Q&A: Directing fellow Stori Ayers returns to Chautauqua Theater Company ‘to be fed as an artist’


Who: Stori Ayers, directing fellow.

After making her Chautauqua debut last season as Bunny in Detroit ’67, Ayers returned as the assistant director for An Octoroon, Into the Breeches! and The Amish Project.

“I was fed as an artist last year, and I’m being fed as an artist again this year,” Ayers said.

Where she’s from: Originally from Washington, D.C., Ayers graduated with her MFA from Penn State University.

Stori Ayers

“My entire family lives in the Maryland, D.C. area. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t attach to the city at all,” Ayers said. “I think the best thing about living in D.C. is my family, but if they were somewhere else then that city would be cool, too.”

First theatrical memory: At summer camp right before she entered middle school, Ayers delivered her first line on stage as Captain Hook: “Where’s my hook? Blast that Peter Pan! I’ll get him if it’s the last thing I do.”

Proudest theatrical moments: In her second year at Penn State, Ayers acted in a production of In the Red and Brown Water. Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play was directed by Steve H. Broadnax III, and Ayers remembers the ensemble watching one another in the wings for every performance.

“I felt so proud to be telling that story in that space with that ensemble and living and breathing that woman, Aunt Elegba,” Ayers said. “It was just such a proud moment to have all those artists of color in the room.”

After graduating, Ayers was invited back to Penn State as a guest artist in Barbecue. On the way to the first day of rehearsal, Ayers got in a car accident.

“I started to brake, but I couldn’t see in front of the truck so I didn’t realize it was coming to a stop. I thought it was just slowing down,” Ayers said. “By the time I realized it was stopped, it was too late, and I angled the car (and) smashed into the back of the truck.”

Her car ricocheted off the truck and started rolling off the road. Ayers said she knew she needed to escape the vehicle.

“I thought I was in a Marvel film,” Ayers said. “I popped the seat belt off, opened the door, leaped out of the car, rolled across the highway, then got up and ran to the median.”

Ayers said other people came over to comfort her.

“I was in a total state of shock,” Ayers said. “It was really bad, and I had all these bruises from the airbag and the seat belt, and I was like ‘No, I’m fine. I’m fine.’ There was this lady standing there, and I was like, ‘I just need to call my mom.’ ”

Ayers said when police officers arrived, they did not believe her story.

“They felt like because it wasn’t raining … or the road wasn’t wet or anything like that, the reason why the accident could have happened was because I was on drugs or drunk,” Ayers said. “They tried to make me take a sobriety test on the side of the road and because of the impact of the accident, I couldn’t stand on one leg.”

Unable to complete the test with her injuries, Ayers said she feared she would become a headline.

“The woman officer was really upset, and the man officer was standing with his hand on his weapon,” Ayers said. “I was crying, and the people in the car in front of me, it was an elderly white couple … and the woman, she came running down the side of the highway and got on top of me to hold me and comfort me and yell at the police to stop.”

The director and head of Penn State’s theater department arrived and took Ayers to a hospital.

“I left the hospital, and they were taking me to actor housing, and I said, ‘I want to go to rehearsal,’ ” Ayers said. “I was just determined not to let that accident or the situation with the police keep me from that rehearsal.”

What she’s watching: “Big Brother” on CBS.

“I’ve watched it for 20 years,” Ayers said. “I started when I was 10, and I’ve watched it every summer.”

What she’s listening to: Chance the Rapper.

Why Chautauqua: Ayers returned to CTC this summer to work with fellow Penn State alums Jerrie Johnson, Elijah Jones and Johnique Mitchell while continuing to grow as an artist.

“I really believe in (Managing Director) Sarah Clare (Corporandy) and (Artistic Director) Andrew Borba and what they’re trying to do in this community,” Ayers said. “A lot of things happened last year, and a lot of promises were made for improvement going into this year, and I wanted to see if they were going to do what they said they were going to do.”

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The author Kevin C. Vestal

Kevin Vestal is from Westerville, Ohio, and is a rising senior at Miami University in Ohio, studying journalism and professional writing with a minor in theater. Last summer, he interned for The Florence Newspaper in Italy, and he is excited to cover Chautauqua Theater Company and the Family Entertainment Series for the Daily. An avid thespian, Kevin recently performed on stage in Tartuffe and also has an irrational fear of wrists.