Each month Waterfall Arts will host the outdoor firepits with a theme

Belfast Fireside chats are a social experiment in building connections

Next up: Belfast Flying Shoes Feb. 15 at 5 p.m.
Tue, 02/01/2022 - 12:30pm

    BELFAST—Anyone who has ever cozied up to a blazing campfire with s’mores anticipating a story will surely enjoy Waterfall Arts’ latest offering: monthly Fireside Chats, “meant to ignite conversations, boost empathy, and offer a platform for shared stories.”

    “We were trying to think of ways people could gather outside in a larger group as a way to [meet Covid-19 indoor restrictions] but we were also thinking of neutral ways to bring people together in today’s reality where everything seems so divisive,” said Amy Tingle, Program Director at Waterfall Arts. “We wanted to create a forum where people are communicating, but not directly around politics. Instead, we want to engage people to come together around storytelling. The idea of telling our own stories and getting to know each other leads to a deeper understanding of one another.”

    The experiment started on December 16 with Stephanie Holman, a professional storyteller and children’s librarian from the Belfast Free Library as the first guest in the series.

    Around 4:30 p.m., the staff set up multiple fire pits on the front lawn with hay bales and stumps for seating. There’s also a table with free hot coffee, cider, and individual s’more bags.

    “It’s like when you used to camp in your back yard,” she said. Only, with a speaker system and a microphone,

    About 20 people showed up with Holman talking about the library services for a few minutes before launching into her own story.  Holman then passed the mic to the first person whose hand was raised. It’s very casual — an open mic setting rather than a more formalized Moth radio hour type of storytelling.

    “Some stories made us laugh really hard while other stories kind of brought a tear,” said Tingle. “Some of the stories stuck to the theme of libraries and books, but others were just random, which made them really funny.”

    Unlike formal storytelling venues, the speaker isn’t constrained by time.

    “I don’t have a gong or a time limit,” she joked.

    On January 20, Waterfall Arts invited another storyteller, Ian Stewart, Executive Director at Coastal Mountains Land Trust, to kick off the event, with about 20 people in attendance.

    The Fireside Chat on Tuesday, February 15 will begin a little later (5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.) and will feature Belfast Flying Shoes. The stories will focus on dancing, singing, and the performance arts.

    “Maybe someone will even sing something,” said Tingle.

    March’s theme and beyond, will depend upon the community. Non-profits in Waldo County with a community focus are especially encouraged to propose a theme.

    “I think once we saw the library wanted to host the first event, it shaped how the rest of the Fireside Chats would go, highlighting other organizations and what they do, then launching into stories,” said Tingle. 

    For more information, please visit waterfallarts.org or call (207) 338-2222.

    Kay Stephens can be reached at news@penbaypilot.com