Storytelling is a deeply personal act. You stand on a stage (real or figurative) and bare part of yourself to the audience. You tell a story about something important, something intensely you. The audience and the storyteller form a connection, a bond, based on a true moment, a sacred moment, a unique moment that the teller is offering.
So what happens when the teller is telling someone else’s story?
Story Collectors is one of the most unique storytelling series I have been to. They find tellers (all of whom were without paper, telling from memory) to share other people’s stories. Second hand stories, if you will (and they will). Instead of a teller revealing why a moment that happened to them still resonates, they tell a story as to why someone else’s story resonates.
At first, when I got the gist of what was happening, I was deeply against this. It’s one of those Storytelling 101 rules that you don’t tell other people’s stories. That, even when you are involved in a story, you have to make sure the focus remains on you so that you don’t make incorrect assumptions about how the other person felt or didn’t misplace blame or any other number of things that can go wrong when you speak for someone else. And when Archy Arch J. started telling his story about his aunt’s domestic abuse, I was worried I had stepped into a problem.
This should show my personal limitations as both a storyteller and a creative person. What unfolded over the night wasn’t a collection of stories that were detached from the tellers, but stories that were still deeply personal for them, but that they weren’t the main protagonist of. In Archy Arch J’s story, he was along for the ride the whole time, witnessing bruises and lumps, listening to the aunt’s story being told to him, still being an active participant in the events that were unfolding. You wouldn’t necessarily call it “his story,” but nonetheless, it was incredibly close to him and never felt like he was projecting on what his Aunt was feeling. It was a beautiful way to open a collection of stories that weren’t about the tellers themselves.
The Maeve, a neighborhood bar in Lincoln Park, is a weird fusion of old school and new school. It feels like a dive bar—no kitchen, wood paneled walls, soft lighting—but it’s clean (this is Lincoln Park, after all), has big screen TVs that they turn off for the storytelling, with a big list of specialty cocktails and craft beer. It was that fusion, that combination of gritty and sophisticated that went so well with a reading series focused on sort of shifting the focus from the all-encompassing-I of storytelling, the printed stories and the spotlight, to a more communal take, the second hand stories and a lack of real stage (tellers would stand in an open spot on the floor and tell with a wireless microphone. Low key and understated—both the venue and the event.
That isn’t to say that unscripted story telling is going to yield hit after hit. While the stories all had their merit, some took to the style better than others. Archy Arch J., Maggie Jenkins and GPA James Gordon told stories with arcs, that moved between the teller being a passive observer and an active participant, and seemed well rehearsed.
Others needed polishing or felt more like anecdotes that would be more entertaining if you were a member of the family—stories that get retold on Thanksgiving with a lot of Oh, you know how they are!’s thrown in.
Still, the audience is left with the sense that these are all raw and honest stories, stories from somewhere else that have already proven to be changing to someone who didn’t live it. And really, that’s what storytelling is and always has been about.
Story Collectors is the second Wednesday of each month at Maeve (1325 W. Wrightwood Ave.).