Storytelling seems to be making a revival.
The Moth out of New York City is the 28th most popular podcast on iTunes, not to mention a successful national touring show. There’s the Porch Light series in San Francisco, public radio’s StoryCorps and the uber popular radio show and podcast “This American Life,” which owes a lot of its popularity to the storytelling it features.
Though there have been a handful of storytelling events happening in the Four Corners area over the years, there hasn’t been a consistent, public outlet for the art form. It was something Sarah Syverson and Tom Yoder of KSJD Dryland Community Radio out of Cortez wanted to remedy.
Enter The Raven Narratives. Like most storytelling events, there are very few rules for the stories told other than they must be true, told live without notes and fit meaningfully to the chosen theme.
After a soldout show at the Sunflower Theatre last month, Syverson, Yoder and local/regional storytellers Lindsay Dororetz, Micha Rosenoer, Paul Bohmann, Kellie Pettyjohn, Steve Underwood, Evan Meyer, Katrina Blair and Tom Gray will bring The Raven Narratives show “Wild Places” to the Durango Arts Center Saturday.
In addition to more installments of the series in the coming months, complete with new themes and storytellers, The Raven Narratives will be rolling out the storytelling series as a podcast on iTunes and on the KSJD website.
The Herald talked with Syverson, also a writer and performer in the region, following the premier show in Cortez.
How did The Raven Narratives come about?
(Tom Yoder and I) both do regular interviews with people during the week as part of the Morning Edition segment. We both were feeling like people had all these amazing stories to tell and we were both also big fans of podcasts like “The Moth Podcast.” I also have a friend in Athens (GA) who runs a podcast called “The Rabbit Box.” We were both really inspired by that.
Coupled with this feeling that, writing these one-woman shows and being involved in the theater and acting community, that there’s this excitement or aspiration for more authentic voices, truth-telling onstage and real people telling real stories onstage.
The Moth already had the outline for the event but we felt like nothing was going on in the area like that and we felt like there was the momentum to do something like that.
The Moth doesn’t allow notes for storytellers onstage and neither does The Raven Narratives. Why?
It puts people more in the moment. You’re not scripted the way that you would be otherwise if you were giving a speech with notes or working off of a script in a show. I think there’s an element of authenticity that’s really thrilling and that people resonate with when somebody goes onstage without notes, telling a story about themselves that is true.
Does not having notes affect the performer and the audience in terms of that authenticity?
The audience realizes that this is an authentic moment with this human being onstage. And then this human being, who’s not a professional performer, they’re a real, average person ... is up there telling a true story without script and without notes. There’s moment after moment of authenticity because there’s nothing to catch someone. Scripts are safe in a way.
How did the first installment go in Cortez?
Awesome. It was amazing to see so many people turn out. I heard several comments like “This is amazing. People are turning out basically so that people can tell them stories onstage. I mean, it’s such a simple concept. It’s like the culture at large is shying away from these large, fantastic spectacles of performance. Or this is the opposite end of the spectrum. One mic, onstage with a bench and a person telling a story. And people are excited about it. I think there’s some kind of craving for it, for that authenticity. It’s like the counter balance to reality TV.
What makes for a good live storytelling story or how did you choose the stories/storytellers?
We vetted storytellers. Some people approached us wanting to tell a story. We called some people that we knew that we thought would be good storytellers because we interviewed them before on KSJD. They were captivating. They had that feeling of authenticity. Honesty onstage is really captivating.
In terms of the basics of what makes a good story, The Moth gives good guidelines, which we use too, is that there’s a clear beginning, middle and end.
In terms of what makes a story captivating, I think it’s honesty. And what I noticed too, was that a lot of the storytellers, the audience was really connecting with the storytellers who were honest in the way of admitting their faults or admitting their fears in a way that was true. Be willing to say, “I was (a mean person),” or “I was scared (badly).” You know what I mean? And then people, inside, they’ll be like “I guess it’s OK to be (a mean person) sometimes.” It happens. We’re human.
What is the gist of some of the stories?
The fire chief up at Mesa Verde is telling a great story about the first wolf release in Yellowstone National Park. It’s a calamitous story and you learn a lot about wolves in that story as well. But it’s really entertaining and captivating.
There’s several travel stories, from folks that’ve been in the Peace Corps, to their own personal travels in India to travels around the Southwest. There is one person that has a prop – generally speaking no one else has props onstage, but it’s so a part of the story ... it’s a briefcase and it’s what he’s done to the inside of the briefcase that’s so crazy.
What can people expect at the show?
They can expect a lovely evening of storytelling and an emotional landscape that’ll move you from laughter to tears. Between all those stories, it really did move people between a lot of emotions throughout the night.
We also have something called the crackerjack box that people that want to tell an impromptu story can put their name in the crackerjack box and we pull a name at the end of intermission. That story has to relate meaningfully to the theme, which is “Wild Places.”
What tips would you give to people interested in participating?
Think about the theme. Think about it not just in a literal but in an abstract way. Say our spring theme is “Baggage.” We’re not just asking for a story about your luggage, of course. We’re asking for stories about the baggage you carry around in your life.
Often times, there’s a story that jumps out at a gut level or even one that you’re scared to tell. That’s the one you want to tell.
We have one storyteller, Kellie Pettyjohn, who is very funny, very witty. She could have chosen to tell a story that was incredibly humorous and she would have done a great job. But she took herself out of her comfort zone and is telling a story about her friend in Afghanistan. She’s a farmer in the Mancos Valley now, an organic farmer, owner of the Wily Carrot. She’s not someone you would think spent time in Afghanistan but she’s got this really potent, powerful story that is difficult for her to tell and it is powerful because of that. So, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.
firstname.lastname@example.org. David Holub is the Arts & Entertainment editor for The Durango Herald.