Writing and Living His Own Story: An Interview with Stuart “Stu” Nager

Stuart NagerEverything that we do is a story. Everything.” — Stuart Nager

It’s hard to put Stuart “Stu” Nager into a box. Yes, he’s a teacher, director, performer and writer, but those labels hardly do justice to all that he really does and how his roles are constantly evolving. Can it be true that life may not be about living just one career?

For a glimpse of what makes him unique, check out this video clip of Stu telling the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes on Hans Christian Andersen Day and then read on to learn more about him:

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Something Innate

“I grew up around the corner from Yankee Stadium, in The Bronx, New York,” relates Stu, but it wasn’t sports that interested him. Instead, you would find little Stu every Saturday around the corner on 161st Street at The Earl Theatre watching movies. “Movies. Art. TV. All this started me off…and then at six years old, at the Bronx Y on the Grand Concourse, I had the lead in a play. I was King Solomon and I hammed it up with the best of them. I still remember my fainting scene!” It was a childhood filled with what he loved — theatre and performing. “I was in chorus, camp shows, shows at the Y, school shows…you name it,” Stu remembers.

“I also wrote, creating little comic books, James Bond-like stories, mimicking the things that I was just plain enjoying. I always wrote something, was creating something…whether it was a play, really bad song lyrics, poems or stories that I started and never took anywhere. I was creative in spirit and in doing but unfocused for a lot of it.”

So what happened when it came time for university? It’s an absolute shocker to hear Stu say, “I have my Bachelor’s in Human Resources.” A six-year marriage held him to the restaurant industry as a food service director, restaurant manager and catering director. “It was soul killing,” he says matter-of-factly. “After the divorce, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was making a lot of money, my benefits were great and I had three weeks vacation, but I hated it.” Fast forward fifteen years and Stu is in a tragic fire where he is struck by a “painful epiphany” that went something like, “Schmuck, you hate what you’re doing. Get out!” And that’s what he did, quitting a week and a half later.

A Lifelong Dream Takes Center Stage

There was no real plan after the drastic change. “I knew I should be doing something, but I had no idea what,” Stu remembers. After three months of temporary employment, a chance event would beget inspiration for a new direction. “I was already gaining popularity for running a Thursday night improvisation troupe and somebody asked if I would put together an improv show for a town anniversary celebration,” he explains. Little did he and his team know that they would be putting on a show for over 80 children. It was improvisation at its best as Stu quickly revamped the improv performance they had rehearsed for adults and even though the team left knowing they did “bad improv,” the children loved it!

“It was then that things just fell into place,” Stu remembers.

“At that time in 1994, no one was doing family improv. It was all bar improv for drunks or improv for college kids, but nobody was doing family-style improvisation in the New York area. Nobody. Only a few improvisation troupes were doing kid improv, but I called mine ‘familyprov’ because I didn’t want to dumb it down. We took improvisational handles and games and made it family friendly.”

A few weeks later, Stu founded the Brother’s Grinn theatre company, brought people in and rehearsed for six months before their first show. It was a raving success and Brother’s Grinn lasted 12 years, doing over 1,000 performances!

Stuart Nager Acting

Honing in on What You Love

Less than a year after starting Brother’s Grinn, Stu realized that what he really relished weren’t the improvisation games but making stories come alive through scene work and storytelling. “I felt they were more creative and whenever I received feedback from audience members, it was always about the stories and songs,” Stu recalls. “Stories are so powerful because we are made up of stories and storytelling is the most primal form of communication.” It was a bumpy ride as the members of Brother’s Grinn decided whether they wanted to stay or go after Stu’s executive decision to get rid of improv games and just do narrative improv. “Even though I wanted the group to stay whole, if I’m going to do something, I need to be happy,” he states. “And I started Brother’s Grinn for me.”

