This weekend, Kevin Allison, creator and host of the live storytelling podcast RISK!, will run a two-day storytelling workshop focusing on composing, developing and refining the personal story. As a seasoned comedian, Kevin is a member of MTV’s legendary comedy troupe The State. He has also appeared in Reno 911!, The Ten, VH1′s Best Week Ever, Comedy Central’s Viva Variety and Stella and HBO’s Flight of the Conchords. Clearly he’s an accomplished performer and storyteller, but I was curious to know how he got started working in the field of storytelling. Our interview is below.
This weekend’s storytelling workshop with Kevin Allison is sold out, but Kevin returns
to FPA the weekend of May 4th. 5 spots remain. Click here for more info and to enroll.
JM: Kevin, how did your relationship with FPA begin?
KA: One day FPA’s former Programming Coordinator, Liz Green reached out to me about having lunch and to let me know about FPA. I was so taken aback that there was so much going on in Philadelphia. She was describing these shows that FPA does, supporting people doing performance, and I thought, “Oh my gosh, we should be doing something in conjunction with you guys.” I love to see other organizations doing their own thing. I think it’s a lot healthier when more independent groups dump into the mix because there’s a lot of freedom to be found in doing things independently.
When we finally did a big show with FPA as part of the 11th Annual First Person Arts Festival, I was so impressed with everyone on the staff. Everyone was so eager and helpful and very much behind what RISK! is about. RISK! can sometimes be funky to bring into a new town or theatre because we push the envelope; we’re bound to have a story that could offend some people or just might be so emotionally raw that people aren’t ready for something that challenging. But FPA totally got behind us and said, “Yeah, we want to see how risky some of our storytellers can get.”
It was one of the most magical nights because we had four Philly storytellers plus myself and Janeane Garofalo. There were moments when some audience members were like, “I don’t know what to do. I wasn’t expecting something so loaded.” It was a jam-packed evening of entertainment. I turned to FPA’s Executive Director, Jamie Brunson at that point and said, “We wanna get back here ASAP.”
JM: Talk to me about what these storytelling workshops will offer participants.
KA: There will be people with plenty of experience but who have never done a workshop, so they aren’t aware of the techniques that can be employed. Then there will be people who have no performing skills, who work 9-5 and they will be the person that blows everyone away. Storytelling is about your personal best. It’s so much about letting go of your inhibitions and allowing yourself to invest all the feelings, the memories, the vividness of the experience. Letting it be just as traumatic as it was at the time. It’s okay to lower your voice and slow down and maybe even cry a little bit if you come to a point in the story that fits that. If your story is about a time when you were completely a nervous wreck–it’s okay to let your storytelling be a little nervous and bouncing off the walls. It’s about encouraging people to see that your actual personality is enough to ride on, you don’t have to become some sort of master thespian; you just have to live in it.
JM: What makes for a good story?
KA: A lot of people forget that you don’t just generalize and summarize. A lot of people think, “oh it’s best to keep this as summarized as possible so it’s not getting specific and people can understand what I’m talking about and I’m not wasting anyone’s time.” In fact, we really want you to get into what was so distinct about how things looked or what the sensations going on in your body were or how a sound struck a chord in you. We want all of those sensory details; we want you to, when you get to a point in the story that was particularly significant to you, give us the play-by-play of what you were saying, hearing, thinking, and feeling. I want to teach people to get into the juicy details and really paint the picture of what it was like.
JM: How would you recommend getting started to someone wanting to tell a story?
KA: I always say the first place to look when crafting a story are your emotions. I always encourage people to think: what were the times in my life when I was most terrified? Most giddy? Head over heels in love? So excited and inspired by a new opportunity? Filled with shame or embarrassment? To get people thinking in those terms. A lot of times the big thing people struggle with is distinguishing an anecdote from a full. Once you’ve zeroed in on the emotion, then you need to start asking “how” and “why” questions. Why was I away from home that day? How did I learn the news about my dog dying? A lot of it will start coming back to you; you’ll be totally surprised–when you start composing a story,
I’m always amazed at little memories that pop up because they are the “hows” and “whys” that bridge everything together. Even after going through that process, you might realize, no, the day my dog died isn’t right, there’s not enough there, but it might occur to you after asking those questions how that incident is part of a larger story. It might be “incident no. 2″ in a three part story.
