Storyteller Pippa White was the daughter of a diplomat, a British consulate living in San Francisco who loved going to the theater. As a young actress, the Bay Area suited her career quite well. But when she moved to Nebraska in 1980, she understood that she’d need to forge a new career path to be a working artist. Los Angeles or New York was one thing, but the Midwest was quite another.
“I realized I was going to have to work alone,” she recalls. “I wasn't going off to audition anywhere. I had to create.” At the time, she wasn’t yet aware of storytelling as a career path. “I thought what can I do? What can I present?” The first idea that really held her attention was a bit of local lore—the orphan trains.
“The orphan trains ran from 1854 to 1929 and they moved at least 200,000 children and maybe many, many more,” she says. It's considered one of the largest mass migration of children maybe in the history of the world. There were so many homeless children on the streets of New York and Boston, and that's how they dealt with the problem. It was the beginning of foster care in this country. Some children ended up getting wonderful homes and some children ended up getting not-so-wonderful homes.”
When White went to the library to research the subject, she found only two books. (Now there are many more.) They included the personal accounts of people who had ridden the trains as children, and White recognized immediately they could form the basis of a one-woman show.
That experience was a wake-up call. “I realized that history is full of wonderful dramatic stories,” White says. “The orphan train opened a world to me. History is a goldmine.”
White will tell stories about the orphan trains and other vivid historical events as the guest of the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, where she will host a week’s worth of matinee performances. Her concerts will also feature stories about the Dust Bowl, Ellis Island, and other true tales of America’s past.