By Patricia Minichiello
Stage fright was so bad at one point in Hillary Boone’s life that she nearly passed out from fear.
“I was terrified. … even just introducing myself to a group,” she said. “I would always be sweating when people asked my name.”
Now, years later, the 30-year-old stand-up comic — who was recently chosen to emcee the VSO Holiday Pops concerts in Barre, Burlington and Rutland — channels her spotlight jitters into a break-a-leg kind of excitement that powers her performance.
“When I think about [going on stage], I get a lot of energy,” she said. And the stakes are even higher this time, as the event is expected to attract a packed house at venues across the state during the holidays.
“I think the show’s going to be really incredible. … These are some of the most beautiful venues in Vermont and it’s always fun to play to a full house.”
The theme of this year’s concert is storytelling, and it’s right up the Marlboro College grad’s alley. As host of “The Moth StorySLAM” in Vermont, her ability to craft a tale that captivates audience members, and often leave them laughing, is why organizers chose her.
The VSO will perform music from holiday movies, books and other stories related to the most wonderful time of the year. And Boone will perform too.
“I’m going to tell three from my own life. I’ve been writing stories (for this event) since October.”
She said she racked her brain for ideas, specifically a story with an arc, tension and resolve. It was difficult, but she finally came up with several childhood holiday memories that she is ready to share.
“I really had to dig a little deeper, but I came up with three stories I’m happy with.” Those include one about Santa, one about her town Christmas pageant and another about a holiday with her uncle after his return from the Peace Corps.
Boone got into stand-up comedy through a friend, upon her return to Vermont after years living away from the quiet, uncrowded Northeast Kingdom where she grew up. With lots of prodding she took classes at Vermont Comedy Club, her friend Natalie Miller’s business, when it first opened and needed students.
After success with comedy through the classes and performances, Boone became a member of the Vermont Comedy Divas. She also started attending “The Moth,” a storytelling event in Burlington that also runs on public radio. She never felt as if she had a story for the topic of the show, until one time, when the topic was “pride.”
“My mom didn’t know I was gay, but she had me go out and take down signs that said, ‘Take Back Vermont.’ For every sign I took down she would pay me $10.”
Boone told the story, so eloquently that the right person noticed.
“The producer of ‘The Moth’ heard it and said, ‘We’ve been looking to add a new host.’” Boone’s been hosting ever since. And “The Moth” gig eventually led to the emcee job with the VSO Holiday Pops.
As for the VSO show, Boone said she has been rehearsing her stories diligently.
But when the show’s over and patrons are on their way home, she hopes people hold onto this idea of telling their own holiday stories to friends and relatives.
“I imagine the ride home in the car will be a good one for all who attend. They can tell their own stories. I think storytelling is so important,” Boone said.
“We are getting so isolated with our devices, phones and computers, that’s one of the reasons I really love ‘The Moth’ and that the VSO decided to go with this theme this year.”
Vermont Symphony Orchestra
With comedian Hillary Boone emceeing, Anthony Princiotti conducts the VSO Holiday Pops, featuring seasonal favorites, including selections from “The Nutcracker” and a carol sing-along:
– Friday, Dec. 11: Barre – Barre Opera House, 7:30 p.m., www.barreoperahouse.org.
– Saturday, Dec. 12: Burlington – Flynn Center, 7:30 p.m., www.flynntix.org.
– Sunday, Dec. 13: Rutland – Paramount Theatre, 3 p.m., www.paramountvt.org.
For information about VSO programs, go online to www.vso.org.