A date takes a wrong turn and ends up in an orgy; someone spontaneously kisses a cab driver with irresistible eyes; McDonald’s serves as the backdrop for a break up; a guy decides he’d rather stay single than fall in love with a girl named Aphrodite.
Though these may sound like plot points in a Sex and the City episode, the truth is that, well, these scenarios are actually true. These are descriptions of real stories carried around by everyday people living in Boulder and, at Truth Be Told’s first-ever event, an audience got to hear every juicy, awkward, or bittersweet detail — all told live.
“There’s something so ancient about being in a room full of people telling stories,” says Truth Be Told co-founder Nina Rolle. “It’s human; it’s basic — I had a number of people after the show come up to me and say how magical it was.”
Rolle — who has blogged for Boulder Weekly in the past — and Johanna Walker couldn’t be more pleased with their “Thwarted Love”-themed show in February. There was a line out the door when 90 people showed up at Shine Restaurant & Gathering Place to listen to fellow audience members tell tales from their lives. But the tradition of oral storytelling isn’t only finding its renaissance in Boulder; NPR’s Snap Judgment and even TED Talks have provided outlets for people to share their stories or ideas. One of the best-known examples is The Moth podcast. The Moth has gained popularity for giving ordinary people a stage and a mic for the specific purpose of telling amazing stories that happen to be true. The podcast inspired Rolle and Walker, but they ended up launching their Boulder version on their own.
“I have been a long-time listener of The Moth, so I emailed them and said, ‘How do I go about starting something here?’ and they said, ‘Good luck! Have a great time!’” Walker says. “They didn’t have much to offer.”
Rolle is the creator of Zen Cabaret, which has been performed several times at the Boulder International Fringe Festival, and Walker teaches performing arts classes like Fearless Solos: Writing and Performing Your Stories. With their combined experience and some guidance from story slams in other cities, they were able to bring their show to fruition. Rolle and Walker serve as the show’s emcees and perform short theatrical sound-art pieces throughout the evening.
However, the focus is on Truth Be Told’s randomly selected performers, who not only tell stories, but compete against each other, much like they would in a poetry slam. At first Rolle was tentative about turning storytelling into a contest, but Walker says there a lot of benefits to raising the stakes.
“I used to do poetry slams, and what I found was that people really brought a different kind of energy and they really thought about their delivery and the performance,” Walker says. “The slam really makes for a good show.”
At the start of the show, the hosts choose 10 storytellers by drawing names out of a hat. Each performer gets five minutes to perform a story that relates to the night’s theme, and five judges will assess the stories on a 10-point scale: three points for keeping the time limit, three points for sticking to the theme, and four points for sheer “storytelling awesomeness.” The winners will have the chance to participate in an All-Star Slam at the end of 2013.
Similar to the guidance given to speakers in The Moth, Rolle and Walker also offer a workshop called “How to Tell an Awesome Story” that helps novice performers polish their stage presence and story arc. And as they continue putting on bi-monthly shows, the audience should become familiar with the process and expectations. However, Walker says that their first storytellers were already pretty comfortable getting up in front of the crowd.
“Some of them may have been nervous, but they still really showed up for the job. Nobody chickened out,” Walker says. “On the contrary, halfway through the evening more people wanted to put their name in the hat, once they saw that the vibe was very friendly and laid back. More people were like ‘I want to tell! I have a story!’”
Though the tone of their first Truth Be Told about love was generally light-hearted, Rolle and Walker are looking forward to potentially hearing more serious stories at their second Shine show on April 14. The theme is “About Face,” which can be interpreted in a variety of different ways. Rolle says it’s exciting to imagine how people will relate a theme to their own lives and experiences.
“Did you ever just pull a U-turn or just change your mind or turn around entirely? Or you could even just tell a story about a face, or about your own face if you want,” Rolle says. “So we kind of left it a little ambiguous and we’re curious to see what people go for in this next slam.”
Truth Be Told starts at 7 p.m. on Sunday, April 14, at Shine Restaurant & Gathering Place Tickets are $5 at the door, and patrons interested in telling a story are advised to arrive early. For more information, visit http://www.johannawalker.com/truth-be-told.