Here’s the schedule for the Spoken Word Tent at this year’s Kentuck Festival of the Arts! Improbable Fictions events are below in bold:

Saturday, October 15

9:30 am, Steven Hobbs
10:30 am, Improbable Fictions, The Letters of Augusta Evans
11:30 am, Jack Day and the OLLI Storytellers
12:30 pm, Tall Tales and Telling Truths
1:30 pm, Steven Hobbs
2:30 pm, Improbable Fictions, Selections from American Literature
3:30 pm, Tall Tales and Telling Truths

Sunday, October 16
9:30 am, Tall Tales and Telling Truths
10:30 am, Steven Hobbs
11:30 am, Improbable Fictions, The Letters of Augusta Evans
12:30 pm, Tall Tales and Telling Truths
1:30 pm, Jack Day and the OLLI Storytellers
2:30 pm, Steven Hobbs
3:30 pm, Pure Products

Jack Day’s daddy used to spank him for telling stories, but Jack grew up to become a storyteller with the stage name of “Storytelling Day.” Jack loves to tell tall tales, personal stories, folk tales, multi-cultural stories, stories crafted to communicate life-lessons, and Bible stories. He teaches storytelling at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Alabama, and has invited several of his students to share the stage with him at Kentuck. The OLLI offers courses for adults who desire to continue to study. One of the courses taught is storytelling. OLLI storytellers have stories that they want to tell and that you will enjoy hearing.

Steven H. Hobbs is a storyteller, educator, lawyer, poet, historian, actor, and community organizer.  Hobbs sees himself as a story framer, one who structures stories around history, law, entrepreneurship, culture, and life.  Storyteller Hobbes likes to share stories of wisdom, humor, and the triumph of the human spirit.

Improbable Fictions is a staged reading series sponsored by the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies at the University of Alabama. The series was co-founded in 2010 by Nic Helms and Alaina Jobe Pangburn as a way for students of English Literature to see classic plays in performance. For this year’s Festival, IF has partnered with UA’s W.S. Hoole Special Collections to present a reading of 19th century novelist Augusta Evans’ letters.

Pure Products is a reading series run by English Instructors Eric Parker and Abe Smith from the University of Alabama who hope to create a tighter writing and arts community in the Tuscaloosa area. This year, they will host bi-weekly open mic nights, alongside monthly Northport Art Night readings. All readings will be held at Tea Town Alabama: 412 22nd Ave Northport, AL (next to Mary’s Cakes).

Tall Tales and Telling Truths is a new community group of storytellers organized by Wescott Youngson and focused on tales of diversity and personal experience.

Why: We need readers!

What: In collaboration with UA’s Hoole Special Collections Library, Improbable Fictions will be reading at the Spoken Word Tent of this year’s Kentuck Festival of the Arts.

When: October 15 and 16, 2016

Where: Beautiful Kentuck Park  in Northport, Al.

What: We will be reading selections from the writings of  Alabama native and 19th century writer Augusta Evans Wilson. Readings include selections from the collection of her letters at The University of Alabama and some of her fiction. A second session will feature readings across American literature. Pick a favorite poem or a passage from a short story and join us!

We have transcripts of the letters available for readers, but you can find the originals below in Acumen.

Letter summaries
Augusta writes to her friend Rachel of unanswered letters, domestic affairs, and the illness of her siblings with an emphasis on her brother’s typhoid fever. She describes the weather being usually cold for Mobile and the orange trees dying from it. She recounts the books that she had read and correspondence received.

Augusta wishes Rachel a happy New Year. She expresses that she would like to have Rachel with her when she travels to Europe. With the sales of her book, Beulah, doing well she is expecting to have time to do this. Augusta relates the books that she have read and her view that one must process an intimate knowledge of Dante. She tells of recent correspondence from Colonel Seaver, Mr. Derby, and Nina Moses.

Augusta responds to Rachel’s letter about the health of Mr. Caldwell. She has delayed her trip to Europe until she can find friends who are going to Italy. Augusta writes about correspondence from their mutual friends and the coming of spring.

