Five years in, and WOW! Stories has just scratched the surface of the tales ready and not so ready to be told by Whidbey Island’s women.
The fifth rendition of short, personal stories told by 26 notable Women of Whidbey (WOW) returns March 11-12. They are artists and athletes, musicians and soldiers, spouses and activists, and each one has a narrative about their passion, and many have a few surprises in their stories.
What their five- to seven-minute, TED-style talks are about is kept secret for the nearly sold-out shows at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts. But the intent and meaning are fair game. For speakers Elizabeth Guss and Pam Schell, it was about self discovery, reflection, inspiration, community, and revelations.
Guss is a familiar name for her involvement with a pair of organizations: the Whidbey Camano Land Trust and St. Hubert Catholic Church. But she said she and every other person are more than their associations, relations, accomplishments and titles.
“Most of us are far more multi-dimensional than the way people know us,” she said.
Roles get fulfilled between parent and child, spouses, siblings, coworkers, acquaintances, employer and employee, and it can limit people to understanding others in only one way, she said. Particularly, she wants her story to create meaningful connections between her as the storyteller and the audience. In order to do so, she said she will become vulnerable with “tough times” of her life. By sharing painful moments honestly, she said, she hopes to connect with everyone who shares that experience. Just how far she went was unexpected.
“The depth of where I needed to go really surprised me,” Guss said.
Pam Schell said she understood that kind of pigeonholing well. As the widow of former Seattle Mayor Paul Schell, she said she often took a backseat in public. Outside the office was a different story, she said, and they both pursued their passion for the arts as philanthropists and political heavyweights in Seattle during the 1980s and 1990s.
Infamously, Paul Schell was mayor during the WTO protests in 1999. But he was more than that incident, and Pam Schell is more than the wife of an elected official.
Together they invigorated the arts scene in Seattle, bringing directors and artists from New York to the city, spawning the rise of the Pacific Northwest Ballet, Intiman and Seattle Rep theater groups. She highlighted hosting box lunches with her husband and a couple of people at least once a week in the mayor’s office, an intimate setting with one of the most influential people in Washington state.
These stories show that she was more than the mayor’s wife, but it took some convincing that they were worth telling.
Schell was courted to be a speaker the first year of WOW! Stories but turned down the offer. She was unsure what she could say that an audience would find interesting that wasn’t directly related to her husband’s political career.
“I didn’t want to embarrass myself just telling Paul’s stories,” she said.
“I realized his story wouldn’t have happened if I weren’t there with him,” Schell added. “I feel quite proud.”
The stories are not specifically about women’s issues. The event is, in some ways, a reclaiming of the stage by women, whose stories were at times ignored, unpublished or oppressed. Universal themes of struggle and triumph break gender barriers, Guss said.
“Let’s listen to one another,” she said.
Overflow seating is planned to watch a live stream in Zech Hall next to the main stage.
WOW! Stories 5
Women of Whidbey returns for its fifth year March 11-12 with two different lineups.
The shows begin at 7 p.m. Friday, March 11 and at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 12, and are expected to last about two and a half hours.
On Friday, March 11 are: Kristi O’Donnell, Jeanne Strong, Elizabeth Guss, Toni Marthaller-Andersen, Erin Morgan, Hannah Weatherford, Cynthia Brix, Kathryn Lynn Morgen, Martha Murphy, Claudia Walker, Trish Rose and Julie Glover.
On Saturday, March 12 are: WOW Sisters (members of the SWHS Jazz Band), Chris Peterson, Linda Good, Katy MacGregor, Melissa Young, Carrie Whitney, Pam Schell, Josh Hauser, Brook Ott, Dakota Stone and Barbara Dunn.
Tickets cost $25 and may be purchased online, by calling the box office at 360-221-8268 or at the box office, 565 Camano Ave., Langley.
Correction: An earlier version incorrectly listed the times of the performances.