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FEB 09

Storytelling and Stand-up written by Maria Ciampa

“Most events in life can be categorized in one of two ways - a good time or a good story. So, even when bad things happen, I think, ‘Oh well, it’ll be a good story,’” says Margot Leitman, co-creator of Stripped Stories, a sex storytelling show out of New York.

“I’ve done lots of storytelling shows: Speakeasy Stories, The Liar Show, Lower East Side Stories, Storytelling at the Creek, New York Shitty, Nights of our Lives,” recites Leitman. She also teaches storytelling classes through the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, where classes sell out within 5 hours of being posted online – which raises the question: why the sudden increase in comedic storytelling shows? And how are these shows any different from regular stand up comedy shows?

“People want to get real in their comedy,” says Leitman. “The audience wants to hear a heartfelt story. Also, we have a primal need to hear and tell stories around the campfire.” This sentiment is echoed by Sherry Weaver, producer of Speakeasy Stories, a twice monthly show in New York. “The Moth started it all. It goes back to sitting around the campfire, talking.”

The Moth, to which Weaver refers, is a not-for-profit storytelling organization that produces shows nationally. Founded in New York in 1997 by poet, novelist, and Georgia native George Dawes Green, The Moth started with an invitation of a few friends to his New York apartment to share stories. From there, The Moth moved to bigger venues in New York. Today, The Moth has six programs and has presented over 3,000 live stories to over 100,000 audience members.

Storytelling is a genre all its own, a separate form from stand-up comedy. All the stories told on these shows are true, unlike all the jokes in a stand-up set. Storytellers come from various artistic backgrounds, and names at the The Moth include Moby, Lili Taylor, Terri Garr, and Candace Bushnell. Conversely, there are Moth storytellers with less of a presence in the arts like Jim Bouton, Former Major League pitcher with the Yankees, and Joe Lockhart, Former White House Press Secretary. However, many storytellers on The Moth are well versed in comedy, including Lewis Black, Margaret Cho, Janeane Garofalo, Colin Quinn, and Rosie O’Donnell.

Kate Teller, Associate Producer at The Moth, is flattered that so many comedic storytelling producers credit The Moth as their inspiration, saying, “It’s a testament that a personal narrative is progressively becoming more important.” But have people taken storytelling in a different direction from what The Moth intended? Not really, says Teller, “We love humorous people. At The Moth, we see comedy as one way in which to tell your story.”

Other storytelling shows popping up in New York and Boston, while they may be inspired by The Moth, tend to gravitate even more toward the funny. Weaver explains, “We might have a serious story or two each night. All shows have some humor. Some stories have you rolling in the aisle, others have a laugh that jumps out in the middle of a sad story.” Jake Goldman, co-producer of the storytelling show “True Tales from College” says, “For the most part, our show and other storytelling shows are lighter [than The Moth].” Goldman, who cited the Moth CD as an example says, “Out of the 60 stories on that CD, maybe 10 are really sad. The Moth crowd likes a sad story now and then. If stories at our show don’t end on a lighter note, it can be awkward.”

If there’s someone onstage with a mic telling a funny story, how is storytelling different from stand-up comedy? “Storytelling has a different rhythm from stand-up,” Sara Benincasa, producer and host of ‘The Family Hour with Auntie Sara’ at Ochi’s Lounge, explains. “It isn’t beat-beat-punch. It can be less scripted than stand-up. Stand-up is faster, packed with more laughs.” So the main difference between storytelling and stand up comedy is that with storytelling, you don’t have the pressure to get a laugh every other line. Jessica Sutich, Producer and Host of Boston’s “A Night of Oral Tradition” agrees with Benincasa. “In a five minute stand-up set, you must make things very concise. You don’t have room let humor come naturally, like in a story.”

Are all great stand up comedians great storytellers? Not necessarily. “At Stripped Stories,” Rozzi says, “We’ve had stand ups that could not just tell the story, they had to keep doing stand-up bits.” Goldman described stand-up comedians who try out storytelling as “a bit punchier because they know how to get laughs and where they will get laughs.” Benincasa thinks the two forms complement each other, saying, “I think great stand-up comics have always blended humor and pathos, and storytelling gives you plenty of room to do that.”

