They say everybody has a story. And Abby Lublin wants to hear them all.
Abby is the founder of the monthly Front Parlor storytelling series in Troy.
We've been meaning to make it over for a few months, and last night we were part of the standing-room-only crowd at The Ale House.
Front Parlor is a chance to tell, and listen to other people tell, five minute, true stories. It's kind of like The Moth, which has become pretty popular on public radio and in cities around the country. That's where Front Parlor founder Abby Lublin first got into storytelling.
Lublin used storytelling as a teacher in New York City. "I always did storytelling in my classroom and I saw the effect it had on the culture of my classroom when we told real, true narrative non-fiction stories. It broke all these barriers and we saw each other as more human -- and it built up trust so we could do all sorts of things in the classroom, so I've always believed in the power of storytelling ."
While working at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, she had a chance to help host some Moth shows. "The legal capacity of The Nuyorican is about 125 people and it was like a fire marshal's wet dream every month because we packed 300-something people into that space -- and you could feel the palpable energy of what happens when people reveal themselves on that stage -- and what it does for audience. It really is a gift to listen and it transforms people and how they interact with each other -- like we've both experienced someone else's story in this same space, and that really elevates our humanity."
When Lublin moved to Troy, she knew she wanted to create a storytelling series, but she built in some elements that would make it decidedly different from what she experienced in New York. "I come from an environment in New York which is awesome and draws a ton of people -- but it's mostly about one-upsmanship. I didn't want that. I want to know people. I want to go out and bump into people on the street and feel like I know them."
Lublin has created a supportive environment at The Ale House, where you get to know the people sitting next to you, and strangers support storytellers as if they were friends. You don't get the sense that anyone is posing -- it's like this tiny little part of Troy where people get to let their guard down for a couple of hours and be themselves. During intermission you're encouraged to talk to the people around you, hear their stories and tell them yours. And, you know what? People do it. The event seems to dissolve a lot of barriers.
Front Parlor starts at 7:30, but when we arrived at 7, the place was practically SRO. We met a lot of regulars, but there were a fair amount of first timers as well.
Last night's audience was made up of people from a wide range of ages and backgrounds. Each night has a theme -- last night's was scars -- both physical and emotional. Some of the storytellers were regulars -- like Annie, a 66-year-old who Lublin describes as "Troyalty." "Annie is almost building a series -- we all knew about her husband and her house in the woods. This is the 7th one and Annie has told a story every time. She keeps revealing these layers of almost the same story and when you tell your story every week it becomes a meta story."
In the last seven months Lublin has heard a wide range of tales, from one about the school group that stumbled on the gorillas having sex at The Bronx Zoo, to one about a guy grappling with substance abuse and pain, to one about the guy who owned a British sports car and put his friend's St. Bernard in the left seat to make it look like the dog was driving. "I just love it. I really believe in depth. So many people get together and hold talky dinner parties where they're posturing and it's like verbal resumes or something -- and I just want people to get in a room together and really reveal something of themselves."
Last night's stories ranged from a 12-year-old's tale of a bad camp experience to a 93-year-old's story about the time he made up a story. In between there were moments that made the audience collectively laugh, gasp and groan.
Somehow the storytellers managed to avoid the cringe-worthy moments we feared -- but we're pretty sure even those might have been less cringe-worthy in this environment. It's like the audience provides a soft landing where you could take a dive and know you're going to bounce. It's less spectacle and more "Hey guys, here's what happened to me..."
Between stories, Lublin tells a few stories of her own and shares some audience stories from index cards collected from the tables -- so everyone feels like they are part of the event.
The whole night is about connecting to other people -- so if that's something you're looking for, it's worth checking out. For now, even though they crowd is SRO, the plan is to stay at The Ale House. "I love the intimacy of this space -- this is the origin, and the community that has formed here is so powerful and a big part of making it what it is. And when you think about Troy , The Ale house is an institution.
Lublin has been approached by folks from Saratoga, Albany and other communities, and says she's happy to help them set up story series of their own. "I'd like to see this idea expand to all kinds of spaces," Lublin says. "Listening is an act of love."
Elsewhere: Tim was also there the same night -- and it sounds like he had a good time, too.
The Ale House
680 River Street
Troy, NY 12180
2nd Tuesday of every month at 7:30
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