Joe continued doing live performances of picture books, culminating in opening for a ballet adaptation of Robert McCloskey's Make Way for Ducklings. This show is still remembered as the one Joe began in the balcony before leaping to the stage.
(Spoiler alert: Joe has not been invited back.)
Joe continued to take odd jobs here and there, often conducting storytimes for playgroups in the park or at neighborhood block parties.
Joe was invited to be a performer in the Rhode Island Office of Library and Information Services Summer Reading Showcase. Though it was his first time performing without the aid of a picture book, Joe's rendition of the African folktale "Koi and the Kola Nuts" wowed children and librarians alike, granting him a spot on the 2000 Summer Reading Program.
The summer of 2000 is when Joe really began to hone his craft, making waves not only for daredevil physical comedy but also a character-driven improvisational style. He also, for the first time, incorporated original material into his shows. The runaway hit from 2000 was "Lila Prescott & the High Diving Board," a (somewhat) true childhood tale of courage, first love, a bully, and carpe diem.
Joe's work on the Summer Reading Program opened up many doors, such as opportunities at other libraries and schools throughout Rhode Island and Massachusetts. He continued to add to his repertoire of adaptations and original tales as he fine-tuned his storytelling voice.
Joe was also given the shot to tell at some festivals, including the Rhode Island Storytelling Festival, Jonnycakes Storytelling Festival, Three Apples Storytelling Festival and Fray Day (where he had the honor of performing just before the legendary Brother Blue.) His style was beginning to mature, with less focus on memorable stunts and zaniness and more attention to subtlety, character, and story craft.
In 2002 he was invited back to the Summer Reading Program, where he brought his program to over 40 libraries in a ten week span. This program was his first 100% original show, featuring a revamped version of "Lila Prescott & the High Diving Board" as well as the story that would become his trademark: "Princess Lisa's Curveball." This fractured fairytale followed the adventure of a young princess who, in order to avoid being married off by her father, strikes out an entire country and defeats a dragon simply by following her heart and doing what she does best: throw a wicked 12-6 curve. (The twist ending of her signing with the Red Sox and breaking The Curse was always a crowd-pleaser.)
Joe continued to perform across southern New England, tailoring his program for preschools to high schools to cub scout banquets to a party at the Hebert Candy Mansion and everything in between. His role at festivals grew, as he hosted the open mic at Fray Day and Three Apples, and was a featured teller at Jonnycakes.
In 2004 Joe was invited to do the Rhode Island Summer Reading Program for a third time, performing a whopping 63 times over the summer. This highly successful and highly acclaimed tour turned out to be his swan song, however, as he took a short hiatus that eventually turned into a sort of extended sabbatical.
A lovely young lady from Chicago stole Joe's heart and moved back home with it, so Joe had no choice but to follow her. (Spoiler alert: they're married now.) Once in Chicago, Joe's life came full circle as he became a manager for Barnes & Noble in Skokie, IL. He still occasionally used his storytelling chops guesting at storytimes or performing some of his classic pieces when school field trips visited his bookstore. He even dusted off his old Summer Reading Program show for an appearance at the Bucktown Arts Festival in Chicago, introducing the windy city to Lila Prescott and Princess Lisa. (Princess Lisa threw her curveball for the Cubs this time, though unfortunately her magic did not translate as well to their particular curse.)
In 2013 Joe and his wife Deb moved back to Rhode Island in time for the birth of their first child, Margot. Joe had kept his position with Barnes & Noble, transferring from his store in Illinois to the Warwick, RI location. In the spring of 2014 Joe announced that he would be leaving his job in order to spend more time with his daughter and to reignite his storytelling career.
Joe's first gig back was performing at "stART on the Street," a street art festival in Worcester, MA. He told a variety of original and folk tales while illustrator Nicole Tadgell drew the stories as they unfolded. In addition to being a fun time it kicked off a friendship and collaborative relationship between the two.
In the summer of 2015 Joe returned as a featured performer for the Rhode Island Summer Reading Program once again. His show introduced a new favorite: "The Artist in the Street Signs," the tale of the stick figure people that live in our street signs, and the one boy who's not content just standing in one place for the rest of his life.
That summer was eventful not only for the Summer Reading Program. In June Joe released the first episode of the 401 Stories podcast. Much like his live performances, the podcast features original tales as well adapted folktales and has been enjoyed by all ages. Listeners from six continents downloaded and streamed 401 Stories for about a year and a half before the feed was handed off to Joe’s brother Adam, who launched his own podcast, “Aggressively Positive.”
What is Joe up to now? Well, he still tells stories several time a year at his favorite Rhode Island stomping grounds like the Hope Library and Melrose School in Jamestown. When he’s not doing that, his daughters Margot and Talia are the ones enjoying the absurd character voices. He has also come full circle and once again returned to his roots at Barnes & Noble, this time as an Assistant Store Manager in Smithfield, RI. Stop by. Say hi. Buy his book. Give him a high-five.