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A different shape of the ‘UniVerse’: Storyteller presents creative retelling of the universe’s creation

By Staff | Sep 27, 2019

Storyteller Clare Murphy performs "UniVerse" in Reynolds Hall on Sept. 17. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN — While the audience may initially have been captivated by Irish storyteller Clare Murphy’s lilting accent, their attention was quickly diverted by Murphy’s enthusiastic retelling of the creation of the universe, or “UniVerse,” as her story was called.

Murphy, who currently lives in London, England, said she spent seven years working on the story, which contrasted the theory of evolution with how Murphy imagined a turtle brought the universe into existence. As she walked out on the Reynolds Hall stage to a full Speak Story Series audience on Sept. 17, Murphy welcomed the audience’s applause with a bemused response.

“It’s lovely to be applauded for being yourself. I recommend it,” Murphy said, smiling, before commenting about this being her first visit to Shepherdstown. “I’ve just been outside admiring your birds — those incredible chimney swifts! Their singing, bringing in the morning, definitely makes me feel welcome.”

“When I wake up at 3 a.m., my head is full of enormous questions: ‘Why am I here? What am I doing with my life?'” Murphy said. “I think that happens, because at 3 a.m., there’s a fissure in the space-time continuum. I woke up a couple of years ago, and there’s a dream turtle in my head. And right before I woke up, she looks me in the eye and says, ‘Which came first — the turtle or the Big Bang?'”

According to Murphy, “UniVerse” was the answer to that question.

Leigh Jameson, of Alexandria, Va., listens as Speak Story Series founder Adam Booth taps on her dish rack instrument with a stick, as part of Clare Murphy's storytelling during the Sept. 17 event in Reynolds Hall. Tabitha Johnston

“I invented mythience, which is when myth meets science. Because sometimes myth needs to meet facts, and sometimes, facts need to meet myths. In Ireland, I think myth and science are very close all the time,” Murphy said, mentioning she has gotten some unexpected reactions to the science parts of her story. “I did tell this story one time in London. There was this physicist in the front row, and she squealed when I talked about hydrogen evolving from gas into plasma.

“Everybody gets what they want to take out of it. This one, for me, is we have more in common than what separates us,” Murphy said about the story. “A lot of storytellers don’t move, because it connects them with the audience, but I love it when people move, and I always move when I’m telling stories — for me, it makes the stories come alive.”

Some audience members drove a distance to hear Murphy speak, including Leigh Jameson, of Alexandria, Va.

“I’ve known Clare for years, and this was close enough for me to get to. I haven’t heard this story before,” Jameson said. “I came tonight, specifically so I could hear this one.”

For others, this was one of many Speak Story Series events they have attended over the years.

“I come to this series regularly — I try to come every month. This is kind of an escape for me — I come here to relax,” said Ranson Elementary School and Shepherdstown Elementary School Math Interventionist Karen Grant. “I loved how she used the whole stage as her story, I thought that was cool. [It was] like she was making up her own history. It was really neat.”