Story of a storyteller: award-winning actor and storyteller shares his personal story

Story of a storyteller: award-winning actor and storyteller shares his personal story

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.


Scholarship foundation initiates unique competition: Auto Math Challenge

Scholarship foundation initiates unique competition: Auto Math Challenge

A unique scholarship organization, the non-profit Common Knowledge Scholarship Foundation (CKSF), is preparing to launch its newest program: the Auto Math Challenge.

Founded in 2001 by Daryl Hulce, Alex Velasquez, and Tom Walser, CKSF creates quizzes on everything from classic novels to books of the Bible to, most recently, math. Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, administers the program.

“We didn’t mean to start a scholarship foundation; we were actually trying to help teachers at four south Florida schools,” Hulce said. “We created an online quiz generator so their students could practice before taking exams. We put books from a high school reading list in the quiz generator, Catcher in the Rye, Great Gatsby, Shoeless Joe, etc. We noticed that kids from all over the world were finding the system and taking the quizzes, apparently for no reason.”

“One day I thought, if high school students will do this for no reason, they would love it if they could win scholarship money for taking the quizzes,” Hulce said. “I called a friend from my high school class and asked if he would match my $250 donation to create a scholarship for the student that had the highest score based on time and accuracy.  He did and that was the first scholarship.”

At first, the program had 50 to 100 students registering each week. After CKSF developed a scholarship based on the FBI website, the number of students registering jumped to an average of 1,000 each day for 60 days. There are currently over a million registered students, and CKSF has awarded about $400,000 in scholarship money.

The scholarships are developed with donations, so the number CKSF gives out varies. So far, Hulce said, the organization has “created over 350 quizzes with scholarships that have ranged from $100 to $10,000.”

“In high school I was an average student. I didn’t receive any scholarships for college,” Hulce said. “So when we sat down to create a name for our new venture, I suggested that we create a scholarship program based on ‘common knowledge,’ one that even average students could win and especially those that didn’t have a colorful volunteer history or exceptional essay writing skills.  And that is how we came up with the name ‘Common Knowledge Scholarship Foundation.’”

“Our mission is to create scholarship (financial) and scholarly (educational) programs that all students have a real chance to win,” Hulce added.

Another program developed by CKSF is called USA-SOS (Safe Online Surfing). This internet safety program is free for every elementary and middle school in the U.S. Over 400,000 students have participated in the program.

CKSF is currently working on two new programs. The first is the Auto Math Challenge, a quiz competition for high school students. Students answer math questions about typical car expenses, while discovering how relevant math is in the real world and how expensive cars can be. The highest scoring student wins scholarship money. Hulce plans to expand this idea, adding Sneaker math and Shopping math to the program.

Another program in the works is called Tuition Back Scholarships. “This was actually one of the first scholarships I created on my own,” Hulce said. “I was teaching a course and used a CKSF quiz to test my students instead of paper and pencil.  Besides a grade for the class, I offered to give the person with the highest score their tuition back for the course.  That turned out to be quite appealing to the students.”

CKSF has since further developed this idea to include core college courses. It now usually provides two quizzes, one before mid-terms and one before finals. Even if the student does not win the scholarship, the quizzes are excellent exam preparation.

College students and high school interns are heavily involved in the program, developing and testing questions and advertising the program while gaining volunteer hours.

Hulce said he enjoys working with college student interns and high school ambassadors. He also loves giving the scholarship to the winner. “It is extremely rewarding… To see the look in the student’s eyes and see the pride in the faces of the parents—there is nothing else that I have ever done that compares.”

Hulce added that the hardest part of running the program was, “Knowing that we can’t help everyone.  Sometimes I find that I am giving scholarship money to people I have never met and at the same time I have to watch some of the student employees in my office struggle to pay for college.  The IRS doesn’t allow you to just ‘give’ scholarships to friends and family.”

“I have been asked many times if I am afraid that someone will steal the idea of what we are doing,” Hulce added. “My answer is that there will never be enough scholarship money to help all the students that want to go to college… so I would gladly explain exactly how we do it, to anyone that wants to know.”

For more information, or to sign up for the scholarship quizzes, visit the scholarship site.