Five Damn Years: A Review of Story Club

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20140605_195048I live around the corner from Holiday Club. I spent my birthday there, New Year’s Eve. I went there for the trivia so much that I ended up working for the company. And in all my time going, I have never seen the back room more packed than I have at Story Club. Every table, every seat, people lined up against every wall and crammed in between stools at the bar. I’ve been to Story Club before, so I know it wasn’t just because of the 5th Anniversary, the Crosstown Classic. It’s just like that there. And it’s awesome.

First, an overview:

Story Club starts off with a brief anecdote from the host (in this case, both Northside host and founder, Dana Norris and Southside host, Andrew Marikis), before launching straight into featured readers. Everyone, including the hosts, tells approximately 10 minute long true stories, the audience laughs, cries, etc., then everyone votes on their favorite story of the night, which then gets published on the Story Club website. Sound like the standard story telling event? You’re right, except for one big thing.

During the night, two open mic readers are picked at random from a hat/cigar box/coconut monkey, and they are treated to the stage just like the featured reader. The only caveat being that they are only given 8 minutes, complete with the timer. And somehow, and this is legitimately shocking to me, the open micers are….good. Like, telling-a-story-that-you-would-want-to-hear good. Every time. Or at least every time I’ve gone.

This is the sort of egalitarian thing I dig. Having featured readers is wonderful. It gives an assured quality to your audience of the stories they are going to hear. But throwing in amateurs, beginners, people who just want to try into the mix is beautiful. It’s soulful and trusting and builds a community and is the reason that Story Club is packed to the ceiling with people.

Did I mention that Story Club pays their readers? THEY. PAY. THEIR. READERS.

But that’s just regular Story Club. Regular old First Thursday, bringing the lit scene together, giving the voiceless a microphone, normal Story Club. This last Thursday, this was the Crosstown Classic.

Remember birthday parties for little kids? How you put up streamers and fill balloons and have cookies? Boom. Crosstown Classic. As Dana gave her introduction, confetti poppers were blown off, streams and confetti raining down like a parade. The extra energy made the already exuberant Dana Norris seem like an ethereal being, a sentient storytelling cloud. Andrew Marikis supplemented, added, rounded, and other words that end in –ed until the room was filled beyond its already insane capacity. But that’s all something you have to experience for yourself. Let’s talk stories.
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Each story teller was drafted a la a third grade game of kickball to represent either the north or south sides. First, for the Southside, was Moth Story Slam host Don Hall who told a story taking place five damn years after his divorce. A day of drinking and writing is interrupted by a couple of gals who want to talk and drink and learn more about who Don is waiting for. A philosophical question as much as one with a clear answer. Don spends time weaving his life in and out of this moment in time, questioning exactly what or who he is waiting for. And if the answer is ever no one.

Then Patrick Gill read for the Northside. Patrick moved to Chicago five damn years ago, moving with his record collection that was passed from his father and uncle to him, and one day to his nephew, assuming his nephew doesn’t turn into a dick. It was a story about history, about relationships and about find yourself. A light tale, lots of moments, and all of them interesting and beautifully crafted.

Then, as is Story Club Tradition, the hosts and open micers read. I don’t want to focus on that too much right now, though Andrew’s story about besting his previous romantic self and Dana’s slow burnout of a relationship in a sex hotel were hilarious and touching and sad and all of the things that stories should be.

As an intermission, there were feats of strength as two representatives took donations for the respective sides.

I guess that is the important thing I forgot to mention.

There were two donation boxes, one representing the Northside, one representing the Southside. At the end of the night, the one with the most money in it would be declared the winner. The donations go to cover costs and pay the readers. I did mention that right? Because, if not, I would like to mention it again: THEY PAY THEIR READERS.

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Two people who I would crawl through broken glass to hear read ended the night. Shannon Cason and Megan Stielstra, representing the south and north sides, respectively. Shannon read a piece he had wrote for his first Story Club performance five damn years ago, a touching and understated and funny story about taking his father’s camera around the city and taking pictures, eventually being told to not do that by both a child and an angry adult. Shannon has one of the best story telling voices in the business.

And then Megan, who ended the night with a story of doing the same job for five damn years and serving the same (actually) crazy customer and wondering what it really took to keep it together. Maybe it is because I have a penchant for any mental illness-related story, or maybe it was the slow, deliberate way that Megan showed change and a descent into everyday madness, capped off with a spectacular showing of the absurd and the visceral, but this may have been one of the greatest stories I have ever heard.

And I think that’s one of the other things that Story Club will give you. A diverse array of readers who come at the same theme from all angles. A night that is bullshit free, that focuses on community. Get up, read. Nice bar, new faces, big names, a focus on the artists instead of a gimmick. You end the night feeling hopeful, sad, happy and in love. You walk away from Story Club still feeling like you’re there. You come for the stories and you get more than you ever bargained for.

So happy anniversary, Story Club. Here’s to another five damn years.