About The Belle
Allister Cromley's Fairweather Belle is a collection of sepia-tinted stories that were written with the intent of giving grownups something to read aloud or listen to before bed.
In this land of grownuphood, we're swamped with so much stimulus that we often don't take the time to breathe. And the hope for these stories is that they will work towards a comfort. A wonder to take the place of growing cynicism.
The stories follow Allister, a mustachioed adventurer/explorer/philosopher/boxer/priest/and sometimes globe maker, on his journey through the early 20th century to find the simple answers to the big questions and the complex answers to the small. Living in a time when the romantic ideals of the 19th century were waking to the dreams, realities, and fears of the 20th, Allister is equally fascinated and terrified by technology and the future. He enlists in World War I, witnesses the awe and terror of the first escalator, becomes the most subtle of anarchists, dances with a bronze statue of Joan of Arc, and even meets Winston Churchill (but not the Winston Churchill you may be thinking of).
When I was a child, I remember feeling much like I do now, that the world is full of unanswered questions. But, back then, when I was tucked in tight and read stories, I felt safe and even excited about all of the questions that lay in the dark.
And, although we think of bedtime stories as a thing we do for children, it's important to remember that childhood bedtime stories are really just the last descendant of a long and storied (pun absolutely intended) lineage of bedtime stories and tales and myths and legends that date back to a time long ago when there were not enough words in our ancestors' language to cover all the predators and potential dangers of the night (both imagined and real).
Our ancestors of all ages and sizes would huddle close together around a fire and someone would tell a story or two or three. They were told to comfort. To calm. Because, to close your eyes left you at your most vulnerable. The darkness was everywhere and there were dark things with dark pointed teeth lurking in it. But, sleep was necessary. And, so, a trust was needed. A trust in the night that it had a purpose and a trust in each other.
So, the storytellers spun the darkness and the uncertainty into tales and they weaved those tales with what they knew and, in doing so, they created a calm. And, after the story, some would calm enough to sleep and some would stay awake and keep watch. And that would rotate so that everyone eventually would get to sleep. Through being together and through stories, the distrust was replaced by wonder. And, in that way, they were able to find a comfort in the night and the unknown all around them.
As the years have gone by, we've stopped gathering for stories. We've cemented over most of the jungles and electrically lit up the night. But, even still, there is an unease. That distrust is back. And I do no think I am alone in feeling that a trust and a wonder are needed again.
It is my belief that it is not only possible to get back to that feeling, but that it is absolutely necessary to do so.
I began telling Allister stories when I was in middle school. The purpose, then, was to annoy my younger sisters, interrupting whatever they were currently playing by launching into a mid-monologue rant in a stuffy British dialect about Allister Cromley (a name that just tumbled out). When I went to college, I wrote my sisters letters and emails about Allister. And, eventually, that morphed into a blog.
While living in New York, I had the good fortune of working with directors like Jess Smith and Scott Illingworth to transform the stories into a live storytelling experience. The stories relied on simple lighting tricks, the live music of Spiff Wiegand or Mark August Spitznagel, and an ambient warmth.
To the left are some stills from Allister Cromley's Fairweather Belle Vol II: One Time He Was Scared directed by Jess Smith.
When I first started workshopping the stories for the stage, the idea was just to work them into a live experience. But, when my fiance, Ruth, was seriously injured and was forced to leave New York to recover in Los Angeles with her Mom, the idea of just telling the stories live changed, too. Medical bills were stacking and her Mom was going through a rough time, as well. But, they read the stories aloud and they helped soothe them.
So, I contacted the amazing and talented friends and collaborators that we've been so fortunate to meet across the country. And, together, we organized unique fundraisers that incorporated varying doses of the stories, live music, clowning, and their own personal flavors into storytelling experiences that were performed in theaters in Pittsburgh, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City. People were invited, donations were accepted and the performances were recorded. The collected funds were given to Ruth to cover medical expenses and sent with the tapes of the shows as a surprise to her-except, of course, the Los Angeles performance. For that one, Ruth was taken to the event where she was surprised to find friends there, waiting to see her, to be with her, and to read stories to her.
The feeling that came from those experiences affected me greatly. There’s an undeniably incredible warmth that you get from being together and it’s enhanced even further by being together in honor of someone or something else. And, before leaving New York for Los Angeles, I was able to take part in two other fundraising performances of the stories; to help raise money for the eye-opening organization Project Explorer and to help get a daughter home to take care of her mother in Seattle after a family emergency.
I am interested in furthering this and am actively seeking more avenues and ways to perform the stories for others as fundraisers. If that sparks your interest, please hop over to this page for more info.
And that brings us to the present where I've had the wonderful opportunity of working with Sam Rhodes on the audio stories and historical assumptions found here. Also, twelve of the stories were honed, shaped, and made into a book due that was released on Amazon.com in November of 2012. To continue to encourage cross-pollination, each story was illustrated by a different artist who was given the freedom to make Allister any way they chose. The result is an eclectic mix that aids in the effort to make Allister a malleable character who can, from story to story, be big enough to arm wrestle a Goliath or small enough to fit into a walnut shell. And I'm both excited to share it with you and proud of the outcome.
I thank you for your time and sincerely hope you enjoy your visit here.