Augusta writes to Rachel, acknowledging the poor health of Mr. Moses. Augusta urges her friend to write a Jewish tale (as she was Jewish). She relates that women cannot serve two masters, fame and love. Women writers cannot marry. Augusta rebuts the rumor that she is getting married. She says that she will never marry. [Note: Augusta does get married, 8 years later, to a veteran named Lorenzo Wilson.]

Augusta writes to Rachel explaining to her that she has been moving to town for the winter perhaps the year. She encourages Rachel to write and gives her tips from plot to characters. Augusta mentions the Southern problem of secession and expects that South Carolina will lead the way.

Augusta writes to say she assisted in preparing over 9,000 bags to be filled with sand for use at Fort Morgan. She is very anxious about her father and two brothers serving at Fort Morgan. They will be sent to Fort Pickens, Pensacola, Florida, if needed. Augusta replies to questions about Mr. Derby, a strong Union supporter, who has returned to New York City. She expresses her wish that Virginia secedes soon as well as other border states.

Augusta writes to Rachel of her disbelief in her news of hiding from her parents her engagement to Dr. Heustis, who is a Christian.

Augusta writes to Rachel of her return trip from Columbus to Mobile and the many troubles she met along the way. Augusta thought the immediate threat in Mobile of an attack was subsiding. She conveys that she cannot find the cotton or the dress that Rachel wants.

Shakespeare at Kentuck

Posted: September 20, 2016 by nrhelms in Casting Call, Shakespeare

Improbable Fictions will be performing Shakespearean Scenes at the 2016 Kentuck Festival of the Arts’ Spoken Word Tent on Oct 15-16. If you’re interested, chime in! We’re still in the early planning stages. You can contact me at

This Thursday!


Steve Burch
Mark Hughes Cobb
Alanna Fagan
Erin Hildebrand
Mark Hulse
Annie Levy
Bert McLelland
Courtney Parker
Deborah Parker
Mary B. Prondzinski
Will Ramsay
Sarah Scarr
Exa Skinner
Matt Smith
Elizabeth Thiel

Steve Burch
Mark Hughes Cobb
MK Foster
Nic Helms
Courtney Parker
Deborah Parker

Prof. Michelle Dowd, Hudson Strode Program
Zoё Winston, Women and Gender Resource Center

The Bechdel-Wallace test, created in 1985, applies three simple criteria to fictional works:

  1. Does the story have two named female characters
  2. who have a conversation together
  3. about something other than a man?

The test can begin to tell us whether or not women have active roles in that fictional world.

Shakespeare’s plays seldom pass this test. After all, he wrote plays during the English Renaissance, a time when women were forbidden to act. That meant that boys and young men would dress as women to play the women’s roles. Perhaps Shakespeare couldn’t create many female characters because he couldn’t find enough skilled actors to play the parts.

Even so, today we’re left with a body of Shakespeare’s works where women have far fewer voices than men. Can those voices still speak for women’s experiences over four hundred years after they were written? And how can we, as actors, audiences, and readers, make sure that the Cleopatras, Desdemonas, and Margarets are not drowned out by the Octavians, Othellos, and Richards?

Scene and Soliloquy Summaries

Please note, while tonight’s scenes stage only one moment of physical violence — Cleopatra’s suicide — they do contain verbal abuse, descriptions of rape, and accounts of murder and trauma. Shakespeare’s stories depict a wide range of women’s experiences in the Renaissance, and much of that involves violence in all its forms.

Merchant of Venice, Act V, Scene 1

Portia and Nerissa are kicking back, having a cool beverage — metaphorically —  after having gone through elaborate disguise, trickery and insightful wit to bring justice, or perhaps mercy, its kinder cousin, to Venice. Though a good bit of what comes before and after in Merchant is about love and bonds, at this point the friends take a moment to notice the little things, to feel how context can clarify or obscure, and revel in the feeling of grateful relief that comes at the completion of an arduous task. Bonus: Listen for a line Willy Wonka paraphrased.

Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene 1

In this stellar, much-quoted monologue from a show rich with those, Portia, in disguise as a male legal scholar, has found her strength in being able to speak from behind a mask. It’s not that being in drag made her stronger, but that being a male in the 16th century meant being freer to speak truth to power. Here she connects god to duke to Shylock, to establish the lines that can connect them all. She’s giving Shylock an out, a chance to back off his demand for a pound of flesh, before lowering the justice boom on him.

