STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's Friday morning once again, which means it's time for StoryCorps. This project records people across the country talking with each other about their lives.
Mr. TARO ALEXANDER (Founder and Artistic Director, Our Time Theatre Company): My name is Taro Alexander. And I've stuttered since I was five years old.
INSKEEP: Taro Alexander's story was recorded in New York City.
Mr. ALEXANDER: I didn't know anyone else who stuttered till I was in my mid-20s. And I just felt alone and, like, tried to hide it and was pretty successful at kind of fooling people. There are a lot of tricks that you can use where you can avoid certain sounds or certain words that give you problems. You know, you can speak in an accent or try yawning or - the easiest one, obviously, is to not talk. When I was in high school, I went to a high school for the performing arts. And on stage I was mostly fluent, which actually can be a common thing for actors who stutter. So that was great for my confidence.
But when I was about 26, I was doing a play in Denver, Colorado. And at the very end of the play I had this monologue and I had a block on a line, which up to that point in my professional career I had never really stuttered on stage. It was probably like a one-second block, which could sound like a pause. So if you didn't know that I stuttered, you probably would have no idea that that happened. But for me, it wasn't a choice and it freaked me out. And after the show, I thought I was going to be fired by the stage manager. And I got to that line the second night and I stuttered again. I was a little bit worse. I needed to talk to somebody about it, but I didn't know, I mean who am I going to talk to, I don't talk about this with anybody.
So there was this guy named Carl, who was the other actor in the scene with me. I went down to his apartment. And I said this is going to be really strange, I know we don't know each other really well, but there's something that I want to tell you. I am a person who stutters. And he said, oh, really? So am I. I was, like, what? No, you're not. Like, I don't ever hear you stutter. What are you talking about? He's like, well, I don't ever hear you stutter, so…
And I was like, really? Like, and he's, like, yeah, as a kid I had a really bad stutter and I worked really hard on it. And most of the times I don't stutter, but every now and then I will.
And that really was the beginning of, wow, you know, there are a lot of us out there, which just kind of chilled me out about it. I think a lot of people who stutter, including myself, go through such a hard time in their life with it. But who would I be if I didn't stutter? I would be a completely different person.
INSKEEP: That's Taro Alexander speaking at StoryCorps in New York City. He eventually founded a theater company for young people who stutter. It celebrates six years of work tomorrow.
All StoryCorps interviews are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. And you can subscribe to a StoryCorps Podcast at npr.org.