But when Hydock discusses the evolution of "Silence," her sentences contain phrases like "struggling hard" and "sweating bullets." She is grateful, she says, for a fellowship from the Alabama State Council on the Arts that allowed her to devote time to the project, and add "Silence" to other performance pieces in her repertoire. Professionally speaking, Hydock can mix, match and tell about 65 stories - and does so frequently at theaters, colleges, businesses, libraries, churches and community gatherings.
Typically, her tales are grouped into thematic programs with titles such as "Holidazed! A Story Tour of the Holiday Calendar," "Made From Scratch and Other Accidental Stories," or "Momorabilia: Stories About Mothers."
Hydock has recorded several of these stories on four spoken-word CDs she sells at shows and bookstores, as well as through her web site at www.storypower.org. She'll sign copies of "Silence," her latest disc, and present an excerpt from it, from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday at The Alabama Booksmith in Homewood. Of necessity, that performance will be short, clocking in around 10 minutes. But even a full, in-concert telling of "Silence" zips along for her, Hydock says, despite the program's official length of 63:22, plus intermission. "It goes by in a minute," she says, "particularly if the audience is into it."
During a recent appearance at the UAB Honors House, for example, Hydock was delighted to hear a woman in the front row gasping at every twist and turn of "Silence." The building pleased her almost as much: a beautiful old church equipped with spotlights that cast giant shadows of Hydock in costume as the crone.
The crotchety character's attire includes a stout wooden staff with a ring of colored stones and a claw at the top, clutching a mysterious off-white globe. It's her story stick, Hydock says, designed for leaning, pointing and poking into other people's business.
"The woman who tells this story is so much fun to be," she says. "I imagine her as a person in the background, who sees all but isn't allowed an official voice at court. You might think: How does she know all this? Maybe she hung out in the kitchen in the palace."
Hydock and PanHarmonium have inserted themselves into a courtly setting before, teaming for adaptations of "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" and "The Juggler of Notre Dame."
Teenagers - "Lord of the Rings" fans, no doubt - have been surprisingly enthusiastic about these stories, and some adults have no qualms about being transported into a realm of kings and queens, dragons and peasants. Hydock realizes she may never convince other folks to accept the idea that 600-year-old literature can sound fresh, exciting or relevant, but she's determined to give it a try.
"They get worried," she says, "thinking, 'I have to be good. I have to sit still and be quiet.' But there was danger and violence and sex in the medieval world. Life was severe. And these were very earthy people. They had to populate the 14th century somehow."