Since then, Stu’s willingness to follow his interests and listen to his intuition has taken him to all ends of the artistic world. He currently teaches drama, directs plays, writes plays, writes stories, performs in his own play and performs as a professional storyteller. Add to that Stu’s first published short story in an eBook anthology that came out just this month. Though he is already living out his dreams and passions, Stu does admit that he has one unfulfilled wish that would serve as icing on the cake: “I would like to hold a book with my name on it and I want to sign that book for somebody who wants me to sign it to them.” When I last talked to Stu, he was about to meet an agent and there’s no doubt that this one final wish will come true.

You can get in touch with Stu and read snippets of his creative pieces in two blogs — at Born Storyteller he writes on education and the arts while at Tale Spinning he shares experiments in fiction. You can also catch more videos of him at his main website.

What’s stopping you from following all of your interests?

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50 Comments

  1. Posted August 17, 2011 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    Wowza! What a great resource for my struggling readers! I am so glad I met him here at your site, and have added him to my bookmarks to use to get kids excited about stories. What luck to have found this awesome talent! :)

    • Posted August 18, 2011 at 3:14 am | Permalink

      um..wow..thank you Paula. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help the kids & you.

    • Posted August 18, 2011 at 3:35 am | Permalink

      YAY! How great to hear that this could be helpful for your business, Paula!! =)

  2. Posted August 17, 2011 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    I never knew Stu’s life is a testament to what Oprah always used to say: First life/God would throw you pebbles (or gives you whispers); then if you still don’t listen, God throws you bricks, until you hear more clearly and finally listen. Thanks for sharing this, Stu and Sam!

    • Posted August 18, 2011 at 3:16 am | Permalink

      Hi Joy, well… ok. I’m not a fan of Oprah, really. And not sure if I believe in the three letter deity. I just don’t believe you should ever give up on your dreams. I live my passions, and that is what it should be about, in my book.

    • Posted August 18, 2011 at 3:37 am | Permalink

      Haha! What a hilarious quote, Joy! =) That certainly describes Stu’s life story and it’s a good thing he listened! =) I especially love the Stu I know today! =)

  3. Posted August 17, 2011 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

    Great to see someone following their dream. Congratulations Stuart, I’m sure it won’t be long before the last part is true.

    • Posted August 18, 2011 at 3:17 am | Permalink

      Thanks Mary. I’ll take what I get: more, and it’s gravy.

    • Posted August 18, 2011 at 3:49 am | Permalink

      Hearing about how Stu fought and continues to fight for his dreams really inspired me too, Mary! =)

  4. Posted August 18, 2011 at 3:50 am | Permalink

    Sam, aloha. Thx so much for introducing me to Stuart. As you well know, I am huge believer in the power of stories. Though we all are to some degree, Stuart is the first professional storyteller I have met.

    Stuart, your enthusiasm for what you do shines through in what you do and what you say. To my way of thinking, that’s the way it should be. On the off chance that you do not know it, Stuart, I would like to share a favorite quote of mine with you because I believe it suits you perfectly.

    “To love what you do and to feel that it matters–How could anything be more fun?” Katharine Graham

    Sam and Stuart, thx so much for an enchanting experience. Aloha. Janet

    • Posted August 18, 2011 at 4:02 am | Permalink

      Hi Janet (dammit, Janet, I love you… ok. sorry, but that will ALWAYS be my first response to Janets). Thank you for the quote: I did NOT know it, but now it’s part of me. Yup..what is the purpose of life but NOT to live it with fun, as best you can? It’s what I strive for.

    • Posted August 19, 2011 at 4:22 am | Permalink

      I had a feeling you would really be able to relate to this interview, Janet! And how cool that I was able to introduce you to a professional storyteller. =) There are a few more key lessons that I learned from Stu the Storyteller that I’m putting together for a follow-up article! As you can imagine, he was just naturally bursting with wisdom. =)

      Thanks so much for sharing that Katharine Graham quote, Janet! It was the perfect addition! =)

