the living art of storytelling in Massachusetts

As I walked into the bar a familiar voice struck my eardrums. 
"Are you going to tell tonight?" The voice was that of Laura Cannon, one of the judges for tonight's Story Slam. 
"No," I replied "I'm just here to listen." This was a question I was asked repeatedly as I settled into the backroom at Doyle's Cafe in Jamaica Plain for what had promised to be an invigorating night of story telling. 

As a story slam veteran, I was excited for the season to begin and I was not disappointed. Last seasons story slams at the Bella Luna Cafe in JP had proved to be wildly successful and the slams I had attended turned into standing room events. I had found the MassMouth Story Slams after finding NPRs The Moth radio program where storytellers share personal stories from their own lives.

Doyle's Cafe was the site of the first Story Slam of the 2011/2012 season. Modeled after a poetry slam, a Story Slam is an event where the names of storytellers are drawn from a hat and those selected have 5 minutes to recount their personal experiences about a theme. Judges score the stories based on a myriad of factors including relevance to the theme and flow of the story. Prizes are given to the winners along with an opportunity to compete in the semi-finals in the spring.

The nights theme was "Emergency" and a small crowd of approximately 50 people had crammed into the back room of this neighborhood bar squirreled away on Washington Street on a Sunday night to listen and share their own stories. As a way of honoring the memories of the horrors of 9/11, special guest Shawn Donovan, a firefighter for the city of Boston, shared his own personal experiences both from his childhood in a midwest town of 30 people and his experience as a first-responder for the city of Boston, in one instance responding to a call from a retirement home to install a residents cable.

The stories were focused, intense, and funny.  Story tellers shared openly and honestly about their experience. From tales of the 9/11 attacks to fighting the spread of communism in school and nuclear proliferation through "duck and cover" tactics to someone losing their cell phone in a cowboy boot, the stories were truly unique and I found myself hanging on each and every word as I got lost in the individual stories. As I listened, my own personal emergency story came to mind, working for a German phone company and flooding E911 dispatchers with automated phone calls in an effort to test an upgrade to their system, nearly crippling the entire dispatch system in several communities -- but that's another story all together.

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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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