As You Like It, Act III, Scene 5

Shakespeare predicted “Oh no she di-ent!” 400 years ago, and one of his sharpest-tongued practitioners is Rosalind, with a fire and wit like Beatrice’s, brought out when in guise as Ganymede. Here she’s met with the rustic Phebe, who is being pursued by the equally sheepish Silvio, who longs for Phebe, who has instead cast her eyes on this new dude Ganymede. Where Viola, being lusted after as Cesario, pushes Olivia to reconsider the worthiness of her suitor Orsino, the rougher Rosalind rebukes Phebe, urging her to settle for Silvio.

Richard III, Act 4, Scene 4

Old Queen Margaret, the Duchess of York, and Queen Elizabeth lament the deaths of husbands, brothers, and sons from the hand of newly crowned King Richard and Elizabeth learns to her horror Richard’s next victim in her family is to be her daughter. While these women all have names and have lengthy scenes and talk about power and survival, the fact is they all focus on the King and his evil plans. Bechdellian? Perhaps.

Antony and Cleopatra, Act V, Scene 2

This is the final scene of Antony and Cleopatra. They have been defeated by a very young Octavian. Antony has already killed himself, and in this scene Cleopatra meticulously stages her own suicide. It is important to keep in mind this is still the Roman Republic – Octavian is not yet the Emperor Augustus. The only royalty in the play is Cleopatra. What is interesting about this final scene is the contrast between Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt, in her dealings with Octavian and what is revealed when she speaks about Antony.

Othello, Act IV, Scene 3

Just before this scene, the jealous Othello has made his decision to murder his wife Desdemona, suspecting her of infidelity. Desdemona has intuitions about her coming death, and she and her maid Emilia discuss Othello’s erratic, abusive behavior and the unequal standards society places on men and women’s sexuality. While this scene clearly fails the third step of the Bechdel-Wallace test (the conversation must be about something other than a man), what we see here are two close friends struggling to navigate a world perilous to women.

Titus Andronicus, Act II, Scenes 3-4

Tamora, conquered Queen of the Goths, and Lavinia, her archenemy’s daughter, meet in an isolated and dark forest.  While her sons look on, Tamora seeks revenge on Lavinia’s family for the humiliation she suffered at the hand of Lavinia’s father, Titus Andronicus.  Ultimately, Tamora’s sons enact her revenge by raping and mutilating Lavinia.  While no physical violence occurs onstage in our scene, the language is some of the most graphically violent in Shakespeare’s works. Two named women engage in a power struggle using the weapons they know best: unadulterated violence and womanly virtue.  While the topic of their conversation is not a man, men’s actions have propelled them toward this life-or-death moment of confrontation.  Men weave through the action of this scene silently and seamlessly – does it pass the test?

On Monday, August 22nd, at Tuscaloosa’s Bama Theatre, the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies presents Richard Burton’s 1964 *Hamlet,* the first film in our Shakespeare in Film Series for 2016-17. Film starts at 7:30pm, and the concession stand will be open.Free and open to the public!

For more information about the film, visit:

For information on upcoming films, visit:


This is actually Burton playing Hamlet in 1953, but the photo was too good to pass up. See:

Bechdellian Shakespeare

Posted: August 15, 2016 by nrhelms in Uncategorized

Or to be more accurate, Bechdellian/Wallacian Shakespeare. On September 15th, IF will present a selection of Shakespearean scenes focused on women alongside a town hall discussion of women in Shakespeare. Right now we’re casting for those scenes (which, as per our usual, will be delivered on-book). If you’re interested in being involved, message me on facebook ( or email me at


Back for its 14th season, Tuscaloosa’s The Rude Mechanicals will present Shakespeare’s comedy “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” 8 p.m. each night, June 1-4, in The Park at Manderson Landing; in case of rain, the show will move indoors to the Allen Bales Theatre, Rowand-Johnson Hall on the UA campus.

Free admission. Live pre-show music begins at 7:30 p.m.

Patrons should bring blankets, chairs or other seating material. For more, call 348-0343.

The Facebook Event