Storyteller Eric Warner as an avid participant in Chicago’s vibrant Live Lit scene. A headliner for The Side Project’s "The Kindness of Strangers: A Festival of Storytelling," Warner understands the power of a well-told story. He spoke with Our Town about the festival, his worst Live Lit experience, and the moral implications of entwining art and life.
Our Town What’s special about Chicago’s Live Lit scene?
Eric Warner A special thing about Chicago’s scene in particular, is that it is so welcoming. The tellers, the curators/hosts, the audience, are so diverse that I think it really inspires people to write and tell their own story. Every show I’ve seen, you’re given information on how to submit your story. It seems to be a level playing field for everyone to get involved, there aren’t many hoops to jump through.
OT Can you share a best/worst Liv Lit experience?
EW My best Live Lit experience, as a performer, I think happened when I performed in “You’re Being Ridiculous” this past summer. I don’t know what it was, maybe that I’d told the piece a few times, maybe that my girlfriend and her family and several friends were in the audience, or that I was in the company of other awesome storytellers, but I felt like I was really talking to people, not performing, just telling a story between friends. Every once in a while that happens, and it’s the best. My worst was in my first hour long piece, where about half an hour in I totally forgot where I was in the story. Friends in the audience told me that they thought it was just a dramatic pause, but to me it felt like twenty minutes of flop sweat, and seeing my sweat dropping in slow motion and splashing on the stage, all while my little lizard brain is screaming at me, “you didn’t rehearse enough! You’re sweating like a pig!!”
OT Your piece involves your father. What challenges did you face in working on it?
EW A challenge, throughout the piece, and throughout my life, is that I’ve never really known my father. He left the family when I was very young, came back when I was around 11 or 12, and passed away when I was 27.
His name was Bryan Edward Warner. Depending on who you talked to, or who was talking about him, he was Bryan or Ed. My mom told me that Bryan was the man she fell in love with, that he was like a Greek god. Ed was a monster, who left home for months at a time and set fire to the drapes when he didn’t like the way dinner was cooked. The emotional challenge while working on this piece was going back and writing out every memory I have. And the realization that I have so few. What few I have, especially from adulthood, were of me alternately judging or overlooking him. A structural challenge in crafting the story was how to piece together memories that fit within a theme, so that it’s not just “Eric’s Childhood Slideshow Jamboree”. The theme that I stumbled on was what is called a “psychological phenomenon” that I experienced when I went to Plateau Point in the Grand Canyon and had the incredibly strong urge to jump. The French call it “l’appel du vide: the call of the void”. For so long my dad has been a void in my life, and I struggle with wanting to know more, and how much is enough.
OT What are the moral implications of using friends, family etc to create art? What is your responsibility?
EW I think my responsibility in crafting a story with a real person from my life in it is to step back from my personal associations/baggage and look at them as a person, not a parent, sibling or an ex. It’s not easy, but it’s a process that has helped me a lot in crafting a piece, as well as in my life. In terms of morals, I stay away from gossip, or rampant speculation about the person or their actions. I’m in love with Stephen Tobolowksy’s “Tobolowsky Files”, a storytelling podcast. I think he said it best in an interview, “You know, it’s my life too. The life I shared with you, I can tell my life, my point of view. I’m not going to tell your life from your point of view.”
I also consider, “Would they want other people to know about this?” and I have to think about how integral that person, that story, is to my story.
OT Tips for those interested in getting involved with live lit?
EW A tip I got was to listen to how I tell stories in my everyday life, and then try to write like that. This medium is so powerful and popular because it is a real person up there, telling you about something meaningful that has happened. If this medium excites you, if it calls to you, go for it. There is so much opportunity in Chicago. Your leg might shake like a paint shaker, and you’ll be terrified, but a well-told personal story has the power to change people. It connects us, and we all have a story to tell.
"Kindness of Strangers: A Festival of Storytelling" runs October 20 through November 6. Purchase tickets here.
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and
afterellen.com Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah 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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