JM: What will a first-time storyteller take away from these workshops?
KA: When you first start telling stories, it does strike you how therapeutic it is because you start re-living and making sense of events. It’s a necessary part of life to re-live things we’ve been through and process them a little more now that we have some time away from them. To say, “Oh yeah that changed me” or “I can learn new things from that based on the situation I’m in right now.” What you don’t expect is once you share the story, it’s no longer just about you. Then people start coming to you and saying “I heard your story and it inspired me to call my mother” and you realize your story was a jumping off point for other people’s stories. That is when some of us become storytellers–that is the real soul food, the story takes on a life of its own in the lives of others.
JM: What is your favorite part about these workshops?
KA: I’ve been teaching monthly workshops since I started RISK! in August of 2009. It took me by surprise how much I loved the teaching because now my life is continually enriched by hearing other people’s stories. There’s something that’s very humbling and a great honor to be on the receiving end as a coach of people trying some of this stuff out for the first time. I do feel like a therapist sometimes in that people will come to me with very loaded stuff. We spend so much time in our head and the time in our heads can get very negative and then it’ll be time to sit down with someone over Skype and I’ll just get lost listening to someone for a while. There’s something enormously therapeutic about that–getting out of your head, living vicariously and understanding another person’s experience and feelings. There’s something so therapeutic about listening.
The Philly workshops can be especially emotional because everyone’s aware that they only have 2 days to do something, so they bring their all. The first day is spent talking about various principles, various techniques, a person is workshopping one story throughout the day. The next day we meet is like a show, each person telling their story and getting feedback from everyone in the room. It’s the first time we hear the entire story. It can be such an emotional couple of hours. I would like to figure out, as the story studio goes on, how people can stay involved and continue to connect to one another because on the second day everyone will leave saying, “Oh we’re all family now!” I want to find a way to facilitate more of that, give them more opportunities to stay together and try new stuff.
JM: What have you learned from doing these workshops?
KA: In fact, we all have an unlimited amount of stories. The things you learn in the workshop about how to make things more vivid, how to trigger emotions–I’ll hear from HR a couple days later, Frank used to be so shy and unable to communicate the most basic thing but after going through that workshop, he has loosened up. That’s what I love to hear! That people realize that everything that we teach can be applied to even just chit-chat over lunch. It’s all very applicable to the rest of your life.
JM: If you’ve missed out on these workshops, what other options are there?
KA: The Story Studio has one-on-one coaching over Skype. I’m often meeting with someone one-on-one and coaching them through storytelling. We have our video lecture course, which you can take in your own time by watching the videos. There are a lot of opportunities even when we’re not in town.
-Janine Merolla, FPA Marketing Intern
FPA fans know twice-monthly StorySlams = good times. So we asked ourselves, what if there was a way to wrap up all the Slam fun, laughs, and “realness” so that you can take the Slam experience with you anywhere you’d like?
We’re trying to start a new storytelling podcast, the First Person Arts Podcast, in fact. “FPA’s vision is to be a platform for artists and everyday people to share the personal stories they must tell now,” says Jamie J. Brunson (pictured left), First Person Arts Executive Director and Podcast Host. “The FPA Podcast is a powerful way to amplify these stories throughout the region and the world, and connect us through our unique and shared experiences.”
FPA is trying to make it happen through a Kickstarter campaign. The goal of the campaign is to raise enough money so we can hire award-winning radio producer and First Person Arts fan, Yowei Shaw (pictured right), and provide additional tech support for a full year’s worth of podcasts- 52 episodes in all. Yowei has produced segments for Fresh Air with Terry Gross, Studio 360, Morning Edition and more.
“It boils down to one thing,” says Shaw, “if you love to hear stories that entertain you, make you laugh and cry, and teach you something about the way the world works, then you should definitely support an FPA podcast. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked away from watching an FPA StorySlam feeling this elevated sense of awareness and genuine human connection. I thrive on that stuff. And if you do too, this is the podcast to support.”
If funded, the podcast will feature stories from our live events as well as fresh stories submitted through a hotline. Anyone can call in with their story. That means we could be hearing stories from places like Charleston, Austin, Detroit, Portland, you name it! Maybe even from around the world?
