Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Get Lit: Storytelling, Live Lit, and The Birth of First Draft

Photo Credit: Brittany Cagle
This week, I am pleased to announce another guest blogger -- my fellow MFA colleague, Jay Thompson! Over the last two years, I have been consistently blown away by Jay's energy and "go get it" spirit. She is full of great ideas, and she's the kind of person who makes anything happen! I will also say that she is the most thoughtful person in our program, never forgetting a single person's birthday and always leaving treatsies in our mailboxes. In addition, she is one of the creators of an awesome lit mag, Weirderary!

With no further ado -- Jay Thompson schools us on Live Lit!


Given that storytelling birthed story writing, I am surprised that more writers aren’t interested in the art form. While I am no storytelling scholar, I know that the earliest recorded stories were shared orally from generation to generation before they made their way onto paper (or, originally, rock). It makes sense; before humans could write, they could talk.

Clearly, storytelling as a practice continues. Families pass down their histories by talking to their children. Employees gather on Mondays and tell the tales of their weekends. Lovers share the stories of their lives in whispers. Still, there is a difference between storytelling as day-to-day communication and storytelling as an art.

Storytelling as an art involves the use of many craft elements utilized in writing. A good story generally builds in tension that reaches a climax and has a satisfying ending. Telling it well on stage requires effort, planning, and practice. While a writer cannot choose the pace at which their reader reads a story, the storyteller has complete control over pacing, tone, voice volume, facial expressions, gestures, etc., all which add to the audience’s interpretation of the story.

Also, storytelling is dynamic while a piece of writing is largely static. Once a written story is published, it does not change. A story told aloud, however, cannot be told in the exact same way twice. This adds a “live” aspect that is not present in traditional readings. Storytelling is like standup comedy in the sense that the storyteller must practice the story over and over, in order for it to, ironically, sound natural, unstilted. At the same time, storytelling is unpredictable. The storyteller might shorten or lengthen sections of the story based on her mood that night or the reaction she is receiving from the audience.

I grew to love “live lit”—literary events that involve something beyond writers reading their work off of a page—while living in Chicago, a live lit and storytelling mecca. The Moth, which is out of NYC but has two monthly events in Chicago, is one of the most well-known storytelling events, and was the first large event at which I told a story. Each event is centered around a theme, and stories must be true and told without any notes. Moth attendees do not know who will read in advance—storytellers are chosen randomly after the event begins—and the audience votes for a winner at the end of the night. (And there is a Moth Story Slam in Miami TONIGHT! June 14th, Olympia Theater, 7PM)

I also particularly enjoyed telling stories at I Shit You Not, a storytelling event dedicated to the always embarrassing and usually funny stories about the bodily functions, and the Depression Hour Open Mic, a now-defunct event where people told their saddest true stories (think standup comedy if the goal was to make the audience cry instead of laugh). (My involvement in Chicago’s live lit scene barely scratched the surface. Check here, here, and here to learn about more events.)

After settling down in Tampa, I was surprised and disappointed to learn that the city lacks a live lit and storytelling scene. In fact, most of the writers I’ve met in Florida are unfamiliar with the term “live lit.” As I searched, I found that Wordier Than Thou put on occasional live lit events in St. Petersburg, and the SunLit Festival hosted yearly live lit events, but there were no monthly live lit events in Tampa.

I'm excited to say that I was a reader at the FIRST First Draft!
My classmates, T.J. Murray, Colleen Kolba, and myself, created First Draft, a reading/storytelling/live lit event, in order to bring more live lit to Tampa. We want Tampa writers and the local general public alike to learn the joys of the art of storytelling. At each event, at least two writers read their written work. Between readings, we incorporate interactive games with the audience and on-the-spot storytelling.  We began First Draft in my apartment and have been holding events at Southern Brewing & Winemaking in Seminole Heights since January of 2016. It meets on the third Thursday of every month and is free to attend. If you’re in the area, please stop by!

If you are interested in live lit but live in an area that does not have a thriving live lit scene, consider starting your own event. It isn’t as difficult as it sounds! Many live lit events have corresponding podcasts (see The Moth, The Narrators) that you can listen to in order to get a feel for how other events are run. Bars, restaurants, and coffee shops are often eager to allow events to run for free on weeknights, since those nights don’t usually draw as many customers. Writers and comedians are always looking for places to read and tell stories, and if you encourage them, your friends will probably be willing to get up on stage, too. Fun for everyone!


And tonight, June 14th, there will be a MOTH STORY SLAM at Miami's historic OLYMPIA THEATER at 7PM!