Friday, April 24, 2020

Story Slam: Five Minutes Or Less

Local Dirt Productions "The Unexplained"
Spooky Concert and Story Swap, Oct. 2019
 I fell into story slamming by accident when I was a creative writing instructor. I was about to start a new eight-week session, and I was searching the Internet for topic ideas. I came across a call for auditions for the Valley Voices Story Slam, hosted by New England Public Radio and Academy of Music

I clicked the link. A theme was presented, and to audition, you had to call into a phone line with the first line (only) of your true story. If you were chosen, you had to perform on stage with no script or prompts. And you only had five minutes maximum!

What a perfect premise for the next eight weeks of writing, I thought. I chose an upcoming theme for the Valley Voices audition line that coordinated with my writing session timeline and presented it to my students.

"Here's the catch," I said. "We're going to perfect those stories, and then perfect those first lines, and then you're going to actually audition." I explained we'd also hold our own story slam on our last writing night of that session with their finished stories.

My students are clever. They all agreed that if they had to audition, I had to audition. "Fine," I said. In my mind, I added, What are the odds I'd get chosen?

Who knew? One of my students got in as well. Proud teacher moment!

I didn't win that story slam, but it was the first time I ever performed on stage in my life. I had no idea how exhilarating it felt to perform! I fell in love with the rush of nerves, the energy of the crowd, the captured attention of an entire room—even if only for five minutes. I was hooked!

Valley Voices Best of the Best Story Slam
on the Academy of Music Stage, April 2015
Since that first show in 2014, I've performed in multiple Valley Voices Story Slams, twice making it to the Best of the Best competition on the Academy of Music stage. I've also had the honor of performing at other events, such as a Halloween storytelling event that Local Dirt Productions hosted at Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center, The MOuTH storytelling event at the Mark Twain House in Hartford, and a few other local events. I even got into the filming of Stories From the Stage, and I felt like a celebrity for an evening. My story wasn't chosen for the aired show, and I'm okay with that. You can't win them all. For me, it's about the experience of performance more than the win. Though, I can't deny it feels incredible when my name gets announced as one of the winners!

The writer in me really enjoys the writing aspect of story slams. It's a lot harder than it might look to tell a complete story in just five minutes. A story must have a strong opening hook, a meaty middle that's compelling enough to keep the audience engaged, AND a complete story arc that ends with a punch—all that in about 700-ish words! Every single word counts. Text for speech is written differently than text for reading. It's quite a fun puzzle to put all the parts together and rearrange-rearrange-rearrange until the words magically snap together. I'm often editing in my head until the very last minute as I practice out loud without a paper in front of me—sometimes I'm even editing on stage as I'm telling the story live! Yes, I'm a word nerd, and proud of it!

Valley Voices "Sweet & Salty" Story Slam,
March 2020
Right before social distancing was placed in order, I won second place at the "Sweet & Salty" Valley Voices Story Slam competition at Hawks & Reed. I'll be heading back to the Academy of Music for my third shot at the Best of the Best title when it's safe to gather again. Here's hoping that's sooner than later.

I'll admit, I've been bummed that the next two Valley Voices Story Slam for this season were postponed due to COVID-19. I love attending shows as much as performing in them. I get sucked into someone else's world, five minutes at a time, and it mesmerizes me. But it's for the best that we all do our part to stay home to help save lives.


When the producers of Valley Voices asked me to participate in a virtual story slam, I jumped at the opportunity. What a great idea! It definitely made for an exciting week of putting a story together, figuring out the lighting and staging of the kitchen, and recording a story—over and over and over again—until it felt natural. Talking to a camera feels so bizarre. I can't gauge the energy like I can with a live audience, so I focused on my own excited energy, like when I tell a story to a friend. The nerves remained so hopefully my story feels alive and fun. Thank you to the Academy of Music and New England Public Radio for continuing to bring joy to our community during this unprecedented time.

The Game Plan virtual story slam, April 2020
I hope you take the time to watch the stories on Around the Dinner Table this week. Stop by a different storytellers home, virtually of course, to see what story they've cooked up for you. My story The Game Plan was aired on Monday night, but it's still up for you all to see. And you can VOTE for me starting Sunday, April 26th!

Welcome to my kitchen! I can't wait for you to hear my story The Game Plan. If you like it, please vote for me at SURVEY MONKEY! Voting is open through Tuesday, April 28th and it literally is just two clicks!

And hopefully someday soon, I'll be able to see you from the stage at a live event.

What new can't-live-without hobbies/projects have you accidentally discovered during this time of social distancing? 

Leave a comment below. I'd love to hear!


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Story Slam: Five Minutes Or Less

Local Dirt Productions "The Unexplained" Spooky Concert and Story Swap, Oct. 2019   I fell into story slamming by accident wh...