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Like most of you, I’m sure, I’ve been a life-long reader. I like almost nothing better than curling up in a comfy spot and reading A Good Book. But recently, I’ve come to realize that I’m out of the loop when it comes to all the literary listening going on.
Audiobooks, for example, are reportedly one of the fastest-growing segments of the publishing industry. I don’t think I’ve listened to a book since we threw a tape of short stories into the cassette deck during a family road trip back in the day.
Podcasts are on the rise too, both in production and listenership, yet I’ve never once clicked on the podcast app lurking in the corner of my smartphone.
Live storytelling events, at which people tell true personal stories in front of an audience, have also been increasing in popularity, but that’s where I finally have my foot—or should I say my ear—in the door.
My friend Michelle introduced me to the live storytelling scene in Vancouver recently when she invited me to watch her perform at The Flame, which holds monthly events from September to June, and which just closed out its ninth season. At the beginning of the evening, seasoned audience members shouted out the rules at the host’s prompting: “It has to be… true! It has to be about… you! And it has to be… few!”—as in nine minutes or less.
What unfolded over the next few hours was strangely captivating. As I listened to Michelle and the other storytellers unwrap some everyday moment of their lives to reveal the fear, joy, pain, or triumph that lay within it, their experiences resonated with me, and I wondered why I’d never attended an event like this before (nose buried in a book, probably).
Especially compelling was a first-time participant whose nervous vulnerability made me sit up straighter in my seat and hang onto his every word. “Audiences are really supportive of new storytellers,” Michelle agreed when I mentioned my reaction to this particular performance. “It’s scary to go up there. You’re not sure you’ll even be able to remember what you wanted to say.”
Although there are open-mic storytelling nights at which people can just get up and start talking, other events are carefully curated. Just as writers work with editors to shape a work, storytellers may work with event producers to structure their story arc, develop strong beginnings and endings, carefully select the few telling details that will move the story along, and add physicality and expression to the telling.
Unlike writers who may never see their audience actually engage with their words, though, storytellers look their listeners in the eye. Sometimes, this can be tough. “I have told a story that felt like a total bomb,” said Michelle. “No one laughed when I was hoping they would, but I just had to keep going.”
But mostly, she said, facing her audience gives her energy. “People who are listening, they just want a good story. The beauty of a particular turn of phrase doesn’t matter. They’ll stay with you as you look for the words.”
Now that I’ve attended The Flame, I plan to make time for more listening in my life. Thanks to some tips from Michelle, I’m on the watch for the next renditions of storytelling events like The Record Club, Story Story Lie, This Really Happened, and Confabulation. And on my starting podcast playlist are The Moth, This American Life, and Serial.
How about you? What are you listening to?