So far, the project has generated a lot of buzz among FPA fans, storytellers, and story-lovers alike. With 14 days remaining in the campaign, we’ve raised over $2,600 towards our $15,000 goal. But we need to raise the full $15,000 or else we lose all of the money raised so far. And a gift from you at any size helps reach that goal!
Project backers are eligible to receive rewards like an exclusive invitation to the FPA Podcast launch party, original artwork, free Slam admission, and more.
We believe that everyone has a story to tell and sharing those stories connects us with each other and the world. Help us make those connections even stronger by joining the 70+ others who have said “yes” to a First Person Arts podcast.
Michael’s had a lot of crushes in his life. In fact, he’s had so many that he likens having a crush on someone to having a cold. It makes sense really, to liken a crush to an infectious germ invasion that high-jacks your body and your ability to think clearly.
Michael was a first-time Slam attendee, but that didn’t stop him from putting his name in the bucket for a chance to get up on stage and tell a story on the night’s theme, “Crush.” Michael’s story was a heart-felt tribute to his crush of 42 years who faithfully cheered him on from the bar amidst the packed crowd at World Cafe Live. He told about how over the years, despite regrets, hard times, and two marriages, what he can only describe as “good omens” have kept pointing him back to his true love.
Michael won in a tie break against frequent FPA storyteller, Marjorie. Click here to watch them vie in a story-off on the theme “Mistake.”
Winning Storyteller, Michael – First Person Arts StorySlam – “Crush”
Congratulations Michael! Congrats also to Audience Favorite Storyteller, Katie. Katie’s story told of the time she pretended to be a hard-core camper to impress the hot group leader on her community service trip. But with one simple mix up about sanitation procedures her crush might be no longer be a happy camper. Click here to watch Katie’s Audience Favorite story.
Join us for the next and FINAL Slam of the season:
Tuesday, April 23
Theme: Geek Out
Location: L’Etage (6th and Bainbridge Streets)
Time: Doors at 7:30PM, Slam starts at 8:30PM
Want to skip the line and guarantee a seat in the front 2 rows? BUY your VIP tix today!
Kitty’s in the business of other peoples infidelities. That is to say, she’s a private investigator. So, when she told the packed crowd at last night’s Slam about the time she was hired by the “Church Lady” to go undercover, Dana Carvey’s 1990′s comedy routine came to my mind. You remember… “Well isn’t that special?!”
Carvey’s sketch character pretty much sums up the woman from Kitty’s story- your iconic personification of virtue complete with orthopedic oxfords. In her story, the “Church Lady” hires Kitty to snoop on her husband who she suspects is not as virtuous as she.
How many sinners will turn up by the end of Kitty’s story? The answer may surprise you. Watch the video of her winning performance from last night’s Slam below.
Winning Storyteller, Kitty: “Virtue and Vice” StorySlam
Congratulations Kitty! Congratulations also to Audience Favorite, Steve. Tune into the First Person Arts YouTube channel to watch videos from Steve and all of our other storytellers from last night. The theme was “Virtue and Vice.”
Join us next time:
Monday, April 8: Crush
World Cafe Live (3025 Walnut St.)
$10 at the door, $8 for FPA members
Women are powerful. Women’s History Month (this month) thinks so, and so does First Person Arts. So, last night’s StorySlam on the theme “Girl Power” at World Cafe Live allowed audience members the opportunity to share and hear true stories that celebrate female empowerment.
Our winning story came from frequent FPA storyteller, Hillary. You may have seen her before either hosting or telling stories at a Slam. You may have also seen her at the 2012 First Person Arts Festival in the program
In her story, Hillary decides she’s had enough of the male dominant material and behavior that is prominent around the stand-up comedy scene. So she turns the tables, dumps her usual opening jokes and… adds a sexy spin to her comedy routine? Find out who’s laughing now in the video of her winning performance.
Congratulations Hillary! Congratulations also to Audience Favorite Storyteller, Arielle. Arielle’s story tells about the one and only time she’s ever been in a fight. But as she warns in the opening of her story, “before you get excited, keep in mind you don’t know how it turned out.” Visit our YouTube channel and watch Arielle’s Audience Favorite story and videos from all FPA storytellers.
