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11/07/2011

Get to know R. Eric Thomas…a little bit more

Laura Reeve, former Marketing Intern of First Person Arts, has been using her experience to complete assignments for a News and Feature writing class taught by Tom Ferrick at Bryn Mawr College. One such assignment was this artist profile of beloved First Person Arts storyteller and host, R. Eric Thomas.


R. Eric Thomas likes to talk about himself. Well, the version of himself who fails at relationships, never meets anyone, and eats too many cupcakes when he’s sad.

“The only story I ever tell is my own. I’m not a good journalist and I’m not a good actor because I can’t disappear into others things. Which maybe is because I’m a narcissist, or maybe it’s just how I’m built,” said Thomas, as he gestured with his hands, a move he makes when he tells his stories as his hands will physically bring his audience closer to him.

Eric, 30, a Philadelphia storyteller and playwright originally from Baltimore came directly from his work at a law firm in Center City. Despite his work attire, his black tie had a bit of shimmer in it and black Converse sneakers peaked out from under his slacks.

Working at the law firm is just his day job. His real passion is telling stories, whether that be through writing a play or telling a personal story to a live audience. Though Thomas writes fiction, he explains that he finds that through telling personal stories, he can comment genuinely on the world around him.

“I write a lot of fiction and I do find a lot of solace in that. I consider myself a playwright, so other people’s voices are interesting to me,” Thomas explained. “But when it comes to vocalization, when it comes to representing something concrete about humanity, I really am only able to draw from my own experience.”

Though Thomas didn’t recall ever learning about storytelling as a child, he described his mother, a frequent character in his stories, as the “Family Historian,” who keeps all the family’s stories in her head and his father as coming from a Baptist preaching tradition. So telling and listening to stories were always a part o

f Thomas’ life even if it was never recognized formally.

Though Thomas liked to write fiction and plays, it wasn’t until Thomas began tellings stories that he realized the power and art of shaping and performing personal stories. “It’s frustrating to me because when I started telling stories, telling true stories with an emotional heart, they were so much better than my plays. It’s like ripping opening a wound and either healing it up or sticking my finger in it,” Thomas said.

In the story that ultimately became Will You Accept This Friend Request?, a one-man show about connecting with others, Thomas opens up about his first gay friend he met in college, and how this friend created a space where he could be honest about who he was for the first time. Despite the emotional and very touching subject matter, Thomas weaves in his signature self-deprecating humor that ultimately allows the audience to connect with the version of himself that Thomas paints: complete in black parachute pants and tucked in orange tank-top.

Thomas’ ability to talk about emotional, sometimes sad, subjects while keeping his audience laughing is because of this on-stage personality Thomas has created. “What I try and do is play up the base thought that goes on in my mind, which is usually neurotic because it’s the funniest thought. So, the person that I’m playing is a version of me, but is much less self-actualized and more prone to rash decisions,” Thomas said. “I ultimately try to be the sitcom Friend version of myself.”

Like the romantic comedy movies he dreams his life will one day mirror, Thomas’ stories are reflections on the relationships that dictate our lives: friends, lovers, and family. Even if Thomas is Always the Bridesmaid (the title of his next show), he continues to entertain audiences with his journey, albeit sometimes a clumsy one, for his happy ending.

-Laura Reeve

Will You Accept This Friend Request? will be performed by R. Eric Thomas at the First Person Festival November 14th and 15th. Find all the ticketing information you need by clicking here!

Photo by James Carminati

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