Public radio show Selected Shorts performs live at BYU

(The Universe)
Left to right: Renee Auberjonois, Jane Kaczmarek and Zach Grenier. All three actors have appeared in multiple movies, TV shows and plays, and each took a turn reading a short story at the program. (Ryan Turner)

The written word got its turn in the spotlight when Selected Shorts came to BYU for a fairytale-themed BRAVO! performance on Friday, Nov. 18.

Selected Shorts is a public radio broadcast that airs weekly on stations all over the country. The show takes film, stage and television actors who read short stories in what BRAVO! series producer Jeffrey Martin called “a live audiobook on stage.”

The New York City theater Symphony Space produces the show. The live readings usually take place at the theater as part of its regular season, but the show also tours to other locations. Each set of short stories follows a theme. BYU’s program was based on the theme “Modern Fairy Tales” and was recorded to play on NPR at a future date.

Martin said he coordinated with the show’s producer to pick a theme that fit BYU’s standards, then they got input from the English department on what stories might work well. Once the stories were picked, Selected Shorts matched them up with actors who they felt were most appropriate for the stories.

The event was hosted by Shannon Hale, Utah resident and well-known author of 17 books, including “The Goose Girl” and “Princess Academy.”

Selected Shorts isn’t always hosted by an author, but Martin said he liked the idea of giving the show a local connection. Hale’s international popularity, focus on fairytales and existing relationship with BYU made her an easy pick, Martin said.

Rene Auberjonois, Zach Grenier and Jane Kaczmarek opened the show together with a joint reading of “There Was Once” by Margaret Atwood. The story was more of a dialogue, playing on the clash between modern political correctness and fairytale language.

Then Kaczmarek, known for her role as Lois on “Malcolm in the Middle,” read “The Princess Who Stood on Her Own Two Feet” by Jeanne Desy. The story, centered around a princess who is too tall and witty for her ideal prince’s tastes, emphasized the values of independence and loyalty to self.

Grenier, known best as the lawyer on “The Good Wife,” followed Kaczmarek with “Little Man” by Michael Cunningham. The story told the tale of Rumpelstiltskin from the perspective of the dwarf himself and addressed complicated issues involving morality, right and wrong.

After the intermission, Auberjonois closed the performance by reading “The King of the Elves” by Philip K. Dick.

Auberjonois won a Tony Award for his role in “Coco,” a musical about Coco Chanel. He has also appeared in numerous movies and TV shows, including playing the role of Odo in “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.” He used a variety of voices to tell the tale of an old gas station owner in Colorado who unexpectedly becomes king of the elves.

The three actors held a Q&A session earlier in the day and Hale taught a master class to students in the English department. Joey Franklin, a creative writing faculty member, said the master class presented interested students with a great opportunity.

“We have a lot of students at BYU who are interested in young adult and science fiction and fantasy,” Franklin said. “So we love to be able to bring someone like her in who can interact with the students and fill some of those gaps that traditional creative writing faculty doesn’t fill as easily because we focus on the academic side of creative writing.”

Often students don’t think of creative writing as an art to be performed, Franklin said, so hearing good work read aloud by people who know how to read teaches them to interact with the written word in a deeper way.

Franklin said the stories read in the performance, which investigated deep and important issues despite being speculative fiction, will serve as great models for students. He said speculative fiction can actually serve as a strong platform for capturing deeper human significance.

“That’s what good speculative fiction does,” Franklin said. “It tweaks our reality a little bit and invites us to think about things differently.”

Hale also said that her “fondness, bordering on obsession” of fairytales came from the way the stories resonated deep within her bones. She said she believed the human race naturally connects to stories and the power they bring.

“We think in stories, we communicate in stories, we understand the world and ourselves in stories,” Hale said.

The next performance in the BRAVO! series will be a Christmas concert by David Archuleta and Nathan Pacheco on Friday, Nov. 25 and Saturday, Nov. 26.

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