“It could’ve been worse, I could’ve stood up there and gotten an erection,” says a middle age man wearing a casual button-down and jeans. He stands on the stage at Studio 222, a fine establishment for a quaint and cozy audience. The setting is intimate, lighting is ideal, atmosphere is light and stories are being told. The question of the night: “Are you telling?”
And so goes the premiere night of The Tell, a community story slam competition held in downtown Fargo. Similar to NPR’s The Moth, The Tell’s mission is to bring storytellers of all backgrounds, abilities, and ages to the stage. Founder of The Tell, Laura Egland, said: “The thing about storytelling from real people is that while, sure, it’s performance, it’s also something deep and meaningful. When someone gets in front of the mic and opens up, you don’t know – they don’t know – if it’s going to be beautiful or if it’s going to be a train wreck. Even well done, some stories are inspirational and hilarious and make you feel fantastic, while others can be horrifying, and really make you look inside yourself. It’s real life, retold.”
Attendees voluntarily submit their name in a hat with a total of ten names being drawn throughout the evening. A panel of judges then votes on an overall winner for the evening that advances to The Tell Off held in April. Stories must be unscripted, prop-free, and true, all while being under six minutes.
The first night’s theme centered around fear. Light-hearted stories ranged from the fear of a beastly Montana spider, gym class nightmares, a Standford “machine that goes ping” designed to distract a three year old in the hospital, to the fear of public speaking during an 8th grade demonstration speech. All were greeted by warm laughter from the audience. The tone of the evening took a turn when a story was shared by a woman who feared her seventh pregnancy would result in a miscarriage as her previous six had but was happy to give birth to her “lucky number seven.” Still, audience members held their breath as another woman shared how her 16-year old son had recently been diagnosed with a lifelong illness and the fear she finally admitted to throughout a tearful delivery.
The show was stolen however, when a girl in her early twenties stood up and spoke of her summer job at Hornbacher’s deli, specifically one significantly frightening day when she was asked to cut ham for a tall, dark, very large Russian man who only positively responded when his ham was cut “slice on slice.” She concluded her story with the line, “wouldn’t have been surprised if that man went home and made love to his two pounds of ham.” She ended up being the evening’s winner, so expect her unbeatable stage presence and another endearing performance come April.
If the rest of 2012-2013 Tell season will be anything like the debut show, expect an ab workout, bring a tissue, and get ready to enjoy beautifully crafted narratives filled with true Midwest character. A central unification of raw, real, everyday life wove its way throughout the cozy setting of the evening. A combination of stories from a collection of backgrounds was a reminder of how uniquely different lives can be, while still being able to be intertwined in so many ways. Regardless of who was in the audience, where they had come from, or where they were going after the show ended, there was a part of each storyteller’s anecdote that one could relate to. Every storyteller spoke with a different voice, literally and figuratively. Some spoke with a direct comedic effect which was met with much audience approval while others delivered with a more poetic, lyrical approach and punch lines that resonated long after they had left the stage. Whether chuckling to themselves as they put together the pieces of a nostalgic memory or wiped back tears and spoke with a quivering inflection, what was most humbling was the amount of conviction with which each story was told, as speakers recalled details of those fearful episodes in their life.
It was a truly enjoyable outing and one of those occasions that encouraged the celebration of life’s unforgettable moments, for better or worse. It pulled a room of initial strangers together and will be bringing them back together next month and the months to follow as true Tell friends. With that being said, be a listener or maybe even a storyteller at The Tell’s next event: Tuesday, November 6 at 7pm, Studio 222, 222 Broadway, Fargo, ND. Next month’s theme is Whoops.