A night for stories from the heart: The Austin Storytellers Project returns June 1
The stories come from the heart, not the head.
If you want to be dazzled by facts, head to an instructive TED Talk, or maybe instead, attend a delightfully eccentric Nerd Night Austin affair, which, according to the group's Facebook page, plans to return to in-person events later this year.
At the Austin Storytellers Project, however, you will hear personal anecdotes taken from lived experiences. Organized by the American-Statesman and the USA Today Network, the performances offer insight into your community and, if all goes right, perhaps spark a measure of empathy.
We could all use a little more of that in our lives.
Get tickets:Austin Storytellers Project is back June 1
Austin project leader Nell Carroll fashioned the first local storytelling event at Spider House Ballroom in February around the subject of growing up. The project returns at 7 p.m. June 1 to the same venue with — by audience request — a longer line-up of raconteurs.
This time the theme will be community, neighbors and family.
Teacher Kevin Garcia, for instance, will talk insightfully and amusingly about "coming from a long line of slackers." Garcia grew up on the Texas-Mexico border in a family of resolutely unconventional stoics. He employs these stories to prompt his high school students to write about their own families.
Carroll will tell the suspenseful tale of her first-hand experiences with the Bastrop County Complex Fire in October 2011. During the time when the fires threatened her neighborhood, her house and her family, she was torn by a sense of duty as a photojournalist to document the breaking-news disaster.
I happen to know their subjects well because I've been serving as a storytelling coach for the project, specifically for Garcia and Carroll during this round.
For his part, comedy podcaster and project storyteller Abel Lomas will talk about the joy to be gained by meeting neighbors, the theme of his performance.
"Strangers are just friends we've yet to meet," Lomas says. "We've lived in isolation during COVID times. Mental illness, depression and divorce have all been on the rise. There has never been a more important time to build community and share joy with others."
Laramie Boyd Gorbett will talk about the time, 20 years ago, when many of her neighbors were not human.
"Before grad school I lived and worked at a monkey sanctuary in South Texas," Gorbett says. "My neighbors were Japanese macaques, vervets and baboons. There was complete chaos and total shenanigans from the human and non-human residents."
Amanda Johnston of Round Rock is a writer and the founder of TorchLiteraryArts.org, a nonprofit that creates opportunities for Black women writers.
For her Storytellers' anecdote, Johnston will tell about her former neighbor Bill and his friendship with her family while they were going through a difficult time.
"In 2000, newly married and new to being a military spouse, I packed up my daughter and all of our belongings and moved to Fort Knox, Kentucky, with my husband, Sgt. Johnston," she says. "This was a huge change from Austin, where I was raised. It was a big post in a small town and I didn't know what to expect.
"I was especially worried about making new friends and building a new community for my family. We were thrilled to discover a friend who had served with my husband in Fort Hood would be our new neighbor on base. He was a single dad with daughters the same age as mine and just a great guy overall."
Jennifer Charlene Toon will talk about leaps of faith that have led from dark days to, so far, happy endings.
"I spent a total of two decades in prison," Toon says, "and when I got out in 2019, I struggled on a strict ankle monitor working two minimum wage jobs in rural East Texas. I struggled with depression and despair.
"I had dreamt for years while I was incarcerated of doing advocacy work in the heart, the mecca of Texas known as Austin. That vision kept me going, that hope of purpose and meaning helped me get up each day.”
You want to hear these stories.
Austin Storytellers Project
When: 7 p.m. June 1 (doors at 6 p.m.)
Where: Spider House Ballroom, 2906 Fruth St.
Cost: $8-12 (best to purchase in advance; the last show sold out)