of local storytellers while producing seven storytelling shows for the South Orange-Maplewood community. The events continue to gain momentum, with more community members expressing interest in learning the craft.
“The craft of telling stories is an old-fashioned art,” says Trundle. However, storytelling has surged in popularity over the last two decades primarily due to The Moth, a nonprofit organization responsible for hosting open-mic night StorySLAM competitions throughout the United States and beyond. As of 2019, 29 cities throughout the world host monthly StorySLAMs, with more than 500 stations airing the Peabody Award-winning Moth Radio Hour. And 61 million people every year download The Moth Podcast.
Before curating the Mapso Storytelling Show series, Trundle not only won a StorySLAM competition in New York, but also made it to two GrandSLAM championships. Her continued success within the format as well as her strong coaching skills will be on display when she teaches “The Art of Storytelling” this fall at the South Orange-Maplewood Adult School.
The South Orange-Maplewood Adult School was founded in 1933 during the Great Depression and is the oldest operating adult school in New Jersey. In 2000, it was named a Local Legacy by the Library of Congress. “I’m really excited about this class,” says Marianne Cook, director of communications at the Adult School. “We try to be a place to bring the community together to celebrate all the talent we have.” Cook believes that bringing in local artists such as Trundle leverages a community chock-full of expertise.
In addition to offering over 150 classes, the adult school attracts interest from the surrounding communities as well. “We have students from Irvington, Union, and Springfield,” says Cook. “It’s not just Maplewood and South Orange – it’s a real melting pot in our classes, which is lovely.” At the conclusion of Trundle’s class, participants will perform their developed stories for a public audience.
“Ask a storyteller how they got into storytelling and that’s a long story,” says Trundle, who was born in Virginia Beach, VA. After graduating from college, she launched a music career and recorded albums in the late '90s in both New York City and Washington, D.C. “I was more like a performance artist,” she says. “The performances I did often had other elements to them, like slideshows and multimedia. It was low-fi, but high-octane.” Trundle performed her work at fondly-remembered landmark spaces in New York such as the gallery at CBGB, Sin-é, and Brownies.
Because of her interest in writing, Trundle attended Hollins University in Roanoke, VA, where she earned a master’s degree in creative writing. “I started writing novels,” she says, “and I’m finishing one up right now that I’m hoping to publish.”
Trundle, who has been a Maplewood resident for 15 years, continued her interest in writing and performance while raising her two children. Her daughter, Vivian Stein, attends Columbia High School and her son, Ray Stein, will begin Maplewood Middle School this fall.
She found herself naturally gravitating to those who wanted to have a venue to share their artistic work and ideas. Trundle became involved in “The Gonk,” a local salon-like group which took its name from the legendary literary Algonquin Round Table of the 1920s. Along with Abby Sher and Molly Reisner, Trundle co-produced a monthly storytelling/comedy show at Ricalton’s (now The Fox & Falcon). And in addition, she hosted a standup series at Scotty’s in Springfield.
Not surprisingly, Trundle’s storytelling victory at the Moth is a fascinating story unto itself. In June 2015, she told a story called “The Suit” which chronicles her accidental destruction of her father’s suit and the eventual inclusion of it into a performance art piece. While she won the StorySLAM handily, she also received a curious phone call the next day, which is where the plot truly thickened.
By coincidence, the casting director for Girls – the popular HBO series starring Lena Dunham and produced by Judd Apatow – asked Trundle to perform as a storyteller in an episode that featured Lena Dunham’s character performing in The Moth. “I had a trailer and makeup and it was just very exciting,” Trundle recalls. “Except I really didn’t know how to tell stories at the time because I had just started. So I had to get up and pretend to be a storyteller. My actual lines [from “The Suit”] were in the script, and then I had to repeat the lines that I had written. It was very meta. I was quite nervous and I’m not an actress.” To Trundle’s dismay, her part wound up on the cutting room floor.
“I was very sad,” she says. “But then The Moth had a screening party [for the Girls episode] and I went. They had invited all of their best storytellers, so I met the ‘A-Team’ of The Moth right out of the gates and became friendly with them all.” Since then, Trundle has been honing her craft and impressing her colleagues.
Joe Wachs, founder of Storylines x-Media and a Maplewood resident, has been collaborating with Trundle for a few years. “I had a storytelling workshop about two years ago and somebody suggested that she take the workshop. But when I met her, I found that I should be taking a workshop from her,” he says. “She was a class above, and we decided to work together. You know, she’s very vulnerable and transparent in her own performance. And you gotta hand it to anybody who gets up on the boards and does that.”
Naseem Rochette, a South Orange resident and storyteller in the Mapso Storytelling Show in June 2019, highlighted Trundle’s ability to help cull a story from a significant amount of material. “I had to work very hard to decide what is and isn’t important because there is a time limit,” she says. “I think that was probably one of the hardest but most important parts of the journey. What does the audience need to know so they can feel the true impact? Boo was so nurturing, and she also was able to push me out of my comfort zone.”
For now, Trundle continues to balance her love of performance with her continued exploration of how to give feedback and provide positive mentorship. “I got totally hooked by storytelling. I could just get up and tell you a story right now. I actually feel more relaxed on stage with a mic than I do speaking with you in this moment,” she says. “And I want to give other performers a sacred place to do their thing. I hope they get hooked, too.”
Boo Trundle’s class “The Art of Storytelling” will take place over six Thursdays, October 3 through November 21 (skipping October 31 and November 7), 7 to 9 p.m., South Orange Middle School, Little Theater. To register for this class and to view all other course offerings at SOMA Adult School, visit somadultschool.org.
Donny Levit is a journalist, writer, and Maplewood resident. He is the author of Rock n’ Roll Lies, 10 Stories. You can hear him DJ his show “Under the Influence” on Bone Pool Radio. Follow him on @donnyreports.