THE FIRST THING Paul Currington emphasizes about his monthly storytelling night, Fresh Ground Stories, is that this is not a place for stand-up comedy, slam poetry or practicing your audition monologue.
It’s for those longing to tell and hear true stories from people sharing their own experiences. No professionals. No pretense.
It’s the idea behind a number of storytelling groups, both local and national, partly based on the success of The Moth, which hosts nationwide live events plus a radio show and podcast called the Moth Radio Hour. In Seattle, The Moth hosts a twice-monthly open-mic “storySLAM,” plus more curated shows at larger venues.
Each storytelling event has its own flavor. Some groups allow storytellers to use notes, but The Moth and Fresh Ground Stories don’t. Seattle Storytellers Guild is part of a regional and national network that promotes storytelling organizations that feature improvisation, personal stories, seasonal tales and much more.
Each series has its own rules. Currington’s: No sex, nothing too scatological, no religion, no politics.
“Opinions drive people apart,” he says as he sets up a microphone stand and speakers before a recent show. “Stories bring them together.”
Shooting for a living-room vibe, Currington has hosted his events at a coffeehouse on Capitol Hill since 2012.
He and other regulars greet each other by name as people arrive (early — it will eventually be standing room only). By the time the event starts, the dimly lit room is packed with about 100 people crowded onto couches and wooden chairs.
The usual coffee-shop din falls away as storytellers take the stage. Tellers submit their names at the beginning of the evening, and Currington randomly draws a handful to perform. At a maximum of eight minutes per story, it typically works out to about an hour and a half of entertainment.
And it is entertaining. You would think putting a microphone in front of regular people not used to public speaking would result in rambles or rants, but it doesn’t. Amateurs they might be, but they’ve practiced, clearly following the classic storytelling advice to think about the ending before anything else. They’re stories of travels, jobs or even lives gone wrong or righted; of family and friends; and, in this night’s case, the occasional mobster.
Kacie Rahm, another of the night’s storytellers and a producer for The Moth, also runs a Facebook group connecting people with storytelling events. She says she’s seen increasing interest recently in this kind of storytelling, which keeps alive the oral traditions that go back to ancient ancestors. Part of the appeal for her, she says, is “the connection to people I never would have guessed I had anything in common with.”
Those not quite ready to take the mic can go to one of a few local storytelling workshops, where people get and give gentle feedback.
Currington found storytelling during a time he felt rootless after getting burned out on stand-up comedy. With storytelling, he realized, “I can go back to the writing I did when I was younger, but without having to make everything into a joke.” It also made him feel less alone.
Susan Fee, a regular and the evening’s first storyteller, feels the same way. “I don’t really know them,” she says of her fellow storytellers. “But I do, because I know their stories.”