The Origin Story
The Yarn is a platform for storytellers to share their true life experiences. This initiative, founded in September 2017, also has a story of its own. Founder and Director Hilary Trudell recounts her personal journey that was the inspiration and led to the inception of The Yarn. Without further ado,
To say an initiative that I care for so deeply stemmed from a horrific act of violence would only skim the surface of the story. What it did was light a fuse of urgency that would propel me to DO something. In the end, what I had to give was what I always have had to give – no more and no less. My goal in creating The Yarn was to offer a platform for storytellers and to create a space of community building. To me, The Yarn is a defiant act of connection in an age of assumptions, distrust and isolation. It’s a statement of value and an honoring of the lived experiences of our neighbors. It’s a suspension of judgment. It’s a place to listen and it’s a place to share. We have spiraled so far away from each other. To me, The Yarn is all the brave storytellers who have taken to the stage over the past ten months and the audiences who have come to honor the stories shared, we together have built something in a small effort to bring us back together. In the end, it has also brought me back to myself.
There has never been a time in my life when I wasn’t in love with the stage. Growing up, I would produce dance shows with my brother and friends on my block. My older brother would DJ, picking from a variety of Weird Al Yankovich tapes. My younger brother and friends would perform dance numbers in staged areas all over the backyard. We would sell popcorn back to my parents who had just recently bought it for us at Kroger. I would choreograph, direct, dance and emcee. Through school, I volunteered for every opportunity I could to perform. In high school, I began writing monologues and auditioned for every role possible. My love of the stage followed me to college where I continued to produce shows – founding the first student written, directed and performed showcase on campus that still exists today. I was fearless and I knew what I loved.
Sometime in the early years after college, my love affair with theater began to darken. While I had followed my dreams to Washington, D.C., to work at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, the reality of working in theater as an adult began to lose its shine. I spent long days in front of a computer - producing payroll sheets for artists who treated me with indifference at best. I spent my nights working in community theaters on obscure shows and was treated generally the same – like no one. Nothing I had done in college or high school or in my parent’s backyard meant anything here. My confidence took a hit and around the same time, my passion for the thing that I had loved my whole life seemed to dissipate before my eyes.
In a fairly rash move to recapture it, I quit my job and took an internship at a regional theater coordinating their student playwrights project. Through this job, I visited many schools in the D.C. metropolitan area. It was there on those visits, where for what seemed like the first time, I started to see the reality of the extreme inequities that existed in education. I visited schools with so many resources and so much support – with clean halls and smiling teachers. I visited schools that had nothing. I saw what poverty and race meant as determinants of a kid’s future. I saw the shit that is our education system. Nothing that I was doing with theater or playwriting, at night or at my day job, seemed to matter. How could I worry about teaching a ten-minute play when there were such big problems in the world? When there was so much else that mattered so much more?
So, I left. I left theater. I left D.C. and, for a while anyway, I left a part of myself. But I wanted to do something bigger. I know now that the confidence I lost in theater also paralleled the confidence I had lost in myself. During that time, in my early twenties, I was shaken by the realities of what one person can really offer the world. Not to mention the crap the world had to offer others. I was, in a word, jaded. I spent the next part of a decade throwing myself into service. I joined AmeriCorps, got my Masters in Public Service and actively tried to avoid all things theater-related. In grad school, I avoided being labeled as a theater person and actively rejected theater-related projects, communicating that I was now moving on to more important endeavors.
I struggled to find my place for a very long time, to find my purpose, always chasing the next endeavor. I rejected my talents and experience as inconsequential, unimportant and, really, not good enough. Theater wasn’t good enough and I wouldn’t be either until I found that something that mattered more.
I would like to say that I came back to myself in a beautifully peaceful moment of self-discovery – some aha moment during a spiritual life-mapping situation or something. But when I look at it now, I actually think tragedy was that catalyst that knocked me back into myself.
In the summer of 2015, a white supremacist walked into a church in Charleston, South Carolina and killed nine people. The man was white and the parishioners were black. The aftermath of this horrific attack saw protests, acts of outrage and demonstrations of grief. I was living in Little Rock at the time and its difficult to describe the intensity of the emotions I felt after I heard of the killings. To say I was angry, sad, bereft or full of rage wouldn’t completely capture to feelings that clenched the insides of my body. I felt that if I didn’t physically do something with my hands or feet, I might actually explode.
The complications that came out of that need unraveled through a course of months and difficult but necessary conversations amongst friends and community activists. While this horrific act was a catalyst in my life, it was also quite blatantly a hate crime against black people. I am white, and despite my best intentions, leading an initiative in reaction to this attack was not my place. I wrestled with this reality and I would be lying if I said it wasn’t challenging. It was a challenge to show up and listen because my body told me to shout. I wrestled with myself. I stewed and I learned some very hard lessons.
I cannot say that I handled every situation during this time with grace, but through this tragedy that exemplified that hard truths our country is facing, I began to examine myself. I looked at what I had, who I was and what I wanted to give. I recognized the opportunities I had been given due to my class and my race, while also acknowledging those that I hadn’t been given due to my gender. I also looked at my talents, held up my experiences and skillset to the light and made a decision.
I decided to go back to the stage. This time, however, I didn’t want to hold the mic. I wanted to build a stage for others to stand on. I wanted to use what I had been given – my talents and my privilege and my love – to lift up voices of those around me. I wanted to create a space for people to gather and listen and honor each other with dignity. From that sentiment, The Yarn was born. It came from my recognizing what I had to give and embracing it.