My Story, My Life

by Mark Kater 


There is an old saying, "Everything in your life has brought you to this point.”.


My storytelling career began in the early summer of 1967. I filled out an ad I found in the back of a model railroading magazine. I posted it in the mail and waited. Soon, there was a knock on my parents door. A man from Career Academy of Radio and Television Broadcasting was there to audition me. He set up a reel to reel tape recorder. For my audition, I read a couple of commercials into a microphone. In a few months, I was off to school. In the spring of 1968, I graduated with a third class FCC license. I went to work as a draftsman for Chicago Bridge and Iron Company.


Back then, Viet Nam was a hot mess. I was prime beef on the hoof. I took my pre-draft physical and was rewarded with a 1A rating. Rather than wait to be drafted, I enlisted in the Air Force. I successfully passed a Radio and Television Specialist Test. As a Specialist, I skipped technical school. I made training films at Sheppard AFB Texas, was a DJ for American Forces Network Taiwan at Chin Chuan Kang AFB. I was a writer, cartoonist, photographer and editor for the Laughlin AFB base newspaper. I also produced a weekly cable TV and a radio program about base activities while stationed in the information office in Del Rio, Texas. I also, worked part time on a local radio station in Del Rio. After 3 years 9 months and 22 days I gained my freedom with an honorable discharge in March 1973. “Everything in his life had brought him to this point."


That fall, the GI Bill and Illinois Veterans Scholarship brought me back to Illinois. I attended Parkland Junior College in Champaign, where I studied art, music, creative writing and theater. I also worked on two local radio stations, Then, over the 1974 summer I took a modern dance class. I found the athleticism to be very freeing. My “enthusiastic” audition got me admitted into the University of Illinois Department of Dance. In 1975 I began my dance training. I studied modern dance with inspirational teachers Beverly Bloosom and Chester Wolenski, Ballet with John Landovsky and Mary Price Boday, musical theater, improv, choreography and Kabuki Theater with Shozo Sato. At age 30, I graduated with a BFA in Dance in 1980. 


Instead of going to Huston as planned, a blown engine in my 1969 VW Camper brought me to the Chicago dance community.  Most dancers cannot make a living dancing. I promptly got a job as a short order cook. By 1984 I was the first Aerobics Director at Lakeshore Athletic Club on Fullerton in Chicago. I designed a new Aerobics studio. I was tasked to hire, train and create content for 120 classes a week in 2 studios with 40 plus teachers. 


Aerobics supported my dance habit. I performed at Links hall and Moming with Joan Majewska, Liz Kater, Joelle Petersen and many others. The Disco 80's became the 90's.  “Everything in his life had brought him to this point."


In 1990 turned myself in at Hazelton rehab facility. Since my days in the Air Force, I had beed struggling with alcohol and drug addiction. It was here, I discovered the power of story in my own life. In rehab, I had to write out my story. The story of how drugs and alcohol had affected my life. Then I sat in the "hot seat” to tell my story. I had listened to other addicts tell their stories. But nothing prepared me for the release and clarity I felt as the story rolled off my tongue. I felt as though a weight was lifting off my shoulders. My spirit was set free. I have remained sober to this day.


In the Spring of 1993 I was visiting New York to attend dance classes and a conference on Music as Healing. At the healing music conference, I found a brochure on storytelling at Emerson College in England. On a whim, I put it in my bag.


A NY choreographer, Muna Tseng hired me to dance in her piece. A program where we all stripped naked at the end. A metaphor for getting rid of life's BS. As a recently recovering addict, I found it to be very inspirational. But back stage I found a flyer on a bulletin board. Study African dance through the University of Maryland. So, during the summer of 1994, I found myself dancing with the National Dance Company of Ghana in Accra. On the way back home, I visited Emerson College. The 250 acres of wooded farmland, organic farming and feeling of community seemed a perfect place to study storytelling. Only 20 students would be enrolled. While I enjoyed the experience, I wasn't sure I would attend. “Everything in his life had brought him to this point."


Then in August of 1995, I found myself sitting on a mountain top in northern New Mexico contemplating my life. I realized that almost all of my original choreography had been a form of storytelling. There in the fresh mountain air I made the decision to attend Emerson. There were two places left. I took a leave of absence from Lakeshore in September. I flew off on an adventure that changed my life.


Now as the resident storyteller at North Park Village Nature Center, residencies in schools, performances in libraries, schools, senior centers, festivals and other opportunities, I am blessed to tell to thousands of people every year. 


One of the things I enjoy most about storytelling, is the intimacy. Looking into the audience's eyes to see the stories I tell reflected in their faces. Stories from many cultures. Stories seeking to aid the listener in life's trials. Stories on the environment, peace, challenges of life and love. 


I look forward to the surprises my continuing story holds for me... Once upon a time…. a young man became old and found that “Everything in his life had brought him to this point." 

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