Adam Wade, ten-time StorySlam Champion at The Moth, and the 2006 GrandSLAM Champion, says that coming from a background in stand-up comedy, it took a while to get comfortable with silence. “At a storytelling show, the silence is good because they’re listening. It took me a year to figure that out.” Wade says his goal as a performer is not to be the person that can “tell 50 jokes off the bat” and have people not remember any of it. “I want people to remember my whole act. I want them to say, ‘He didn’t knock it out of the park, but he was sincere, and endearing.’ I want to leave people with a universal story through my personal experience.”

Goldman says, “The mark of a great storyteller is when they reveal things about themselves and inject humor into a sad situation.” The theme of revealing more in a storytelling shows as compared to stand up comedy shows is common. Sutich explains, “In stand up, there is a barrier - you are keeping the audience at a distance. But when you’re storytelling, you’re revealing something about who you are. You can’t avoid it.” Leitman recalls a few stand ups who have panicked before going onstage at Stripped Stories. “I think they panic because you tend to be incredibly revealing with storytelling, and with stand up, you are guarded. I am always impressed when they panic - they really reveal themselves.”

Although the storytelling movement is large and growing, storytelling shows (excluding The Moth) tend to be held in smaller venues. Weaver says, “When someone tells you a story, it’s so personal. You need a dark room, not too many people, alcohol.” The sense of intimacy created by show content makes smaller venues more attractive. “The audience is very much a part of the story. I like a smaller space. You can see their faces, you can engage with them.” Sutich adds.

Comedians also swear that storytelling audiences are different than stand-up audiences. The main differences, says Rozzi, is, “It’s unlikely there will be heckling from a storytelling audience. They tend to be more attentive. They’re not going to be like, ‘Yeah! Tell me about that time your mother died!’” Goldman describes them as more “bookish.” All comedic storytellers agree the audience is there to hear other people’s true stories. Says Benincasa, “They expect to laugh, but there might be stretches of time where they’re just listening. There might even be stretches of time where they’re moved by what they hear.”

For all storytellers interviewed, their love of storytelling is palpable. Their commitment to the art is highlighted by acknowledging that while there may be less pay, the sense of satisfaction at sharing your true story is immeasurable. Leitman explains, “I know that you can affect people’s lives through stand up, but people have emailed me days after hearing my story, saying, ‘I went through that too and hearing you was amazing.’ I love that in ten minutes I can get people to judge me, gasp, cry, pray for me to get over it, and then laugh.”

But it’s not just for the love of it. Storytelling is growing in popularity, with some gaining fame for just that: telling stories. Speakeasy Stories is being considered for Montreal Comedy Festival. Stripped Stories is going on national tour in April 2009. True Tales from College and Family Hour with Auntie Sara continues to build a following. Wade says, “The Moth put me on their podcast with Jonathan Ames and it’s been the biggest break. It’s not Comedy Central Premium Blend, but the Moth gets 150,000 downloads a week from people interested in stories. That’s my target audience! For a guy who’s done shows for anywhere from four to one hundred people, well, that’s huge.”

Maria Ciampa is a writer and comedian in Boston.

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Dr. Forrest Lang and Dr. K. Krishnan of the ETSU College of Medicine have gotten $1.5 million in funding from the National Institute of Health for research on cancer and the use of storytelling to prepare doctors for better communication with cancer patients. (Rex Barber / Johnson City Press)
Cancer stories to be subject of new study

By Rex Barber
Press Staff Writer

If you only had six months left to live, would you want to know?

Doctors, especially oncologists who diagnose cancer, deal with that problem daily. Now with a five-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute, a team of researchers in East Tennessee State University’s College of Medicine and storytelling program will record on video the thoughts of cancer patients on their journey with the disease.

“We expect it’ll be a very powerful way to learn what patients prefer, to hear it right from their own words,” said Dr. Forrest Lang, vice chairman of ETSU Family Medicine Department. “And we’re just basically using patients’ stories to teach others.”

