AROUND 60 PEOPLE have packed into the Cryptatropa Bar, a speakeasy/dive-bar hybrid with low ceilings, dark lighting and a small stage. Co-host Elizabeth Lord is drawing the first storyteller’s name from a bowl. “Would you like to hear a story?” she asks the audience. “Yes!” we all respond in unison.

It’s time for StoryOly, a monthly story slam in downtown Olympia. Performers have eight minutes to tell a true story about a firsthand experience. Lord shares a few guidelines before the stories begin. “No hate speech, no politics and probably no religion,” she says with a wry smile. “We also don’t want to hear about the dream you had last night.”


Throughout the evening, stories are comical, harrowing and surprising — sometimes all at once. Natalie Kather begins the evening with a wrenching account of her father’s struggles with Asperger’s syndrome. She’s followed by Virginia Homewood, who shares a rollicking anecdote about traveling to Paris on a shoestring budget.

Each StoryOly event has a theme. Tonight, the stories are all about the concept of home. Longtime attendees say the theme gives the stories a sense of cohesion, and that the storytellers’ varied interpretations are often part of the fun. “You never know what’s coming,” says Lynn Phillipi, an audience member who drove 30 miles from Elma to attend. “A theme like ‘home’ could be something deleterious or something warm and comforting.”

A few of the storytellers are experienced performers; others are on stage for the first time. Regardless, attendees hang on every word of each performer. “It’s a kind audience, and there’s a vibe here that makes people feel comfortable,” explains co-host Amy Shephard. “It’s not easy to get on stage and share a story from your personal life. These stories can come from a very vulnerable place.”


Shephard and Lord met through their involvement in Olympia’s theater arts community. Lord was an experienced story performer, and Shephard had ambitions to create an event in Olympia inspired by The Moth, a popular storytelling podcast and event series. The first StoryOly was held in November 2015. “We had no idea if anyone would show,” Shephard remembers. “Fifty people showed up to that first one, and pretty soon events were standing-room only.”

The aura inside the Cryptatropa is so warm and inclusive, it can be easy to forget that StoryOly is also a competition. The winner of each slam earns a cash prize and qualifies for an annual grand slam in September. At the beginning of the evening, three audience members volunteer to serve as judges and score each story. Lord explains what they should be listening for: “Did it have a beginning, middle and end? Was it compelling? Did you want to know what happened next?”

Shephard and Lord hope the competition element of the event motivates participants to prepare and take the performances seriously. The foundation of StoryOly, however, is the timeless act of telling stories. “It’s a really simple, but really powerful medium,” says Shephard. “There is a lot of joy to be found in being present and listening to another human being tell you a story from their life.”