  5. Posted August 18, 2011 at 4:46 am | Permalink

    Inspirational to the core!
    Samantha, thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing Stuart with me and all my friends on FB – I will be spreading this around for some time to come – wonderful article!
    Stuart, you are truly an example for so many like myself who dream of sharing that creative spirit with others. I applaud you and thank you for sharing YOUR dreams and visions with the rest of us.
    Blessings :)))

    • Posted August 18, 2011 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      Dear Deer (just so you know, I HAD to do that! It was forced out of me!!!). Thank you so much for your words. Samantha has really humbled me with this posting, and her friendship and admiration. I never felt that way about myself. I was just doing what I was doing.
      I didn’t share all my dreams with Sam and everyone: I have so many things I want to do, but I have to realize: do what’s most important first, then work my way around.

      Thank you.

    • Posted August 19, 2011 at 4:23 am | Permalink

      Barbara, thank you so much for your kind words and your enthusiasm! =) I’m so glad you were able to relate to Stu and find inspiration from his story!! =)

  6. Posted August 18, 2011 at 6:21 am | Permalink

    Another wonderful story Samantha of a very enjoyable man, Stu Nager. I can feel his passion and spirit in this article. I love to be inspired by such positive people. Thanks Stu for sharing your journey and for Samantha to share it with us!

    • Posted August 18, 2011 at 11:11 am | Permalink

      Hi Lynn:I had to chuckle with the “very enjoyable man..” part: I know quite a few who would not say that about me (i.e. some of the stupid heads I worked with recently). I don’t suffer fools gladly. So…thank you for seeing that part of me, but…hey, I’m human. :) I have my positive and negative sides, my ups and downs, like anyone else.
      Thank you…from Good Stu! ;)

    • Posted August 19, 2011 at 4:26 am | Permalink

      What a great way to describe it, Lynn! I’ve always tried to surround myself by passionate, spirited and positive people too — and Stu is definitely one of my most inspirational friends. =)

  7. Posted August 18, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Samantha – this was an extremely professional and well-thought-out interview. I’m very impressed.
    Stu – I think one of the most remarkable things about your story was the decision to give up the certainty (and material benefits) of your job to strike out after what you loved. Even though it was a “soul killing job”, it still took great courage and committment to leave it behind. And I will be one of the first in line to have you sign my copy of your book.:-)

    • Posted August 18, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

      Li…you got it.

    • Posted August 19, 2011 at 4:31 am | Permalink

      Wow! That’s the most beautiful compliment I’ve ever received on an interview, Li! Thank you soo much for your kind words! I’m so glad I could give you an extra little peek into Stu’s background and life! =)

  8. Posted August 18, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    I enjoyed this Story of Stu, but it is all fiction. In reality, his name is Marvin Tittlemen and he sells aluminum siding in Bayonne, New Jersey. Fess up, Marv!

  9. Posted August 18, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    Dear Samantha,
    Thank you for this wonderful article on Stuart. I already know him as a talented writer and storyteller and now I have learned even more about his commitment to his art and to education.
    All the best,
    Jennifer

    • Posted August 19, 2011 at 4:33 am | Permalink

      Jennifer, thank *you* for taking the time to comment! =) I always love learning more about my friends and I’m so glad this article could give you an extra peek into his heart. =)

      • Jennifer Zunikoff
        Posted August 19, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

        You are welcome! Thank you again!

  10. Posted August 18, 2011 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    Stuart – you continue to delight me and I am grateful that Samantha introduced you here to her growing audience. There is something synchronistic about hearing you tell the emperor’s new clothes as there seems to be a lot of people who need to understand that story in the world right now.
    Keep being whoever you I – I used to manufacture plastics in another life but definitely prefer story telling and education now.
    Love you both

    • Posted August 18, 2011 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

      Thank you Roberta. Storytelling Vs. Plastics. Is there a blog/story here?

    • Posted August 19, 2011 at 4:35 am | Permalink

      Wow! I had no idea that you knew Stu too, Roberta! =) I love how you mention the relevance of the Emperor’s New Clothes to this day and age — I hadn’t even thought of that extra meaning behind it. Your comment just makes this post more whole. =) Thanks, Roberta!

