Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Story Club at Bryant Lake Bowl in Minneapolis. Each month there are two artists that perform a ten to fifteen minute long segment in which they tell a true story about themselves. They have to keep it to maximum of fifteen minutes and it has to be real to them. For the first thirty minutes of Story Club, it is an open mic where any one can put their name in a a ‘hat’ and perform a story up to eight minutes long. These stories can come memorized or scripted, but have to remain in the time frame and remain true to themselves. The stories can be about anything. What is fun about Story Club is the fact that it is a laid back atmosphere in which you can order food and drinks while the performance is going on and it is a supportive community.
I encourage you to check it out as everyone loves a good story and everyone has a story. Put your name in the ‘hat’ and tell your story.
I had the opportunity to talk with Amy Salloway, writer, teacher, actor, and storyteller and one of the producers of Story Club.
How long has Story Club been around?
Actor, writer and producer Dana Norris started Story Club in Chicago in 2009, as part of their "live lit" scene, and the show immediately got great reviews in the local press for being a particularly honest, authentic narrative arts evening, with a broader range of themes and styles represented onstage than the Moth or other competition-structured productions. Our Minneapolis chapter of Story Club started in September 2013, so we've been running for just short of 5 years!
Why have Story Club? Why was it formed? Who created it locally?
Story Club came to Minneapolis via a writer and storyteller named Mimi Nguyen, who moved here in 2013 from Chicago, where she'd been close friends with Dana; the two of them agreed that Story Club should expand here. (There are now Story Club shows in a whole bunch of cities -- Boston, Cleveland, Columbus OH, Jacksonville FL, etc) Mimi was the host and producer along with Sam Larsen and Jamie Amy Ann until 2015, when she moved to San Francisco; Sam and Jamie continued to produce and host until fall of 2017, when I started learning the ropes, and I've been producing and hosting with help from Martha since February 2018. The salient point, here, is that it's hard work producing a monthly live arts show, especially one that intentionally doesn't have the same performers each time. A lot of people don't want to take that on; a lot of people burn out. I wanted to pitch in to keep Story Club going for several reasons: because it's the only monthly storytelling show at the Bryant-Lake Bowl (and they've been great to work with) ; because it has its own particular energy and spirit that I believe in; because it had started attracting a community of audience members and performers and I thought that was really awesome; and because its format creates diversity in the narrative arts scene, which we need.
How do you choose your featured storytellers?
One of my major goals for Story Club Minneapolis has been to not just feature narrative artists that are favorites on Twin Cities stages, but also exciting newcomers -- those who are in lesser-known corners of our arts scene, or who often perform in a different genre, or are in from out of town, or who just plain have amazing personal stories to tell. It's also vital to me that we see and hear artists who are POCI, GLBTQIA, female-identified, living with a disability, and/or working for cultural change. I personally want to hear these voices, full stop.
What is your best advice for someone that wants to try, but doesn't think they have a story or is too nervous?
Well, first of all, the BLB is a relaxed, low-key, intimate venue, so the fact that a person can be in the audience with a face full of nachos one minute, and up onstage talking about giving birth to twins the next minute should be kinda reassuring...it should feel like (I hope it feels like) just a really kind, compassionate, warm gathering of friends. I try to reinforce that authenticity and humanity also, with my astonishingly awkward hosting. It comes naturally to me, that awkwardness. I have babbled the most ridiculous, embarrassing, useless sentences as the host of the show, because I'm still on a steep host learning curve -- so, that should reassure anyone nervous or self-doubting that they're not alone, and it's okay to be imperfect. In fact, it's the norm. I don't think I want to be involved with any show that doesn't embrace imperfection!
