‘Intimate things rising up, pouring over strangers. Itʼs wonderfully terrifying’

Story Slam fills Hope with courage

Tue, 03/24/2015 - 8:45pm

    HOPE — Sweet Tree Artsʼ third annual Story Slam packed the house March 21, offering five local storytellers the chance to weave tales of courage and comedy for a standing-room-only crowd. Approximately 80 eager listeners squeezed in shoulder-to-shoulder to hear this yearʼs lineup, laughing and cheering as the tellers shared their own personal moments of bravery, boiled down into five-minute vignettes.

    The event, held at Sweet Tree Artsʼ creative space at Hope Corner, is a popular local version of a growing national trend. Story slams around the world are breathing new life into the ancient art of storytelling, inspiring both tellers and listeners through creative communication that focuses on in-person, in-your-face interaction.

    "Storytelling is at the heart of all the arts, and, of course, at the heart of what brings us all together," said Lindsay Pinchback, Slam organizer and director of Sweet Tree Arts. "When we share stories we build empathy, we increase our ability to really listen and we are open to new ideas. If you lecture someone, they feel controlled. If you tell them a story, you allow them to come to their own conclusion and they are often inspired to tell their own story... so the cycle gets stronger."

    This yearʼs theme, stories of courage, struck home for the presenters, who spun plucky yarns of personal discovery, winding their way through unique tales of wild circumstance, but always returning to universal themes, such as insecurity, relationships and loyalty.

    Caitlin Schick, Emily Davis, David Troup, Scott Sell and Robert Kaczor each braved the stage (and broke the five-minute rule) for this yearʼs Slam, sharing tales that ranged from chasing online love to dodging knuckle sandwiches. While each speakerʼs approach was unique, courage was the common element, both within the stories and within the speakers themselves.

    "Itʼs quite an experience," said Stephen Gleasner, a storyteller from the 2014 slam, who was on hand to support this yearʼs tellers. "I mean, there you are. Room full of people in the dark. Story flowing out of your mouth, washing over strangers. Intimate things rising up, pouring over strangers. Itʼs wonderfully terrifying."

    Booked as "Real People, Real Stories," the slams are intended for an adult audience, and Camden restaurant 40 Paper offered beer and wine at this yearʼs event. The money raised through the $10 admission will be used to support scholarships for students attending Sweet Tree Arts summer programs and after-school programs; but, according to Pinchback, the slam supports Sweet Treeʼs mission in other ways, as well.

    "I made a documentary film about storytellers in Scotland and Ireland 12 years ago," said Pinchback. "I was really inspired by their gifts to tell stories and I am continually blown away by the power of story and the friends and people I meet through story. The Slam is a way to keep the tradition of storytelling alive, and I love that it brings out such a cross-section of people, people that might not normally enter the art center or an art museum. A big piece of Sweet Tree is making arts accessible and sharing the idea that art is not only for the gifted — that the arts should be available and enjoyable to all. Storytelling speaks to that."