World Channel’s “Stories from the Stage” — imagine a televised version of The Moth or “Risk!” or “Story Collider” podcasts, which highlight personal storytelling — features six Seattle storytellers in episodes premiering March 14 and 21. Only the storytellers are regaling viewers from their homes, not from a stage.
The public television series, which features three, roughly seven-minute stories per 30-minute episode and began airing in 2017, started recording new episodes virtually during the pandemic.
Like other narrative storytelling platforms, “Stories from the Stage” put out a request for stories with unifying themes for its Seattle episodes (“Perfect Storm” and “Unexpected”).
Kent Whipple, marketing director, storytelling teacher and coach at Pike Place Market’s Unexpected Productions Improv School, saw the “Perfect Storm” theme for the March 14 episode and pondered it before coming up with a new story he had not told before.
“I also wanted to try to do a story where I was a bad guy and I wanted to challenge myself,” Whipple says. “The story that I came up with that I thought fit ‘a perfect storm’ was in my preteen years of being a horrible kid to one of our neighbor kids and then realizing that I was a jerk.
“So it was a perfect storm of emotion for me — that is how I interpreted the theme and came up with that story.”
Whipple has been involved in narrative storytelling for about 10 years — but really he’s been at it his whole life, he says.
“I’m the youngest of four and both my parents were brilliant storytellers,” he says. “As a kid, we’d sit around the dinner table and the only way to get any attention was you had to tell a pretty good story.”
Prior to the pandemic, “Stories from the Stage” received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to create episodes in two different cities, according to “Stories from the Stage” executive producer Patricia Alvarado Núñez. Houston and Seattle were chosen, she says, because both cities have “very strong and important stations in the [public broadcasting] system” and have been longtime broadcasters of the World Channel, which is available via KCTS-TV on over-the-air Channel 9.4 (Seattle) and Channel 47.4 (Wenatchee, Yakima), and on Comcast Channel 338. (“Stories from the Stage” episodes also post to worldchannel.org/watch/ the day of air.)
Also pre-COVID-19, “Stories from the Stage” invited storytellers to its headquarters in Boston (the first in-person show in two years is expected to tape in April). The NEA grant offered the opportunity to showcase storytellers from the West.
When a “Stories from the Stage” producer asked “Risk!” podcast producers if they knew any storytellers in Seattle, they suggested Whipple.
“The storytelling community is very, very close and it is very small, and Kent knows everybody,” Alvarado Núñez says. “He’s like the mayor of Storytelling Town and he really helped us connect with a lot of people.”
Whipple knew many of the local folks ultimately selected for the Seattle episodes, recorded last summer, and a few were even his former students, including Jen Bijanki of Kirkland, who tells a story of getting stuck in a literal storm during a road trip.
“One of the things I love most about storytelling is that a single story is a gateway to hundreds of stories based on the memories of listeners, often of things they may have forgotten about,” Bijanki says.
“Unexpected” features Angel Taherazer of Renton telling her story of escaping Iran during wartime, an effort, she says, to highlight “the resilience of being a human and the beautiful hope my father instilled in me.”
Whipple says storytelling is a way to connect people together.
“A good story has to be honest. And you have to be vulnerable because vulnerability creates relatability,” Whipple says. “All good stories have to have stakes or something to win or lose or succeed or fail, because the stakes make the audience care about what’s going on.
“Stories allow us to see the world through someone else’s eyes for seven minutes, and it’s probably my favorite part of watching stories because I get to learn and experience lives that are different than mine.”
In Seattle, Whipple says those interested in storytelling can often find listings of storytelling events online, including at the Seattle Storytelling Facebook group, with frequent opportunities to hear storytellers at Fremont Abbey Arts Center, the Rendezvous and Jewelbox Theater in Belltown — and at his home base at Unexpected Productions.