Storyteller Jonathan Kruk talks about Irving’s ‘Legend’


Tuesday, 9/29/2015 11:26am

During Irving’s ‘Legend’ each Halloween season, master storyteller Jonathan Kruk enthralls audiences with his lively retelling of Washington Irving’s classic tale The Legend of Sleepy Hollow in the atmospheric confines of the Old Dutch Church in Sleepy Hollow. We caught up with Jonathan recently to get the inside scoop on his performance.

Jonathan, you do an exciting, one-man performance that requires not only a strong voice, but a lot of stamina, especially given that you perform three shows at night. How do you prepare for the show’s run?

My prep begins with a ritual sing-along with Thurl Ravenscroft's version of The Headless Horseman. Next, good early-19th-century gentleman that I am, I settle in with a mug of hard apple cider for a leisurely re-read of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I then take out my script for a meticulous review. It gets tweaked, edited, and is given a thorough mulling. These rituals complete, I begin running the performance in my head. This rehearsal grows into an obsession, practiced in the shower, in the car for the dog, and occasionally for perplexed store clerks. I’m also working with a voice coach, and my wife, a director.

What makes the Old Dutch Church so special?

This iconic 17th-century landmark gives us not only the most authentic setting possible for this story (after all, it has a featured role in the tale), but it offers a serene sanctuary steps away from the noise and haste of 2015. The spirit of this active house of worship inspires every performance.

How does organist Jim Keyes enhance the performance?

I'd be a man without a head if Jim was not up in the balcony with hands and feet on that pipe organ. He sets the tone, gives me and the audience audible cues, and creates a vital atmosphere. He is not just the accompanist; he is the show’s composer, musician, sound engineer, my confidant, and provider of vitamin B-12

Which are your favorite parts to perform?

My favorite parts include lifting my voice like a possessed preacher, warning of the Headless Horseman’s midnight scourings throughout Westchester; Ichabod giving Katrina her singing lesson; and wailing to make the audience jump and tremble.

What do you enjoy most about performing?

I love pulling people into the story’s spell. Making contact with my voice and eyes creates an intimacy rarely experienced in these “screen monopolized” days. I am truly honored to provide a respite from life’s tedium and woes.

Do audiences differ?

Indeed, every crowd conjures up a unique energy. Jim and I swap notes after each performance. Even though he doesn’t see the audience he senses them and says things like “The last house was jumpy earlier, silly, and at the end, roaring.’’ We do enjoy the costumed crowd once we get closer to Halloween. Last year John Paine, the sexton at the Old Dutch Church, warned of the arrival of Batman and Cat Woman.

Has anything spooky happened during a show?

Occasionally curious cemetery visitors peek in the windows and startle already frightened listeners. Many audience members report that they sensed and saw ghosts flitting by during the performance. The Headless Horseman sometimes dashes by too. One night a few years ago, Jim thought I scared someone to death. Turns out the poor fellow just fainted.

Why has this story remained so popular over the years?

Washington Irving gave us the first nerd, a lovable bully, a flirt, and of course the iconic Headless Horseman. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow offers a rare alchemy of a local lore and literature, romance and horror, creating an irrepressible story.

Any tips for audiences?

1. Arrive about 20 minutes early not just to park and to visit the Old Dutch Burying Ground next to the church, but to breathe in the lovely melancholy air of Sleepy Hollow.

2. There’s no need to know the story before the show. They will certainly know it after!

3. If visitors want to learn more, my book, Legends and Lore of Sleepy Hollow and the Hudson Valley (available in the Philipsburg Manor Museum Shop), offers the back story on the sources and ghosts.

Catch Jonathan Kruk's performance of Irving's 'Legend' at the Old Dutch Church, select evenings this October.

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