"I was transfixed," he says.
"I found what I'd been looking for in that alley. I realized that people without any particular skills and with no lights and scenery had transported me to three or four different places. They'd made me laugh and cry. And, they did it just with their voices."
For Spelman, the stories he tells — folk tales as well as those based on personal experience — are a continual process of self-discovery.
"Storytelling brings up stuff that I don't even know is there," he says.
"I'm always tinkering. I'm always finding and re-finding what really is the core of the piece. I'll add new material or rewrite what I already have to make my story more honest or to give it more depth."
That's particularly useful for a piece like "The Prostate Dialogues," which for Spelman is still very much a work in progress. He's 70 now and in good health. But he's fully aware that the final acts of this particular monologue have yet to be written.
Like the rest of us, he wakes up every morning and puts one foot in front of the other. And for now, that daily act of courage and faith feels pretty good.
"You go on," Spelman says.
"You go on a hike in a swampy wilderness, and night comes, and you say, 'Oh God, I'm lost.' The hope is that the sun is going to come up tomorrow, and you'll find your way out."
If you go
"The Prostate Dialogues and Tales of the Tellywacker" will be performed at 8 p.m. March 22 at the Creative Alliance, 3134 Eastern Ave. Tickets cost $20 for the general public and $15 for members and students. Call 410/276-1651 or go to http://www.creativealliance.org.
Residence: Fells Point
Birthplace: Kansas City, but raised in Cincinnati
Education: Bachelor's degree in history and theater in 1964 from Williams College in Williamstown, Mass.; master's degree in theater in 1966 from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.
Awards: Three local Emmys for "Three Stories Tall," a children's program that was broadcast on Washington's NBC affiliate from 1985-90.
Personal: Married to choreographer Liz Lerman. The couple has one daughter, Anna, 24.