By Emily Williams
Throughout her childhood and into her post-graduate life, Dolores Hydock didn’t realize that storytelling could be a career.
Nonetheless, she began what would become an acclaimed storytelling career at 5 years old, when she entered a local storytelling contest in her hometown of Reading, Pennsylvania. Despite being the only contestant in her age group, she took home a blue ribbon and a newfound love of performing and words.
Since then, she’s performed on stages across the country as well as many at home in Birmingham.
Hydock will be performing “Perfect Match: A Valentine Story” Feb. 9 in honor of the upcoming holiday.
“’Perfect Match’ is my own story, based on something that really did happen to me when I was a junior in high school. It tells about a very surprising lesson about love that I learned in an unexpected way,” Hydock said.
Whether performing her own story or the story of someone else, she approaches it the same – she leads with her heart.
“I think it’s simply important to tell stories that you love, stories that mean something to you as the teller, and that passion and interest will come across to the listeners. Then each of them will take something different out of that story, based on their own experience,” she said.
In her profession as a storyteller, she strives to perform words she has written, as well as the words of others, in a way that immerses the audience.
“There is so much discord, disappointment and, well, loneliness in our world. I think people enjoy hearing stories where love triumphs over all the many obstacles in its way, stories where people find in another person a little haven of acceptance, a spark of passion and the comfort of being truly seen and cared about,” she said.
DISCOVERING THE SOUTH
During her pursuit of an American Studies degree at Yale University, Hydock’s independent study project brought her to Chandler Mountain in St. Clair County, a community rooted in American folklore.
After she graduated, instead of remaining in New Haven, Connecticut, or moving back home, she took a leap and made a new home in Birmingham.
“I wanted to be an actor, but who can make a living as an actor? So I figured acting would always be a hobby, and I got a job here in Birmingham, working as a sales rep for IBM – selling room-sized computers that cost a million dollars and had the computational capability of a FitBit,” Hydock said.
Hydock’s IBM career left her little time to take part in community theater, where she really wanted to be. If she couldn’t make time to attend auditions, she decided to make a performance opportunity to relieve the incessant itch to take the stage.
“So one day, 30 years ago, I called the activities director of Kirkwood by the River, a retirement community out in Irondale, and asked if I could come out once a month and read stories to the residents – classic short stories by James Thurber, O. Henry, Mark Twain or something from back issue of “The Saturday Evening Post.”
The standing Kirkwood gig, which she still continues to this day, opened up a whole new world of performance opportunities to Hydock. Kirkwood residents would ask her to speak at their garden clubs, book clubs, any kind of club that existed.
“I discovered that here in Birmingham, there were all these wonderful women’s clubs that met monthly, nine times a year, and needed a ‘program’ every month,” she said.
After serving as the “program” for various clubs, her name bounced around the social scene, resulting in more performances. After a while, Hydock was given the title of storyteller, not knowing what else to call herself.
Much of her early storytelling performances were literary stories written by acclaimed authors. Her job was to interpret the stories and perform the words in an interesting way to make them come alive before her audiences, which became a form of acting she could take part in without having to attend castings or rehearsals.
“I kept getting invited to speak for more and more groups, and then I tried my hand at writing some of my own stories, and that’s how my ‘professional’ career began. I finally quit my day job and started doing this full time about 15 years ago,” she said.
Flash forward and Hydock has found her place in the acting world as an award-winning storyteller, sharing tales that are both her own and those that belong to others.
In writing her stories, she either consults her own life or the lives of interesting real-life characters who surround her. Both processes are equally gratifying for Hydock.
“John Claypool, a fabulous storyteller who used to be rector at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, once said, ‘A good story holds up a picture to the audience. A really good story holds up a mirror.’ So, whether I’m telling a story that is from someone else’s experience or my own, the goal is always the same: to have the audience members see themselves in that story,” she said.
Hydock will perform her Valentine’s Day story “Perfect Match” for the Hoover Service Club at 11 a.m. Feb. 9 at the Hoover Country Club. Doors will open at 10:30 a.m. and an optional $18 lunch will follow.
For reservations, contact Winnie Cooper at 979-5699.
For more information on Dolores Hydock, visit storypower.org.