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Paul Strickland: Magical realist storytelling



It's all about magical realism for storyteller Paul Strickland. Jorge Luis Borges, Garcia Garcia Márquez and Miranda July are his spirit guides.

"What I find fascinating is ... how the work of art sets up its own set of rules and we just live in that world for that time," he says.

He wants to remind people that there's still magic out there: "You can just go to a garage sale and demand to pay 10 cents more for everything you want to buy. That's magical. You can just do it."

Strickland, who has worked in the fields of standup comedy and singer-songwriting, first performed at the IndyFringe Festival in 2010, presenting his stand-out show A Brighter Shade of Blue. He came back the following two years, and now he's decided he likes the city and its festival so much that he's going to move here.

"Indianapolis, for me, is a city of open doors," Strickland explained over beers at Chatham Tap. "There is a massive opportunity for me to have a very inexpensive and accessible canvas on which to make the work I want to make."

His path to magical realism wasn't so magical in itself. After studying music and creative writing at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, Strickland left school without a degree because he, like many a liberal arts major, lacked a science credit.

"Looking back it was a ridiculous decision, but there's still a part of me that's kind of proud that I put my foot down and just left," he says. "And I've never needed it, turns out - that chemistry lab."

Shortly after, Strickland married and moved to Nashville, where he and his wife sang together. But things soon fell apart.

"That was just dreadful and a disaster," explains Strickland. "She's actually a really great person. It just didn't work for a lot of reasons. And so I just quit making music entirely."

The next year, he found himself at a local comedy club's open mic night. Before long, telling jokes on stage became routine, and he took to the road. He started to talk about his divorce in his act.

"What happened is I realized there were things about my divorce that I wanted to say on stage," says Strickland. "But standup was the wrong medium. I decided to try and seek out a way to do that. That's where A Brighter Shade of Blue came from."

Strickland's plans for Indianapolis include a series of monthly happenings at the IndyFringe Theater. The first piece - Adoption: A Paul Strickland Inquiry - will feature a visual artist creating a piece of work inspired by adoption and Paul hosting curated stories. In addition, he's planning a social experiment - putting a coffee table up for adoption on Craigslist. It's all in keeping with Strickland's aesthetic of curiosity.

"We are in the business of illuminating things that are already there," he says. "We're all just standing in the middle of a lot of answers asking a lot questions. Our job is to ask the questions for the audience. That's all we're doing."

But first up is his IndyFringe Festival, Ain't True and Uncle False.

"It's anchored in a world that we're all comfortable with: there is a grandfather, a dad, a son," he says. "There is a trailer park where a kid loses his hand because he put his hand down somewhere and walked away. You know? Because seven-year-olds lose things."

He invites audiences that attend his first performance on Thursday, August 15 at 6 stick around afterward for popsicles. And he's also hosting after-fringe parties at the Fringe Beer Tent on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, both weekends.

"It's called Five Fringy Things: A Nightly Faux Finale," he says. "It will basically be a 10 minute wrap up show that will include lots of weird performance art alternative theater. One of the pieces will be called "Scuttlebutt," which is a gossip column. And while that is happening there will be a performance-art-interpreter for the imagination impaired."


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