Stories From the Princess
Storyteller Greg Screws stops by Decatur’s Princess Theatre to further hone his craft this Friday.
by Carol Marks
I missed the opportunity to see storyteller Greg Screws last year at Merrimack Hall. For those of you who don’t know who Greg Screws is, allow me to fill you in. He is one of our local news anchors in Huntsville, Alabama, for WHNT News. I first met him at a writing conference – my first ever – and he made me feel right at home. I’ve also seen him at a fundraiser for the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library, where he emceed the event and introduced speaker of the evening: novelist Ann Patchett.
It goes without saying that Greg is not an amateur when it comes to public speaking. However, his latest venture into storytelling is only a couple of years old. He says that performing in front of a crowd is very different from being on television. In the theater, with a live audience, you have living and breathing people and can get their reaction instantly, an experience he describes as both thrilling and terrifying.
”Being in front of a crowd was a little intimidating to me,” he says. “When you’re in a television studio in front of the camera, even though you know that camera is attached to tens of thousands of households, it is still just an inanimate object. But when you walk onto a stage, there are real people. You can see them and, more importantly, you can feel them.”
Screws has performed his 90-minute set twice before and accumulated plenty of stories during his 30 years of being on television. His first storytelling experience was at Huntsville’s Merrimack Hall last April, and he’s been performing ever since.
There was a moment involving a certain Southern belle when he knew he wanted storytelling to be a part of his life. He was asked to introduce Sweet Potato Queen Jill Connor Browne to a rowdy crowd of 700 women. His set would be less than 10 minutes.
“I had written 7 minutes of material that had taken me three months to prepare, and I got up there and killed it,” he says. “I remember I sat down after my set and thought to myself, ‘Now top that, lady.’ I was so naive, and this was a great lesson for me. Ms. Jill Connor Browne took the stage and did a solid hour and 10 minutes and blew the top off the roof. I knew then that I had a lot to learn.”
Screws started paying attention to other storytellers like Ron White, Bill Maher, Louis Black and Tim Hawkins. He doesn’t consider himself a comedian. He’s a performer, so when the opportunity to do a fundraiser for The Princess Theatre in Decatur came up, he jumped on it. (Screws is also working on a fundraiser for the theatre department at James Clements High School in early February.) And he isn’t the only one who’s excited about it.
“It’s funny. My friends will drive by and see my name being advertised on the marquee and take a picture of it to send to me,” he says.
Screws’ name will be up until January 11, when he’ll take the 90-year-old theatre’s stage and tell stories about how his older sister dragged him there to watch Elvis movies as a child. The Princess is also where he saw “Gone With The Wind” for the first time.
“Being a little kid growing up in small-town Danville, Alabama, getting to go the Princess Theatre in Decatur was a big deal,” he says.
The theatre was transformed from a livery stable to a silent film and vaudeville playhouse in 1919. It has been an Alabama icon ever since. A facelift 1941 gave it its Art Deco style that remains today and features a brilliantly lit neon marquee. In 1978, the Princess shut its doors as a moviehouse, but the city of Decatur purchased the building and reopened it as their performance arts center. For his show, Screws returns to the place where he was dropped off and occasionally kicked out of as a teenager.
“This was back before cell phones, and besides, we were not about to call dear old dad from the pay phone to tell him we got thrown out,” he says. “No, we’d just have wait, wander around town until it was time to be picked up. The problem was trying to figure out how to blend back in with the Princess moviegoers and not get called out for being thrown out when Dad came to pick us up.”
Greg Screws will be at the Princess Theatre January 11 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 and available at the theatre box office by calling 256-340-1778 or online at www.princesstheatre.org. Also coming up at the theatre this winter and spring are a series of Civil War Initiative programs, The Del McCoury Band, Calhoun Writers Conference and River City Film Festival.
Carol Marks lives in Huntsville and is a mother and business manager by day and aspiring writer by night. She’s been published in Southern Family and Rocket Magazine and has written reviews for Dew On the Kudzu. She also writes a blog and is working on a novel. See her full bio in our “Contributors” section.
Other stories by Carol Marks: