When Emerson Wells ’18 picked a turtle off the street one Fourth of July weekend several summers ago, he knew little of the turtle’s true potential. It was not until his family entered him into the town’s local turtle race that it became clear that this turtle was exceptional.
This story and six others received claps, not snaps, at this year’s StorySlam Nov. 17. Not just any claps, either — loud, clamorous applause after every story, punctuated with hoots and hollers of appreciation for each storyteller. Practically each moment in a story that had even a hint of humor was met with an onslaught of laughter from the audience.
Needless to say, StorySlam is not an event that goes unnoticed or unappreciated in the Brown community. Held in Kassar Fox House, the crowd was pouring in 15 minutes before, and the venue was packed 10 minutes later. Hosted about twice a year by the Storytellers’ club, the event gives seven storytellers the opportunity to present a true story to a large audience — this year’s Friday crowd was around 100 to 125 people.
From turtle races to cross-country train rides, the stories did not fall under any one category. Sam Reidt ’19 chronicled a particularly engaging tale of being a gay “seven-year veteran of St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Greenville, South Carolina.” After searching for friendship as an insecure middle schooler, he eventually became friends with the “biggest, baddest religion teacher of them all” — before realizing his place after classes was in the “cool liberal teacher clique.”
Audience member Katie Matora ’19 said she appreciated the visual element of storytelling that one can’t get from reading a story, as well as the bravery of the storytellers.
“Seeing the expressions on people’s faces when they tell their stories, you can’t fake that. You can’t read that,” she said. “It takes so much courage to speak in front of a crowd and to share something that is important to you or something that you thought is exciting, and I really admire that.”
Besides Wells and Reidt, Isabelle Doyle’s ’19 story focused on her family’s obsession with telling her that she was born in a Dunkin’ Donuts. Adam Janik ’19.5 relayed the story of his half-finished marathon and Delaney Williams ’19 talked about understanding her relationship with her father. Meanwhile, Julia Tompkins ’18 accidentally obtained “dirty sex money” — her words — and Madison White ’18 went to Disney World, where her mom went to the hospital and a nurse attempted to exact revenge.
The seven stories this year ranged from humorous to more serious. In the past, comedic stories have typically prevailed.
“In the past few years, we’ve definitely expanded the range of stories that people will try out with and tell,” said Leah Steans-Gail ’18, an organizer of the event. “We had our first content warning … two years ago.”
Abby Neill ’19 and Steans-Gail run the Storytellers’ club and the StorySlam. They offer auditions two to three weeks before the event — 20 to 25 auditioned this year, according to Steans-Gail — where anyone with a story or idea can come tell it. Once Neill and Steans-Gail choose the storytellers, they meet with them one-on-one to give feedback. For a full week before the slam, they practice the stories as a group for two hours each night.
“The stories you see, they’ve changed a lot from the ones most people audition with,” Neill said.
“A big part of it is time,” Steans-Gail said. “We try to keep it short, because people will leave early and that’s not fair for the storytellers at the end.”
The storytellers also work on comedic timing and how to get past nervousness, Neill added.
The StorySlam wrapped up in about an hour and twenty minutes, and the crowd left in high spirits. Though Kassar Fox House is small, as everyone stood up to leave, it was clear how many had packed into the room to listen to the stories.
And, by the way, Wells’ turtle won the turtle race — out of over 1,000 turtles.