Angela Bassett Begins Story-Telling Tour in New Orleans

MarketingAngela BassettWGNOUSA Network (tv network)

Actress Angela Bassett says one thing is paramount when she tackles a new project: the story.

Bassett was in New Orleans Monday to join five men and women whowill share stories of survival and triumph as part of USA Network's"Characters Unite" public service campaign.

The campaign kicked off what is planned as a five-city tour inNew Orleans during a meeting of the Cable and TelecommunicationsAssociation for Marketing. The tour's next stop is New York inDecember and plans are in the works to bring "A More PerfectUnion: Stories of Prejudice and Power" to Chicago, Denver andSeattle next year.

"By nature and by profession, I'm a storyteller," Bassettsaid, when asked why she got involved with the project. "Iilluminate the human experience on film. But most successful filmsstart with the story. So I just have a natural affinity forsomething like this. ... Not everyone can act, but everyone has astory, has experiences and relationships. This type of sharingshows how we're more alike than not."

Jacqui Vines, senior vice president and general manager of CoxLouisiana, said she's looking forward to her stage debut. Vines isscheduled to share her journey through the foster care system bothas a client and a provider. She fostered three young girls -biological sisters - and has since adopted them.

"It's been really kind of fun, a real journey for the four ofus," Vines said. "We're creating our story together now as afamily."

Ward "Mack" McLendon, a former telephone technician, will tellhow he transformed a warehouse for his old cars into the Lower 9thWard Village, a neighborhood center to help bring his communityback together after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.

"I'm no movie star," McLendon said. "I'm just your everydayperson and getting the opportunity to do this on this level ishuge. To tell this story about my community and what it's goingthrough will hopefully help someone else. It's about how we embracedisaster and change and what we do after."

In conjunction with the main stage events, USA Network and TheMoth - a New York-based nonprofit storytelling group partnering inthe campaign - are conducting workshops in high schools in eachcity they visit. In New Orleans, 10 students from Grace King HighSchool will participate in a four-day workshop to learn aboutstorytelling from Moth experts, said Alexandra Shapiro, senior vicepresident of brand marketing and digital at USA Networks. Then,they will tell their personal stories at a school assembly.

Shapiro said the campaign is an extension of her company'sefforts to encourage "both diversity and shared humanity."

"They're all telling truthful, personal stories," she said."And we hope through storytelling we can begin to create a moreopen and honest dialogue."

Shapiro said encouraging conversation is needed now more thanever.

"The unfortunate reality is that hate crimes are at an all-timehigh. Bullying and religious intolerance are in the news more andmore. We all have the responsibility to speak out and set certainstandards of decorum that we all need to live by. We're notadvocating for one issue or another, but the greatest way to getpeople talking and sharing is to do it through storytelling," shesaid.

Bassett said she hoped that the experiences would help bridgethe gap between the generations.

"When I was young, my place to tell my story was to mygirlfriend or to my diary," Bassett said. "In this day and age,our young people are so high-tech, with their heads in the videogames or the PDAs. This is just another opportunity to get back toour humanity."

Shapiro, however, said the digital age isn't all bad.

"I honestly think that technology is just a way to expeditethings we've been doing for years," she said. "And telling astory, is just an old-fashioned, social media technique."

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