It all began in eighth grade. It was the mid-1970’s and Christopher Leebrick was attending Roosevelt Junior High, “an experimental school in Eugene with an amazing curriculum. Students could take any classes they wanted with their parents’ permission,” he fondly recalled. He decided to “take a chance on Beginning Storytelling” and did so well he was invited to join the advanced class.
The advanced class included traveling around Oregon to tell stories. Leebrick and his classmates performed in nursing homes, schools, and even on TV. Leebrick said his teacher noticed he would “really immerse himself into the characters” and encouraged him to consider acting in plays.
The following year, he took his teacher’s advice and auditioned for the musical “Oliver!”. He was chosen for the role of Fagin, one of the main characters. It was his “first big show,” he said, and “[he] absolutely fell in love with theater.”
Today, Leebrick still tells many of the stories he originally told as a 13-year-old. He recorded one of these stories (The Tell-Tale Heart, by Edgar Allen Poe) and his CD won an award. Several other CDs have also won awards, including the international Storytelling World Awards, which are very difficult to win. He is now a traveling professional storyteller, entertaining audiences all over Oregon—and throughout the United States—at schools, libraries, festivals, and around campfires.
His favorite part of the job is independence and “being my own boss,” he said. He plans his schedule, which averages 120 performances a year, and enjoys traveling and performing for all ages, especially “middle school students who think they’re too old for stories.” He loves seeing “the child come out in senior citizens” while he tells stories.
Though Leebrick loves his work, he readily admits it can be stressful. “The downside is I don’t know what my life will look like in six months,” he said. “There’s always been work, but it’s a bit unsettling to always be hustling to line up jobs.”
The hardest part is the administrative details, Leebrick said. “I’ll send out a hundred emails and one to two percent yield work. It’s the old actor’s dilemma—you’re continually looking for work. Many actors choose to teach in a high school or college because of the insecurity.”
Though Leebrick is currently “taking a break from professional plays” and is no longer involved with the Lord Leebrick Theater Company that he and his best friend founded, he has many fond memories of characters he has portrayed.
His favorite role is Fagin in Oliver Twist. “It had been my first big role,” he said. “I played it a 2nd time in Summerstock in my late 20’s. I instinctively understood how to play that guy. I’ve played bad guys a lot,” he said, laughing.
“My hardest role was Macbeth,” he said. “I would say it is one of the three most challenging roles Shakespeare wrote (the others being Hamlet and King Lear). As a performer, you’re really taxed to the max because there are so many scenes, so little time off stage, so many emotions to portray, and a big fight at the end. It’s very, very challenging.”
Leebrick shares his love of acting with homeschool students through “Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits,” which was started in 1994 in Eugene. Leebrick was approached by a homeschool group and asked if he would work with them. He was happy to help, and the program was born. It is now a thriving annual class in Woodburn, Oregon.
Leebrick selects two contrasting Shakespeare plays for the students to perform and chooses six to seven scenes to focus on, as the class doesn’t have time to rehearse an entire play. He intertwines the scenes with his narration so the audience knows what’s going on. Up to twenty students are accepted each year from auditions. They attend rehearsals and perform the plays ten weeks later.
“Theater as an art form allows an audience to see what it means to be human—the good, bad, and ugly,” Leebrick said. “It exposes the human condition. Theater does it better than any other art form.”
For more information about Christopher Leebrick and his storytelling, visit his website.