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Performance Tue May 19 2015

A Month Of... Storytelling at Stage773

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Photo by Ian Spudes

A Month Of... is not alone. On any given night in Chicago, a fan of live literature can find a venue to indulge their hobby. Live lit has a huge scene in Chicago, with beloved storytellers trotting from event to recurring event weekly, and new storytellers arising from the mists frequently.

There is Write Club, the Uptown Poetry Slam and Louder Than a Mom to name a few of the more imaginative literary events. Each has its own set of rules, themes and rituals. At Write Club for instance, speakers compete against each other on a theme opposite theirs. The winner, declared by audience loudness, gets to choose what charity the proceeds of that evening's bounty will benefit.

A Month Of... has its own angle on live lit, one that seems to be evolving to fill a void, but that always involves a potluck meal and has a clear ethos. Dan Boyd, the founder of Story Luck -- the non-profit umbrella organization over several literary ventures -- explained what drives A Month Of... "The theme of friendship, and the idea that these sorts of events are a public good remain at the core of the decisions we make," he said. "Our mission statement is,'We Listen, Tell, and Create New Stories.'"

Each month, storytellers speak about the topic that has been decided upon by vote the previous month. During the month leading up to the show the organizers encourage the audience, followers and storytellers to do activities based around the upcoming theme, to write about it, to share it at the event and to allow it to inspire other stories. "People come as strangers and leave good friends," Boyd explained.

This month the topic was maps, and the hosts Bonnie Fan & Duo moderated what they called a roundtable storytelling open mic, coaxing the small audience up to the stage to sit around and shoot the shit. Because of this, the experience of A Month Of felt more like sitting around a campfire with friends than like other curated live lit shows around town. There were stories about getting lost, mapping your childhood adventures and a suspenseful car race.

Boyd embraces all of the layers of the live lit scene, from telling stories himself, to blogging about the projects. There is even a podcast produced of each story hour. He hopes to inspire collaborative experimental art this way. "Everything we publish is with an open license or in the public domain. We want people to download, adapt, remix, and make these stories their own."

Earlier variations of the show had a different format, with pre-arranged speakers and some chosen spontaneously. According to Boyd, "When we were working on what we now call the Story Luck show, I came to realize that people were being excluded. Shy people, and writers. I wanted the writers of the world to be able to communicate without having to be performers. A Month Of... was my attempt to solve that problem." Perhaps the previous style was too similar to Here's the Story -- another storytelling event co-founded by Boyd, Janna Sobel, Adam Baker, Nathan Smith and Susan Maller that has since been rebranded as Story Luck.

Perhaps Boyd prefers the intimacy of the small group. Although it has a warm authenticity to it that reminds us all how connected we are, there are also unintended drawbacks to this type of intimate expression, namely that certain personality types are more dominant than others when it comes to verbal expression, and without the firm guidance of a moderator and the presence of rules things can quickly become unbalanced. As a result, the more savvy conversationalists had more control over the direction of conversation, leaving the reserved sorts less opportunity to tell stories, which Boyd hoped to avoid by making the event more organic. He is aware of this paradox and explains his work-in-progress. "We have a lot to do to make that aspect of the show robust, but it's something we are actively working on."

In a way, Boyd and friends are trying to hash out a meeting realm between the written and performed word -- a space that doesn't really exist yet -- and they may not have found the perfect platform for it, but it is clear that in the name of art and innovation they will continue to tweak and alter it until they find that sweet spot where writers and storytellers can convene -- hopefully converting both in the process, and probably creating a new genre.

Although A Month Of... could benefit from a little more structure imposed from the moderators, it is a fresh alternative to the larger live lit events, one that blurs the lines between performer and audience and equalizes everyone in the storytelling playing field.

The group chose "Gaslighting: orchestrate a crazy experience..." as next month's topic. Some group discussion was given to the concept of the dark side of gaslighting and it was agreed that the call to stage bizarre events should not be mean-spirited or potentially harmful, but more spectacle -- as with flash mob humor. You're encouraged to join them in a group completion of the task by emailing contact@storyluck.org or fly solo and post your completed piece. Although it isn't required,this will be your chance to stage a spectacle at work, home or in public so that you have something to share at the next A Month Of..., which will be at Stage773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., on June 10. 7:30pm is when the food begins and 8 is when the stories start. $10 to enter or free with food or shared story on the website.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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