So far, 37 cancer patients have been interviewed and some of their stories are already being used for educational purposes.

The researchers, who include Dr. K. Krishnan, chief of hematology and oncology and professor of internal medicine; Dr. Robert Enck, professor of internal medicine; and Dr. Joseph Sobol, storytelling program coordinator and professor of curriculum and instruction; have identified five common themes when talking about cancer with patients:

Informing of the diagnosis.

Transition between curative care and hospice care.

Surviving treatments.

Religion and spirituality.

Role of family.

Lang and Krishnan did not know of any other similar research, although the notion of improving communication among medical practitioners is becoming increasingly common. Articles and books have been written about cancer survivors and their stories. Recently actress Farrah Fawcet’s battle with cancer was filmed and widely publicized.

Krishnan said medical programs are beginning to realize the importance of communication and most do not do a good job of teaching communication skills.

“Large programs are so focused on the science part of it and the treatment part of it that this is almost completely unknown,” Krishnan said.

That is where ETSU can provide a unique contribution to cancer communication research with its storytelling program in the College of Education.

“We tapped into some of the strengths we have here in East Tennessee,” Krishnan said. “We sort of brought everyone together to be able to set up these education modules to teach.”

The graduate students in the storytelling program conduct the patient interviews. Each interview is about 1 1/2 to two hours long and is “raw” footage. Whatever the patients says is not manipulated. Afterward, it is edited together into a video. The more stories collected, the more themes should emerge, Lang and Krishnan think.

Lang said one thing he found interesting was the wide range of differing views on how much information patients want to know. He said some patients wanted a how long they had left to live, while others wanted no time line under any circumstances.

“So we’re seeing that part of the message we’ll need to get across to the practitioners is we’ll need to find a way to individualize the message,” Lang said.

This conclusion led Lang and Krishnan to think good communication skills are important for doctor education.

“You need to get into a dialogue with the patient to provide what they want to know and what they don’t,” Lang said. “So, it really is interest in you as a person.”

Each patient was happy to participate with the research, wanting their stories shared, Lang said.

The research team wants to interview patients in the different stages of cancer, from diagnosis to the end of life.

“It’ll help us to see to what degree preferences are enduring or not enduring over time,” Lang said.

Krishnan realized the importance of storytelling in lung cancer conference in Kingsport in 2003. He said stories were being shared about surviving and treating the disease.

“This for me was the first time I was seeing a cancer story related in this form,” Krishnan said. “And that is where I learned how it could be applicable to oncology.”

Medical, pharmacy and nursing students will see the interviews in a medical communication course beginning this fall.

“It’s not a finished work but it’s valuable enough to share with them right now,” Krishnan said.

If anyone would like to share their cancer stories, call Lang in the Department of Family Medicine at 439-5828.

Thanks to Joseph Sobel for posting this on FB - N

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If you don't know - Art of Storytelling with Children ?
Here is just one more fabulous reason why you should:
listen and read more here:

Art of Storytelling with Children.

“Environmental Storytelling” Written by Kevin Strauss…
“Environmental Storytelling” has become a popular subset of the storytelling world, but until recently, there was little agreement about what it was or how to do it. In this Blog follow-up to my interview on the Storytelling With Children Podcast, I will provide a definition for “environmental storytelling,” describe what makes a good nature or environmental story, and give some resources for environmental stories.

What Is Environmental Storytelling?
Environmental storytelling is the act of using live narrative performance to teach an audience about the natural world, how it works, and how to care for it.

What is an Environmental Story?
An environmental story is a story that either teaches listeners about some aspect of the natural world (why bears have short tails or why rocks don’t move) or teaches an ecological lesson like (Everything is Connected, Everything Goes Somewhere, There’s No Such Thing As A “Free Lunch”). Many “Why” stories fall into this category, including: Why Bear Has A Short Tail (Norway), Why Robin’s Have Red Breasts (Ireland), and Why The Sky Is Up So High (Nigeria). Stories that talk about greed, selfishness, or wastefulness also often fall into this category.

