All Photos by Jill Howe
Scott Whitehair believes in the spoken word. Not spoken word as in a sullen Barnes and Noble cashier’s twenty minute poem about her vagina, although who knows, he might be into that. Whitechair believes in the stories we tell each other, their distinctiveness but also their universality. For three years, his reading series “This Much is True” has compelled enthusiastic audiences to pack The Hopleaf. Our Town spoke with Whitehair about the mounting popularity of reading series in general, and what makes his unique.
Our Town What inspired “This Much is True?”
Scott Whitehair About four years ago, I took a solo workshop at The Annoyance Theater with a wonderful instructor, Paula Killen. Still buzzing from the rush of our performance, a few of us decided it would be fun to continue. We were nomadic at first, just drifting around doing random performances in various coffee shops, some of which would attempt to close for the night before our show was finished. Over the years, we lost some original members and gained some new ones, before landing at The Hopleaf in 2009. Our first shows there were populated by close friends, spouses, and people who owed us money. Currently, we get to standing room only almost 45 minutes before the show starts, which blows our minds every month. A lot has changed, but our goal as a group has remained fairly consistent: tell quality personal stories in an inviting, intimate environment. Also, we love bringing guests in on the fun, and have been blessed with some outstanding featured performers from all corners of the Chicago creative community.
OT What separates yours from other Chicago series?
SW Our audiences make this show special. They are, hands down, the best audiences I have ever been in front of. Not only are they attentive and enthusiastic, but they also have a strong sense of community. We do our part by making the show welcoming and accessible. We want this evening to feel like a gathering of old friends, even if it is your first night joining us.
OT In terms of content, how does a spoken story differ from a story meant to be read alone?
SW There is a huge difference between the written word and oral language. Words are just one element of the told story, arguably no more important than tone of voice, gestures, body language, facial expressions, etc. With the written word, the reader is in control of the experience, alone with the text on his or her own time. However, with storytelling, the experience is much more immediate and collaborative. It is impossible for the storyteller to be absent from the equation in the way that a novelist is. I will say, though, that the written word is definitely easier to bring along to the beach.
OT You’ve studied improv—is there an improv element to successfully articulating a story to a live audience?
SW Absolutely. Storytelling is a conversation, and to ignore what you are getting from the audience is to miss the whole point, in my opinion. The connection and relationship between the teller and the audience dictates the flow of the story. Really, a story should almost never be told the exact same way twice, as every audience is going to have different needs and desires, and a unique energy it brings to the table.
OT Tell me about Story Lab Chicago.
SW Month after month, inspired audience members were approaching me after TMIT, asking how they could start telling their own stories on stage. It was clear that there needed to be an opportunity for this to happen. Story Lab just celebrated its first anniversary, after giving over 70 people a chance to share their stories in an intimate, nurturing environment over the past year. The show is wide open to anyone, with absolutely no experience necessary, and the only requirements for getting a spot are seeing the show and signing up. I believe that everyone can, and should, share their stories. The response has been overwhelming - we are currently booked through early summer.
OT To what do you attribute the growing popularity of reading series?
SW I think there are quite a few reasons why storytelling has been blowing up over the last several years. For one, we are increasingly hungry to truly connect to other human beings, and what better way than to get together in a quiet room without a dozen diversions and just listen to each other. Additionally, as we suffer through a constant barrage of impersonal reboots, remakes, and retreads, it is refreshing to be entertained by the tales of our friends and neighbors, to marvel at the uniqueness of each of our lives while simultaneously realizing how much alike we all are.
To learn more about "This Much is True" visit thismuchistruechicago.com
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," (Soft Skull press) is available for pre-order here. She is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
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