  11. Posted August 18, 2011 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    A great interview Sam! I loved the video. I showed it to my 6-year old and she couldn’t take her eyes off the screen. As for fighting for your dreams, well, Stu’s story is an inspiration…exactly what I needed right now!

    • Posted August 18, 2011 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

      Muriel: I am a firm believer of going after your dreams and taking a risk. It’s better than winding up old and sick and wondering “what if?”
      Good luck. You know we are supporting you.

    • Posted August 19, 2011 at 4:41 am | Permalink

      Haha! =) I’ve heard that Stu has a mesmerizing effect on children! =)

      So glad that his story could provide inspiration for you, Muriel! =) Thanks so much for taking the time to comment! =)

  12. Posted August 19, 2011 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    A wonderful profile! So inspiring. And to think, I knew Stu waaaaaay back when…

    • Posted August 19, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      Ai…you were one who always inspired me. So, thank you. Yeah…long time, but it feels like yesterday, at times.

    • Posted August 21, 2011 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

      Aww thanks so much, Alex! It’s so great to meet a good friend of Stu’s! =)

  13. Posted August 21, 2011 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

    Stuart,
    Glad to finally meet you and see you in action. Was entranced watching you tell the story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” – just wish I could have watched all of it. You are a multi-talented writer, performer, teacher, storyteller, director and importantly, a power force behind the performing arts. As for your writing, I share your desire to be able to sign your own published book, not just for one but for many fans.

    Samantha, An insightful interview about a man who is making a difference where it counts. Interesting to learn about his rocky path leading to fulfilling his life’s dream.

    • Posted August 21, 2011 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Penelope.

      I have more videos of me telling on my website: http://www.bornstoryteller.com. I wonder if Sam can edit that is, so more video work is available.

    • Posted August 21, 2011 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

      Pennie, the exact same thing happened to me when I watched that video clip of Stu! =) I can’t even imagine what it be like to be at one of his events in person, especially with some of his shows geared toward adults. =)

      It’s true — you and Stu have very similar dreams! =) And I’m positive that the both of you will achieve them! =)

  14. Posted August 21, 2011 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    This is an amazing and inspirational story. It serves to show that we should follow our dreams. I’m glad that Stuart finally was able to work on fulfilling his destiny! Thanks to both Stuart and Samantha for a great article. Fabulous writing, Sam!

    • Posted August 21, 2011 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

      Hi Adriene: it’s not always easy to follow one’s dreams, but I do believe everyone should give it a shot, instead of being paralyzed by fear or uncertainty. Thanks.

    • Posted August 21, 2011 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

      Me too, Adriene! And I’m so excited for all the new things coming up for Stu! =) I guess that’s what happens when we *keep on* following our dreams!

      Thanks so much for your comment, Adriene!! =)

  15. Posted August 21, 2011 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    Wow I was just getting into the thick of the story Stu…great! I remember that story from childhood…the earliest example of groupthink I believe I read…

    You are a gifted person and the world is a luckier place for having you in it Stu. Thanks to Samantha for posting this.

    I wish you much luck in your endeavors, although you have already succeeded…the day you walked away from a job you hate and took a chance to follow a dream.

    Best of luck. And I want to be one of the people standing in line waiting for your autograph when you are published. I have no doubt that will happen.

    ~cath xo

    • Posted August 21, 2011 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

      Hi Cath:
      yeah, I wish the person who shot the video had told me he was taking a moral stance against videotaping the kids in the audience. I would have given it to someone else.

      And thank you…yes, I have had a lot of successes, even amidst all the knocking around. I hope I do have the chance to sign some copies for people.

    • Posted August 21, 2011 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

      What a beautiful comment, Cath! =) I wholeheartedly agree with you when tell Stu: “You are a gifted person and the world is a luckier place for having you in it.” =)

  16. Posted October 4, 2011 at 2:04 am | Permalink

    Stu is talented in so many ways. . .congrats to you, Stu!!!!

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