I started telling stories in front of audiences a few years ago. The first one was for a talent show at the Centre for Social Innovation. I was a wreck, but I think it went okay. People laughed where they were supposed to laugh, silent where they were supposed to be silent.
A lot has changed since then. I was privileged to find some other like-minded people and together we started Stories We Don’t Tell, a show with deeply personal stories that take place in different apartments and houses in Toronto. That was three years ago and at the time, I dived right into the vibrant storytelling scene in the city.
Dived in a bit too soon.
Look, I’m not a natural performer or a standup comedian. I still get incredibly nervous and anxious before a show. I don’t do a lot of shows because there’s so much to prepare. There is no ‘winging it’ with me, there is no ‘sure, I’ll fill a spot in your show tonight’ - just thinking about that kind of thing makes me feel ill.
Three years ago, I did too many shows and they started to lose their excitement. I finally hit a wall when I presented a story that was very important to me and I couldn’t find the emotional beats to it.
So, I stopped.
The only show I did for a long time was Stories We Don’t Tell. Yes, every show producer will tell you they have the best audience, but it’s not true. Stories We Don’t Tell gets the best audience. We put up a lot of blocks just to be an audience member. You have to really want to come. Our audience is actively listening and completely engaged with the storytellers.
At our event, I just started trying different things. You know when you start writing and so many people say, “It takes a while to find your writing voice.” When you’re young, you don’t believe this. But, it is true. Same thing goes for finding your performing voice. A few months ago, I told a story with a friend of mine about our side career as private investigators. Something happened at that event, something locked in. I tried a different story in the same style the next month and it worked. And again and again. Performing in front of an audience was becoming fun and challenging again as every month I kept seeing how far I could push this new style.
During my time of only focusing on performing at Stories We Don’t Tell, I also learned a great deal about the audience. Checking out other events, I became hyper aware of how performers interacted - or didn’t interact - with the audience. Sure, I get it, some performers don’t care about the audience, that’s fine. You do you. Once I caught on to how you could quickly develop a relationship with them, it’s almost like my audience now becomes a part of the story. I mean, there’s no story without an audience.
At the beginning of the summer, I started thinking about trying to bring my new style to events outside Stories We Don’t Tell. We’ll see what happens. On July 23, I’ll be performing at KATBARET! - hosted by the incredible Kat Leonard. There will be music, laughter, dancing, stories and shenanigans! Come.
I picked three short stories that went over very well in the past. Of course, I set about changing them, thinking I’m making them better. Then I read one of them to some friends and realized my mistake: trust your stories! Yes, tweak them here and there, develop them, evolve them, adjust them for this show. However, keep what works, edit the rest out. Trust yourself. A good story is a good story. Come on, man!
I'm very excited about performing, but am more than a little anxious. I’m sure it will go fine … right? Right … ?