The story of Testify
On a summer night in July of 2013, Kate Caldwell invited Erin Feil, Genevieve Saenz, Kacey Samiee and Abby Ronaldes to a dinner party at her home – one with ulterior motives. Somewhat unbeknownst to the guests – all women with ties to performance communities in Austin – the dinner was actually a brainstorming session on how to put on a live storytelling show and after the meal was eaten and wine was shared, the work began. One of the first challenges was what to call this show, and inspiration came at the tail end of a politically charged summer at the Texas Capital, full of brave women and men offering personal stories as testimony, and the project was named Testify.
It took a few months of planning, scouting, calling in favors, more meetings involving food and a fair amount of nail biting, but they produced their very first show on September 27, 2013 to a sold out audience at the Salvage Vanguard Theater with the aptly chosen theme Creation. Josh Verduzco joined the team as the sound engineer, and Testify was put into motion. The team has changed over time, now produced by Kate Caldwell, Ashley McKelvy, Paul Normandin and Angela Maldonado, but the mission remains the same – to give people the space and empowerment to tell their stories.
The show is now it its 5th year, happening on the last Thursday of the month at the Spider House Ballroom, and has brought over 145 storytellers and 240 stories to the stage. Anchored in the belief that everyone has a story, the storytellers range from professional performers to people standing on a stage for the first time in their lives. Each month has a different theme, and five stories are selected that exhibit different aspects of the theme, connecting them in sometimes surprising ways.
The Testify Team
Kate Caldwell is an Austin native, and a performer and writer with a BA in Theater and Dance from the University of Texas at Austin. Growing up in a family of informal storytellers, Kate strongly believes in the importance of the art of storytelling and legacy of oral tradition. Kate hates bios but loves fried chicken and whiskey.
Ashley “Mick” McKelvy is a writer and storyteller who grew up in rural Arkansas. As a teenager, she sometimes drove an hour to eat at Denny’s. She moved on to bigger cities, earning her BA in English and creative writing at the University of Arkansas, and an MA in English and creative writing from Florida State University. At FSU, she fell in love with creative nonfiction, and she’s been telling, reading, and listening to personal stories obsessively every since.
Paul Normandin is a large man with a big mouth who loves to tell stories to anyone who can’t run faster than him. Paul loves storytelling so much he founded an Imrpov troupe, In Our Prime that creates plays from audience suggestions. Paul is a self-taught Sunday school teacher who learned to tell tales from the very real and loving feedback of other peoples’ children. Stumbling into the community of performers in Austin at 48, Paul remains constantly humbled to perform.
Angela Maldonado is an improviser, writer and storyteller from Corpus Christi. She’s drawn to narrative improv and loves to perform improvised telenovelas with her Shades of Brown compadres. Angela loves storytelling so much she started a show StoryTime at the Cactus Cafe, with the goal to let people hear some great stories and maybe sign up to tell their own. She’s pretty excited be able to continue to bring people’s stories to the stage.
Rev. Genevieve Saenz, MA is a celebrant and life coach who specializes in ritual and life transitions. She has a rich professional background in theatre studies, education, counseling, theology, and the expressive arts. Her passion for stories stems from a deep curiosity about the way narrative shapes human experiences. In her home time she is a wife and a mom and a gardener and a crafter. Find out more/hire her to perform your wedding at http://www.passagewayarts.com/.
Josh Verduzco is an environmental geologist by trade, but pursues a number of additional passions. He is a multimedia photographic artist and member of Austin’s Darkroom Photo Coop. He enjoys rock climbing, biking, and playing the guitar, and plans to someday walk the Appalachian Trail. All of it. Additionally, Josh is not afraid to let you know you have soup on your face. It’s the polite thing to do.