Also, I fully believe that EVERYone has a story to tell, and when I teach storytelling, and also memoir and narrative writing, I usually say to students that we're driven to tell stories about the experiences in our lives that we don't yet understand; things we're still trying to figure out, things that have questions lying underneath them. When something is done and settled and clear and comprehensible, we tend to not need to revisit it. It's the parts of our lives that, when we think about them, still contain a crackle of electricity, or a simmer of emotion that bubbles up unexpectedly, that might be whispering, "tell me!", because in the telling, we keep gaining insight, about ourselves and the world. "Why did I stay with him for so long?" "Was I a bad parent?" "Should I have called the police?" "What made me keep going?" "Did I truly believe I'd get away with that?" "How did I move from shame to acceptance...DID I, really?" Stories don't have to be huge and epic; they can be very very small, and still deep and revealing. So, if someone said that they "don't have a story," I'd nudge them to just marinate (maybe while washing the dishes, or walking the dog, or doing a repetitive task) on experiences in their life that still surface with that crackle of electricity and emotion, and think about where the story is, there.
All that said, it's also perfectly okay to just tell a damn story that you feel like telling, and see if it works! Is it true? Did it happen to you? Does it have a beginning, middle and end? Do you feel like telling it? Good! Tell it!
What is your favorite part about the evening?
One thing I love, that never ceases to amaze me, is that every single month there are new faces in the audience and I have no idea who they are or where they've come from. I love that somehow, people I didn't even send a Facebook invite to! or harass on Twitter! or shove an Instagram photo at! are finding out about this evening of stories and deciding they need to come listen, or maybe even get onstage and share a 7-minute piece of their lives with us. One month, all four open mic storytellers were people I had never seen before - didn't know from Adam - and none of them used so much as a notecard, and they were all, uniformly, riveting. I was sitting with two Story Club regulars, and we just looked at each other, wide-eyed, like, "What fresh sorcery is this?!?!" I truly don't know how circumstances like that suddenly happen, but it feeds my soul, because it means that the story-loving world is bigger and broader than I think, and that somehow we managed to spark some new connections, and that maybe we'll be able to keep doing so.
Which brings me to my other favorite part of the evening...which is my favorite part of ANY performance event...the connections people make after the show.
I want the stories we heard onstage to start a dialogue - for people to go up to each other and ask questions, and commiserate, or empathize, or be curious, or contribute knowledge. I mean, there's no reason to have a live night of theatre if everyone's just going to go home silently, or retreat back into the shadows, alone and uninspired. So, when the show ends and I see strangers go over and talk to each other -- that's the sign to me that it was a successful Story Club. When I have to keep nudging people out of the theatre because they're still talking and the show after us has to use the space...that's the best.
Amy, you just mentioned that you teach storytelling and narrative writing. Where could people find those classes?
Yes! I teach Memoir and Narrative, Creative Writing, Storytelling for the Page and Stage, and a couple other topical classes like Writing Humor, through Minneapolis Community Ed (http://mplscommunityed.com/). My summer session Memoir class actually starts this Monday. And then I also teach a two-day workshop every other month through The Story Studio (http://www.thestorystudio.org/, or https://www.facebook.com/TheStoryStudio/). The Story Studio is the educational arm of the RISK! podcast (www.risk-show.com), which is a fantastic weekly podcast of "true stories you never thought you'd dare to share." I've contributed a bunch of stories to the podcast -- most of them recorded at live Risk! shows -- and in 2015, I became the midwest instructor of The Story Studio, which also has branches in New York City and LA. The two-day workshop is really lively, engaging and participatory, and gives participants lots of individual attention...so that's another good option for aspiring storytellers who might still be hesitant to get up onstage. The next dates are in exactly a month -- July 14th and 15th, at the Phoenix Theater.
When does Story Club meet? Where can people find more information?
Our shows are always the 2nd or 3rd Thursday of the month at the Bryant-Lake Bowl, and you can always find out when the next one is by visiting www.facebook.com/storyclubminneapolis. Our upcoming show dates are:
June 21st, July 19th, September 13th, October 11th, November 8th.
I'm currently curating featured performers for all of those dates, so if someone is interested in having a 15-minute performance slot in which to tell a true personal story with or without notes, in front of an incredibly kind, attentive, open-hearted audience...they should email me! firstname.lastname@example.org. They should also come to a Story Club show so they can see what it's like. And introduce themselves.