What Makes For A Good Environmental Story?

* A good environmental story for you to tell is a story that: —You love to tell, since you can’t tell a story well if you don’t love it
* —Explains something about nature in a surprising, but appropriate way
* —Is a good lead-in to talking about the science of animals and plants

Where Can I Find Good Environmental Stories?

Hamilton, Martha and Mitch Weiss. How & Why Stories. Little Rock: August House (1999).
A good source of “pourquoi” or “why” stories from around the world.

Miller, Candace ed. Tales from the Bird Kingdom. Lima: Pourquoi Press (1996).
Miller, Candace ed. Tales from the Creature Kingdom. Lima: Pourquoi Press (1997).
These are two of the best sources for a large number of animal stories from around the world. Each book contains 160 summaries of stories. The best way to order these books is to contact the press directly via email at “” or at Pourquoi Press, 439 S. Cole St., Lima, OH 45805-3366.

Strauss, Kevin. Tales with Tails: Storytelling The Wonders of the Natural World. Westport: Libraries Unlimited (2006).
This book has been called the “textbooks for environmental storytelling.” It contains 64 non-Native American environmental stories, sciences information about the animals and plants in the stories and information about how to tell a story or make a story “more environmental.”
Websites: contains 100 environmental story summaries with references; stories are organized by animal type and environmental education concept is my website, containing articles on storytelling and text versions of several nature stories is the storytelling website of “Earth Teller” Fran Stallings. Fran tells environmental “fact tales” and true nature stories guaranteed to enlighten and inspire

About the Author:
Award-winning Author and Storyteller Kevin Strauss has been using stories to entertain, educate and inspire children and adults for more than a decade. Based in Rochester, Minnesota, Kevin travels across the Midwest to perform environmental stories at schools, libraries, and community events.

Kevin is the author of three books, including Tales with Tails: storytelling the wonders of the natural world (Libraries Unlimited, 2006), winner of the prestigious national 2008 Storytelling World Award. His other books include the full-color children’s books Loon and Moon, and The Song of the Wolf. He is also the storytelling star on two CDs and two upcoming DVDs.

You can reach him through his website at

“Environmental Storytelling” by Kevin Strauss…
a blog for artists in MA ssachusetts

lots of good info for artists here...
...writing as I ride out of "....NY,NY the city that never shuts up..."- ani diFranco

Imagine 400 people in Boston lining up to hear stories - people of all ages but predominantly people 30 and under. Imagine nearly 300 souls crushed into a dark club paying $7 bucks to get in and buying 2 mandatory drinks just so they could hear 10 people tell stories (mostly) connected the evening's theme of " coincidence". Well, dream on. Meanwhile, in NY,NY this scene is happening once a month.

Word from the listserv was we needed to be very early to get in, much less to have seats. ( Shout out to Claire B and others). We were lucky to have three people to manage the line and dinner situation. Barbara A. stood in line at 6PM while we ordered out at nearby Suzy's, and got some great Chinese food that did not cost a mortgage payment. The line stretched round the block by 6:30PM and if I were an entrepreneur I would host an alternate story event for the overflow crowd at anyone of the gagillion clubs in that part of the Village. But I digress.

I never wait for anything - lines are an anathema to me, but I had traveled 250 miles to see the Moth in action and took one for the team. Once inside we got seats right up front near the sound engineer. The Moth website has been posting audio recordings of these storyslam stories for years.

Sara Barron was the delightful emcee/host for the storySLAM at the Moth. She was extremely funny in a very Tourettes-esque kinda way . She employs a volatile mix of self deprecating humor and vitriol while sharing TMI, outing ex-boyfriends, naming names, giving out all save cell phone #s for each egregious offender to woman kind via her own person - freakin' hilarious. Libelous even. Sara explained the rules, the voting and the time keeping signals all while hopping about on one leg - seems she broke the other in a bicycling accident and was still in a cast. Never far below her comic persona was her genuine care for the performers and she kept the scene flowing and the energy up for each teller. As for the rules, it turns out, 5 minutes stories are actually 6 and people mainly kept to the limits. The scores are posted on a flip chart on stage after they are delivered Olympic Games style, with numbers, no comments. Last night the founder/originator of The Moth was in attendance and sat in on one of the judging teams.

