Building community one story at a time

By Tim Dawkins

soapbox badgeI was first introduced to the idea of public storytelling by podcasts like The Moth, Risk, and Story Corps. These compilations of short stories told to typically to live audiences by real people -- just like me, not actors paid to entertain, was something that spoke to me. So when I found out about the Front Parlor storytelling night in Troy I was beyond excited. A regular storytelling night was something that I had been hoping would make its way to the Albany area for some time.

I went to my first one back in August. The immediate feedback from the audience, the validation that your life experiences may be someone else's experiences (or not -- which can make for an even better story), was exactly how I wanted to connect with friends and strangers.

For me, telling stories comes naturally. Ask anyone who knows me. From the mundane to the ridiculous, I've never been one to shy away from sharing my experiences with others. I believe that no matter what you're doing and no matter how you spend your time, if you tell a story you're bound to touch on something that interests someone, somewhere. It may not be the people to whom you are telling it at the moment, but that's beside the point.  

We thrive on being heard. We reminisce because it gives us substance, it helps us to see how far we've come, and how much we've lived.

Storytelling opens doors to communication that may not have been there before. While a typical story night event may last for 2 hours, there is a connection being made not only with the person at the microphone but also among the audience that continues beyond the four walls of the venue. At the break, stories continue to be told by the audience members, and people from all walks of life come together over shared experiences. You would be amazed to find out what you might have in common with a person sitting next to you -- someone that at any other time you likely would have passed by on the street and never spoken to. Storytelling is so much more than just getting up to speak, entertaining an audience, and then sitting down. It's about advancing the human experience simply but powerfully.

And now here in the Capital Region there are three nights a month when we can tell our stories to people who really want to hear them and listen to others

The first local storytelling night -- at The Ale House in Troy-- started with Abby Lublin, a former NYC teacher and urban organizer. She's established an amazing community of storytellers and listeners that meet every month. And it's grown every month, catering to people from all walks of life. Folks come from across the Capital Region to tell their stories each month because they want to make a connection.

Abby likes to say that listening is an act of love. She's right. At storytelling night there is no anger or yelling. There aren't Democrats and Republicans. There isn't brown or white or yellow. There are all of these things swirled together into one big mess of laughter, tears, and applause. There is a room full of mutual respect and love, and it is an amazing thing to witness. From the 90 year old man who shares stories of a time when life was simpler to the college student ready to take on the world, everyone is equal when they are in front of the mic.

There is an ancient Chinese proverb that states "To listen well is as powerful a means of influence as to talk well, and is as essential to all true conversation."

We need more conversation in this world, for sure, but for that we need more than talkers -- we need listeners. So come and share a story, or simply lend an ear.

There's a storytelling night in at Virgil's in Saratoga tomorrow night at 7 at Virgil's House. Here are the regular schedules for all three storytelling nights in the Capital Region. Check one out if you can -- and have fun.

Capital Region Storytelling nights

Front Parlor: Trojan Storytelling
The Ale House, 680 River St., Troy
2nd Tuesday of each month 7:30 PM
Next one: Tuesday, December 13th
Next Topic: Gettin' Busted

Saratoga Speaks: Telling Stories in the Spa City
Virgil's House - 86 Henry St., Saratoga Springs
3rd Monday of each month 7PM
Next one: Monday, November 21st
Next Topic: Thankful

Front Parlor Albany (Brand new!)
The Olde English Pub - 683 Broadway, Albany
Next one: TBA (The first one happened on Monday, November 14th)
Topic: TBA


A class I took back in college focused on creative writing and story telling, particularly that of endigenious and native american population culture. I believe it was the Navajo who believe gossip was good for the community, as it kept everyone in touch and relating to each other. Ultimately it can be destructive and so the tribes often had rules against making fun, although we all know the juiciest gossip can be worse than the worst names.

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