GLOUCESTER – Phoebe Potts, director of family learning at Gloucester’s Temple Ahavat Achim and author of a graphic memoir, will soon be adding to her list of accomplishments. For two weekends, starting November 23, she will present a one-woman show at the Gloucester Stage Company.
“Too Fat for China” tells the story of what it took for Potts and her husband, Jeffrey Marshall, to adopt Lemi, a boy from Ethiopia.
Given her background as a comic, artist and teacher, we will learn about the complications of this journey – and by journey, we don’t mean just two round-trip flights to Addis Ababa.
As Potts describes it, she “finds herself surprised, disgusted and ultimately resigned to the role she plays as a middle-class white lady in the business of adopting babies in the US and internationally.”
Her graphic memoir, Good Eggs, is a sometimes humorous story about infertility, admittedly not an inherently funny subject. The book was good enough to win the praise of comic master Roz Chast, who called it “completely involving.”
Potts then began a graphic memoir about the next phase in her life – cue the scary music – the adoption process. While working on this narrative, she was chosen as Storyteller in Residence at the Gloucester Writers Center, which allowed her to hone her performing skills.
She says, however, that she has been working on her storytelling skills her whole life.
“It feels like it’s genetic,” she says. “I was raised by journalists. And, if you wanted the warm sun of my parents’ attention, you’d better tell a good story.”
Her 20 years of teaching have also schooled her in how best to get her points across. The theme this year at Ahavat Achim’s Sylvia Cohen Religious School is “The Jewish Story Project.” A hallmark of the school’s program is helping kids use various media to act out, interpret and learn about Jewish ritual, history and tradition.
As Potts says, “You could say that our entire tradition is based on telling stories.”
The title of her one-woman performance came from one of the stranger twists of the adoption road.
After an attempted adoption in the US that, according to Potts, “went horribly wrong,” she and her husband tried to adopt a baby from China. Who would have thought that the Chinese had a BMI requirement for prospective parents and that Potts would fail by half a point?
“Ultimately, it’s a successful ending,” she says, in case anyone is worrying.
But that was not a given.
“The making of the story is a way of understanding what happened,” she says, “a way to be in control of the narrative.”
Potts finds that the storytelling genre is very capacious. And it is quite different from stand-up comedy, which she studies and respects. But she finds storytelling “a more holistic art experience, because it has pathos in it, too.”
She also appreciates the mixed-media aspect of storytelling.
“Like graphic books are neither art nor writing, but a mixture,” she says, storytelling employs more than just humor. “The jokes should be the sweetener in the story. I need the whole landscape of a story for the kind of story I want to tell.”
The show will be presented at the Gloucester Stage Company on November 23, 24 and 30, and on December 1. The last show will be followed by a reception and conversation.