published Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Curtain Call: Jim Pfitzer draws on a lifetime of stories

Jim Pfitzer is shown in a scene from "Aldo Leopold — A Standard of Change." The one-man show will be presented at Barking Legs Theater on May 31.
Jim Pfitzer is shown in a scene from "Aldo Leopold — A Standard of Change." The one-man show will be presented at Barking Legs Theater on May 31.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

ABOUT HIM

• Name: Jim Pfitzer.

• Hometown: Chattanooga.

• Age: 44.

• Education: East Ridge High School.

• Vocation: Storyteller/playwright/actor, farmer.

FAVORITES

• Book: "The Grapes of Wrath."

• Play or musical: "Romeo & Juliet," "Rent."

• Movie: "Big Fish."

• Song: "Terrapin Station" by the Grateful Dead.

• Performer: Jerry Garcia.

• Quote, saying or expression: "There is a reason why there is more than one of us on the planet." -- Jim Pfitzer

Jim Pfitzer was a storyteller before he knew such things existed.

For about 15 years after high school graduation, Pfitzer said, he traveled the country in a Volkswagen bus looking for his purpose in life. He tended to find jobs that kept him outside in nature. Few lasted longer than four years.

He worked as a rafting guide on the Snake River in Colorado, ran a hostel in Redwood National Park in California and worked in a wildlife rehabilitation center in southern Arizona.

All of those led to life experiences that made for good stories, and he often found himself in front of a group either explaining something or entertaining people around a campfire.

"Working as a rafting guide and at the rehabilitation center pretty much led me into storytelling," he said.

"I once tried to rehab an injured owl in my bedroom, to disastrous results. And, when I was 17, I went hunting and mistakenly shot a falcon and paid the consequences. Those became good stories. I would tell the falcon story and then bring out a little kestrel that some hunter had shot that we were rehabbing, and it would hit home with the kids.

"They made great educational stories."

While working in Chicago as a naturalist at a nature center, Pfitzer said, he was asked by a woman after a campfire program where else she might see him perform.

"I had no idea what she meant," he said. "She said, 'You must be a professional storyteller.' I laughed because I'd never heard of such a thing."

He started researching the craft, however, and made a few calls to learn more. For almost the last decade, Pfitzer has made a living as a storyteller. He has told his original stories at festivals around the country and done weeklong programs at area schools.

On May 31, he will present a one-man show called "Aldo Leopold -- A Standard of Change" at 7 p.m. at Barking Legs Theater, 1307 Dodds Ave.

Leopold was an author, scientist, ecologist, forester and environmentalist best known for his book "A Sand County Almanac."

The play is a piece that has moved Pfitzer from storyteller to playwright and actor, he said.

"I had mentioned to [Chattanooga Theatre Centre producing director] George Quick that I was writing a story about Leopold, and he said he wanted it presented at the theater center. Quick would later tell Pfitzer he wanted it presented as part of the CTC's Festival of New Plays.

"I told him I wasn't sure it was a play and he said, 'Oh, it's going to be a play.'

"The funny thing is, the more I developed it, the more it wanted to be a play. Even without George's comments, it would have been a play."

Pfitzer said writing a play and then acting in the role "is a very different mindset. I'm trying to be someone else instead of being myself.

"It's a different conversation," he said.

While the economy has hurt the storytelling business, Pfitzer said he is looking into developing more teaching programs for school-age kids based on historical figures.

In addition to hearing often from adults who say they didn't realize storytelling could be from adults, he is often told by teachers to limit his presentation to five minutes to hold the kids' attention.

He tells the teachers he will talk for 30 or more and if the kids don't listen, he doesn't have to be paid. He's yet to lose such a challenge.

"It's not that I am that brilliant," he said. "It's because they long for the attention and to be challenged and entertained."

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

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