“It’s taken me until the age of 45 to frame these stories about my life so they don’t have control over me,” says storyteller Molly McCloy about Mad Dog Grudges, her first-ever solo show. McCloy, a Phoenix native, will present the 45-minute spoken word piece at the Trunk Space this weekend.
Mad Dog Grudges began some years ago, as McCloy was graduating from college. “Everyone’s parents were coming out for graduation,” she remembers, “and I was dreading it, because I was mad at my dad about some stuff.” McCloy wrote to her father: If he would be willing to apologize for nine past transgressions, she would invite him to her graduation.
“I tried to come up with 10 things for him to apologize for, but I only got to nine,” she recalls with a laugh. Today, she says, she could come up with a few extras.
McCloy was surprised to receive the requested apology from her father a few weeks later. “I couldn’t believe he did it,” she admits. “He reused a lot of the wording from my letter, but he made no excuses. He wrote one paragraph per apology. In spoken language, he never owned up to anything. But in writing he did.”
Several years later, while McCloy was at a writer’s retreat in New York, the memory of her requested apologies resurfaced. “There was all this stuff going on with my family, and I began to wonder if I had been too easy on my dad,” she confides. “I tried to turn the apology letter into something bigger in 2005, and each time I got into the nine incidents, it felt like I was retraumatizing myself. And the way I was writing about it was super victim-y. I had to just set it aside and not write about it for a long time.”
Having presented performance art and poetry slams in Phoenix in the '90s, McCloy launched her storytelling career in New York after an instructor at the New School suggested she appear in The Moth, the acclaimed storytelling project, in 2006. She won a trio of StorySLAM awards, and returned to the Valley in 2009 for a teaching job at Tucson’s Pima Community College. During a recent sabbatical, she wrote and later performed Mad Dog Grudges at New York's Dixon Place. The piece untangles McCloy’s family legacy of violence and addiction, which the artist wraps in commentary about holding grudges and the benefits of learning forgiveness.
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She’s also learning to think of herself as a teacher. “I had a lot of jobs before I became a teacher,” she says. “I worked at Taco Bell, at Green Peace. But I started looking at the people in my life who were happy, and a lot of them were teachers. Teaching was the first job I felt I was good at.”
McCloy says it was teaching that led her directly to writing nonfiction essays. “I was trying to make my essay-writing classes more fun for my students,” she explains. “I started reading the memoirs and essayists I was assigning to my students, and I was inspired by a lot of what I was reading.”? Her students know she moonlights as a performance artist. “I’ve been playing them videos of storytellers, as a teaching tool in class. And, yeah, some of the ones I’m showing them are my performances.”
The local productions of Mad Dog Grudges are directed by local favorite Kim Porter, and contain more gravitas than comedy. “That’s new for me,” McCloy admits. “I’m used to doing 70 percent funny stuff in my performance, and this time it’s more like 30 percent. It’s definitely keeping me on my toes, telling this story.”
Molly McCloy performs Mad Dog Grudges at Trunk Space at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, February 27. Tickets are $8 at the door.