Our World: Tell me a story


Mary Lou Williams stands in front of a mirror, but she doesn’t see herself.

It looks like her: A woman looks back at her, wearing the same colorful shirt, the same beaded necklace and earrings she put on in the morning. A bun is twisted high on her head, hiding her waist-long hair.

But the voices of Ugly Cindy and her step sisters come from her lips. As does the tender voice of a fairy godmother.

Every once in a while, Mary Lou’s New York accent emerges when she forgets a line. She refers to notes that are arranged on index cards by scene.

“If there is an atomic explosion, I’ll be able to pick up where I left off,” says Williams, a storyteller who will be performing the story “Ugly Cindy and the Magical Glass Slippers” to a group of women this week. It’s a fractured fairy tale she adapted from Cinderella.

Williams, 75, has performed it before, but she must practice so it becomes second nature. So she struts back and forth in front of the mirror in the six-foot space between her dining room and coffee table of her south Fort Myers home. She perfects her hand gestures, facial expressions, eye contact and body movement.


As a former high school English literature teacher, stories are her thing. She adapts the ones she loves into something she thinks an audience will respond to, making them humorous or ironic.

“I’m not a funny person,” says Williams, who began storytelling professionally in 2006 after joining the Fort Myers Toastmasters. “I don’t spout humor all time.”

She works at it, trying to imitate idols like comedian Rita Rudner.

“She has a woman’s perspective in her comedy that I think is right on, and she captures the issues of the modern times,” Williams said.

During performances Williams wears what her grand-nieces call her “Hansel and Gretel” dress. It’s a patchwork dress she bought 20 years ago for square dancing. It has pink and blue trimmings that fall the length of her body.

She uses props such as a stuffed frog, red roses and inflatable dice. But these aren’t the tricks to her trade, just embellishments.



Just as a composer is nothing without the musician to play their songs, a storyteller can’t hold an audience’s attention without one thing: a great story told well.

Williams is fascinated with storytelling because it’s personal in an age when mass media is so impersonal.

“Storytelling brings a sense of connection between the audience and the performer,” she says. “They interact with each other and there is a sense of sharing an experience.”


-- Mary Lou Williams and others with the Tamiami Tale Tellers spin their stories 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sept. 18 (and every third Thursday of the month) at Grand Court Retirement Community, 8351 College Parkway, Fort Myers. It’s free. Both storytellers and listeners are welcome. 472-1781

-- For more information about Mary Lou Williams go to www.story-theatre.com