Thanks to all who came out to last night’s Slam! Special thanks to all of our storytellers.
Join us next time:
Tuesday, March 26: Virtue and Vice
L’Etage (6th and Bainbridge Streets)
Doors at 7:30PM, Slam Starts at 8:30PM
Why wait? Click here to purchase VIP tickets and get an exclusive seat in the front two rows.
“Danger” was a theme that hit close to home for both our Winning and Audience Favorite storytellers from last night’s Slam.
When his train-wreck of a landlady calls him home to deal with a leak in his apartment, winning storyteller Andrew (the self-proclaimed neurotic) is flooded with fear. Faced with a crisis of his own, last night’s Audience Favorite, Anthony gives two strangers his home address, house keys, and specific instructions to fetch his wallet from the kitchen table.
Will our Winning and Audience Favorite Storytellers return to find their homes intact or destroyed? Watch the videos of their stories below and find out!
Winning Storyteller, Andrew. Theme: “Danger”
Audience Favorite Storyteller, Anthony. Theme: “Danger”
Congratulations Andrew and Anthony! Special thanks to all of our storytellers who’ve wandered on the dangerous side and have lived to tell their tales. Tune in to the FPA YouTube Channel to watch all of last night’s stories.
Last night, First Person Arts celebrated Valentine’s Day the way we do best: with stories of love sought, lost, and unrequited during two back-to-back sold-out shows at World Cafe Live. The theme was “Ex-Files.” The second show featured a tale by special guest, Anna Goldfarb, the writer behind the popular dating blog www.ShmittenKitten.com, and author of the new humor memoir, Clearly, I Didn’t Think This Through.
Dating can be a wild ride. Just ask last night’s late show Slam winner and Audience Favorite, Steve. Steve told an endearing tale about being unable to contain himself during an awkward high school date at a church carnival. Like most carnival rides, Steve’s tale comes full circle. His circle: A simple and uplifting reminder that regardless of what comes up, life goes on.
Our early show winner, Megan would agree. Her story told about a born again bank robber who stole more than just her heart. Megan already believed in life after death, but this man taught her that life also goes on after love.
Former Grand Slam winner, Marjorie won over the crowd at the early show, taking the title of Audience Favorite.
Steve, Winning and Audience Favorite Storyteller: “The Ex-Files Late Show
Megan, Winning Storyteller: “The Ex-Files” Early Show
Stay tuned for more videos from both the early and late shows coming soon to First Person Arts’ YouTube channel.
The “Ex-Files” StorySlams are just two days away! For those of you who have been following along via social media and the FPA blog, you know that we’ve asked FPA fans to share with us their favorite break-up songs to gear up for Thursday’s back-to-back shows. Fourty-plus submissions later, we’ve assembled them into playlists on Spotify. Keep the song requests coming, yall.
Our previous break-up playlists have conjured some tears followed (hopefully) by a sense of empowerment. In the interest of continuing the emotional rollercoster, today’s playlist features up beat break-up jams. I like to think of this playlist as the “acceptance” stage of the healing process following a failed relationship. My favorite has to be No Hard Feelings by Bloodhound Gang submitted by Frank. Song contains adult content. We call this playlist, “Heart Strings.” Enjoy!
Be our Valentine and get your “Ex-Files” tix now.
Last week we posted our first break-up song playlist to help get you in the mood for Thursday’s back-to-back “Ex-Files” StorySlams. Our second playlist takes an empowering tone with songs Hit ‘Em Up Style by Blu Cantrell, Untouchable Face by Ani Difranco, Smile by Lily Allen and more, submitted by FPA fans like Alyssa, Donald, and Amanda. We call this one “You Go Girl.”
This year’s back-to-back “Ex-Files” StorySlams are less than a week away. We’ve asked FPA fans through Facebook and Twitter to share with us their go-to songs for getting through heart-ache. Over 35 submissions later, we’ve created playlists of some of the most heart wrenching tunes on Spotify to help get you in the mood for next week’s Slams.
First up, our “Cry into Pillow” playlist. Guaranteed to snotify you via Spotify. Curl up with a tear-sodden pillow and enjoy this playlist of some seriously sniffly sob songs.
Tickets are selling fast! Click here for event details and to purchase your “Ex-Files” StorySlam tickets.