"The Moth believes that everyone has a story. The Moth created StorySLAM to give those stories a forum.Following the wild success of our Mainstage series, The Moth sought to accommodate all the people who asked, “When can I tell my story?” and to encourage those people who doubted they had a story worth telling. The Moth StorySLAM provides a stage and a microphone, a theme to inspire and shape the evening, a lively and supportive audience, and a host to guide the festivities. Stories are limited to five minutes, and ten stories are heard.
The stories are scored by three teams of audience-member judges, and a winner is announced at every SLAM. The SLAM winners later face off in a Moth GrandSLAM." More from their website What is The Moth?The Moth, a not-for-profit storytelling organization, was founded in New York in 1997 by poet and novelist George Dawes Green, who wanted to recreate in New York the feeling of sultry summer evenings on his native St. Simon's Island, Georgia, where he and a small circle of friends would gather to spin spellbinding tales on his friend Wanda's porch...the first "Moth" evening took place in his NYC living room. Word of these captivating story nights quickly spread, and The Moth moved to bigger venues in New York. Today, The Moth conducts eight ongoing programs and has brought more than 3,000 live stories to over 100,000 audience members."

Tellers put their names in a bag and ten are selected, one at a time. The first set of five flew by and we had a "10" minute intermission. The stories and tellers ranged from good, to very good to absolutely amazing. After all the stories were told and a winner announced and celebrated, those who had not been in the 10 chosen, (yours truly and Robin Bady among them) were invited up to share our opening sentences for the untold stories. What a cool tradition!

The audience was warm and engaged. The judging was not at all the distraction I had imagined it would be. In fact the judging gave tellers time to prepare and added something to the concentration and the quality of the evening. Stories are judged on how they relate to the theme of the slam, how they are presented and timeliness and and having an arc; a beginning , middle and end. Now, we all know that no one wants to bomb. No one wants to suck. But you need to think twice and practice before telling and you will think before putting your name into the Moth bag to be picked. And this is a good thing. The judging seems to promote a healthy respect for the time and attention of the audience. I really believe that competition is not an inevitable part of "human nature" and does not de facto motivate us to do our best, so I am surprised at myself for saying any competition in the arts is good. Check out my anti- competition bible No Contest for more in this vein. I think in terms of overall quality, the fear factor + the time limits at MOTH add a welcome self reflection and crafting of story before telling - something I believe we desperately need in our New England open mic scene.

I went to the MOTH to study. I am reflecting and scheming and dreaming to create a place for storytelling - yes, they use that good old fashioned term for it, in Boston. We have the stories. We have the clubs. What else do we need? Oh yeah, 300 people lining up so they will not miss the monthly feast of story - told live.

Big hugs to my NY, NY friends who schlepped, housed and guided me - Robin Bady and Barbara AliprantisBoth these women are shakers and movers, bringing story to the city that never shuts up. Check out Barbara's monthly open mic and feature at Cornelia Street Cafe
and look up Robin Bady who heads up the Storytelling Center of New York

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Grand Prize for South Shore Grand Slam Story Slam generously donated by Nicolette Heavey and Stories In The Streets (A Maine Get Away)

Stories in the Streets in an outreach literacy program that focuses on families in at-risk areas and fosters community engagement in storytelling by: 1) Creating opportunities for public storytelling wherever families gather — a farmer’s market, laundromat, or food line; and, 2) Offering storytelling workshops that raise family engagement in literacy, cultural awareness and community understanding.  The program is currently active in Lawrence, Brockton and Randolph.


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The South Shore story Slams presents The GRAND SLAM STORY SLAM MAY 5TH @The Company Theater 6:30PM the winners of Doyles and SS Story Slam Season compete for Maine Getaway valued at  $1,000. Get your tickets before they are gone $25.00 in advance $20.00 members at door $30.00 non members 



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