Susan Klein reminisces about the Oak Bluffs Campground, and gets by with a little help from her friends

From left, pianist Gary Girouard, storyteller Susan Klein, and photographer Alan Brigish. – Photo by Angelina Godbout

Considering the sheer size of the Oak Bluffs Campground’s open-air Tabernacle, with seating for close to 2,000, there’s something very intimate about the experience of attending a performance there.

Perhaps it’s the 180-year-old structure’s history as a gathering place for a close-knit community. Or the sense that, as an audience, you’re a privileged little microcosmos enjoying an experience that remains a tantalizing mystery to passersby, who certainly must wonder what is prompting the laughter and applause emanating from behind the curtains that surround the Tabernacle during performances.

Whether it’s a concert, a lecture, the weekly sing-along or the annual kids’ play, an evening spent under the wrought-iron arches of the Tabernacle is always a magical experience. The fresh night air, the sounds of birds settling down for the night or kids playing outside, all add to the sense that one could be back in a bygone era when the worshipful filled the building to share a communal experience.

Last Saturday, raconteuse Susan Klein provided the Tabernacle audience with an evening of entertainment that was a perfect complement to the historic venue.

The multimedia event was called “A Story for a Starry Night: For Love of a Small Island.” The performance combined the talents of three artists: Ms. Klein, photographer Alan Brigish, and pianist and composer Gary Girouard. The evening alternated between sets of storytelling and interludes of projected photomontages accompanied by live music.

The awardwinning Mr. Girouard played a series of lovely compositions created specifically as background for the enhanced slideshows of Mr. Brigish’s Island images. Mr. Brigish has created fluid photomontages which he refers to as “introspective music videos.” The end result is a sort of moving collage, with one image slowly morphing into another, the point of view slowly zooming in to a close-up, and images examined from different angles. The pictures formed almost a photographic symphony, with a different theme for each set.

The slideshow “Herald of the Morning” featured iconic Vineyard scenes. “Winter’s Wonder” traced the quiet snowbound Island from Ocean Park to the beach to boats in the harbor. “Streaks of Light” captured the excitement of the Island’s big summer week, with shots of fireworks, Illumination Night lanterns, and rides at the fair.

Ms. Klein kicked off the evening by saying, “I first graced this stage when I was 5 years old. And it was all me.” From that portrayal, the audience got the sense of an imaginative little girl fantasizing about herself as a one-woman show performing for a phantom audience. The remark was a perfect segue to the first story. Ms. Klein told of a childhood winter and spring spent living in the all-but-abandoned Campground, inventing stories and exploring Oak Bluffs with the active imagination of a child.

The second story put the audience right in the middle of a nighttime game of tag with Ms. Klein’s childhood band of adventurous friends, chasing through the fields and backlots of her Oak Bluffs neighborhood. Then, Ms. Klein shifted gears a bit to talk about her early envy of her Catholic friend, and her fascination with the splendor and mystery of that church’s rituals.

The final story of the evening was the most introspective. Ms. Klein told of a friendship that evolved between herself and an artist who once lived in the Campground’s Pink House. The story closed with a scene from Ms. Klein’s early adulthood, when she had the chance to revisit some memories of her early years and recognize all that she had gained from the friendship.

Ms. Klein has made a name for herself nationally and internationally as an in-demand storyteller and teacher. Appropriately, for the Tabernacle event she drew from her girlhood growing up in and around the Campgrounds. The selection added an immediacy and an intimacy to the evening. Like the early work of Truman Capote, her stories are colorful reminiscences capturing the magic and wonder of childhood.

The final story was followed by a slideshow titled “Glory in the Grove.” It featured both contemporary images of the Campgrounds and its residents and historic photos from the collection of the late Bob Allen. The montage provided a wonderful sense of how the little town-within-a-town has retained its charm and sense of community throughout the years.

“The Campground brings up a very tender place for me, having lived here as a child,” said Ms. Klein post-performance. Her early fantasy of captivating a Tabernacle crowd was realized last weekend — luckily for those of us who were in attendance.

Watch out for a repeat performance of the collaborative effort sometime this fall. Starting on Friday, July 18, and continuing for four weeks, Ms. Klein will offer her popular “Spice of Life” memoir-writing workshop at the Oak Bluffs Senior Center. Call Ms. Klein at 508 693-4140 for more info or to register. Her newest workshop, “Creating the Family Cookbook,” will launch later this year. To watch a video of a sample of work from Saturday’s event, check out