The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
On the last Tuesday of every month, a small group comes together at Roasted Cafe and Lounge to share their tales. Simply called "Storytellers," these gatherings are meant to be casual and inviting. New storytellers are welcomed with warm smiles and, often, kind applause.
Angel Collins is the organizer. She's a writer by trade and a board member of Macon's Crossroads Writers Conference, which is also the sponsor by virtue of Collins. The concept is simple. Provide a time and place on a regular basis for people to gather, listen to and tell stories. There's a small stage, a microphone, and (usually) an audience. What the event lacks in flash and flare, it makes up for in raw honesty.
According to Collins, the idea for "Storytellers" was formed after a local storytelling event, hosted by an offshoot of The Moth, a "not-for-profit organization dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling."
"There was an offshoot of The Moth, I think, that went around the country to independent booksellers arranging storytelling events. And so they did one at the Cox Capitol Theatre through The Golden Bough and it was amazing. They gave us slips of paper so we could be part of the storytelling. The storytellers were great… it was great."
The success of the event inspired Collins and some of her friends.
"So basically a bunch of us, Chris Horne, Roger Riddle, me, we were like, 'We need to do this. This needs to happen way more than randomly.' So Chris and Roger got together and Roger started it at The Rookery."
The Rookery was the home of "Storytellers" until October of 2012. After a short hiatus, "Storytellers" returned in January when Collins began hosting it at Roasted Cafe and Lounge. Part of the reason for the move was that the start time could be earlier, which was something many early participants had requested.
"In January, we started doing it solely at Roasted on the last Tuesday of every month. The last one at the Rookery had to have been in October the year before, so everybody was pretty excited about the fact that it had come back, so we had a good crowd for that first one."
The crowds began to dwindle after that. From March to May, hardly a soul attended, and Collins began to think about ending the series.
"It had not found its right audience. Really and truly, it’s not something that most people would go to every time anyway. It just needed a bigger audience to do that. That way it could take care of the needs of the people who wanted to come occasionally and the people who want to come every single time."
After Collins spoke at a local TEDx event, a new audience began to emerge. She credits her talk with the resurgence. The most recent storytelling session was held on the last Tuesday of July, and the theme for the evening was gambling. A local professor, Sydney Chalfa, shared the story of the 1946 fire at the Winecoff Hotel in Atlanta, which killed 119 people. The audience listened intently as she wove the famous tale, which she tied to the theme by explaining that a gang of notorious gamblers had started the fire in response to an argument at the poker table. The end of her story was marked with rousing applause. Chalfa heard Collins speak at TEDxMacon, and she encouraged her students to attend as well.
One of those students shared the story of how she had "gambled with her life" for many years experimenting with drugs and alcohol. Another shared stories about his trips to the casinos of Biloxi, Miss. while being stationed at a nearby military base. Several others, including Collins, shared their stories, mostly autobiographical.
There are many reasons why Collins continues to host "Storytellers." For some, the chance to stand up and talk about their lives is cathartic. For others, its a chance to hone their storytelling and public speaking skills. For Collins, it's as much of a learning experience for her as for the other participants.
"(When I told my first story), the whole audience was uncomfortable. I could feel their uncomfortableness of me telling the story badly. They clapped and congratulated me for doing it, because it still takes a little bit of bravery to get up in front of a crowd and try to tell them something. But it was horrible. And I knew that my fear of it and how bad I was, I knew that it needed to keep happening. I needed to do something every single time. When Roger wasn’t able to do it anymore, I said, 'Well I’ll take over it.'”
When asked why she thinks "Storytellers" is important, Collins explained, "I feel like having a place where like-minded individuals gather can help you grow as a storyteller or as someone who needs to speak in front of an audience, because it gives you a group of people that aren’t going to judge you."
"Storytellers" is held from 6:30-9 p.m. on the last Tuesday of every month at Roasted Cafe and Lounge, 442 Second St., Macon; 478-746-6914; roastedmacon.com. For more information, visit the "Storytellers" event page on Facebook.