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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 November, 2004, 17:34 GMT
Disabled storyteller opens UK tour
Geoff Adams-Spink
BBC News Online disability affairs reporter

In his new UK tour Kevin Kling takes up a tradition of storytelling, made famous by Garrison Keillor, about the life and people of America's mid-west. Disabled since birth, he combines Keillor's homespun wit with what he calls 'the gifts of disability'.

Photo of Kevin Kling
Kling speaks lovingly of his native Minnesota
Kevin Kling was born with a congenital defect which meant his left arm was shorter than his right and he has no thumb on his left hand.

Then, in his forties, he had a motorcycle accident which left his right arm - the good one - completely paralysed.

"I felt death brush twice and had one full-blown conversation where we discussed my future - mostly what realm I would occupy," he recalls.

After hours of painful surgery he pulled through, though the right arm is of little use to him.

"I've had to learn those two worlds - the world of growing up with a disability and the world of acquiring one," he told BBC News Online.

"I always heard it was harder to acquire a disability, and I think I've got to agree with that. It's taken a lot of getting used to."

During his show, The Frozen Moose and Other Stories, Kling romps animatedly through tales of being struck by lightning, how he painted the family house in a single day with his father and brother, and fainting in church while taking part in a breath-holding competition.

Photo of Kevin Kling
Kling speaks of the gifts and the curses of disability
Occasionally there are darker anecdotes like the time he was left by his parents in hospital, aged three, to have surgery on his arm.

Kling pays warm tribute to Keillor for putting Minnesota and the northern tradition of storytelling on the map.

"They always thought the North was as bland as our food, but it's not," he said.

"I think there was a strong storytelling tradition in my family - my Mom, my Dad and my brother are all excellent."

All of his stories are held in his head and are performed for the audience in a slightly different way each time.

"What I find is that by telling and retelling, the invisible threads of a story are what hold it together," he said.

"When you write you tend to create on a visible basis, and so you create visible threads."

He says that growing up with a disability has taught him a great deal about human nature.

"I could always tell from how people referred to my left side whether they blamed me, my parents, God or themselves for my condition."

He says that it has been a similar learning experience following his accident. In particular, he has learnt how people in the poorest areas display unbelievable generosity.

"I can barely get money in the meter in a bus before somebody jumps up and is probably putting their last dime in for me because I'm having a hard time."

"For some reason, in the more wealthy areas you never see that."

Kling has also had to adjust to a new way of working since damaging his right arm. After an unsuccessful attempt to use voice recognition technology, he now types slowly and deliberately with his left hand.

"Even though I type slow, I do write as fast as I think."

Tour dates
Wed Nov 17 - Wolverhampton, Arena Theatre
Sat Nov 20 - London, Jacksons Lane
Wed Nov 24 - Darlington, Arts Centre
Thurs Nov 25 - Liverpool, Unity Theatre
Fri Nov 26 - Bedford, Bowen West Theatre
Sat Nov 27 - Canterbury, Gulbenkian Theatre
Kling is soon to launch a play about the Persephone myth, is writing another following a trip to Turkey about the Fourth Holy Crusade, and then plans to rework Richard III in a Minnesota setting.

"I think it's time that a guy with a disability played Richard," he said.

"When you see somebody with a disability you immediately know what they can't do but you really don't know what they can do - that's their advantage."

"I think Richard knows how to use the fact that people think they know him when they see him."

Kling says audiences in the UK have responded warmly to his brand of self-deprecating but edgy humour.

And he puts this success down to writing about what he knows - life in Minnesota.

"The more specific a place is the more universal it is when you talk about it - I try to keep my stuff near home."

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