What live performances are we loving these days? The Here:Say Storytelling monthly events. The concept is straightforward, but both fun and powerful: the evening’s storytellers each share a personal story that ties to the theme of the night.

The event is free (a donation basket circulates, like in church). They happen at 7 p.m., the third Monday of each month (October–May) at Workshop Brewing. The takeaway is that an honest and well-told personal story has a surprising sense of power and entertainment value, whether it’s funny or dark or poignant or all of the above and more.

We caught up with Here:Say Storytelling founder Karen Stein to get some backstory on how Here:Say got started and to get her take on the show’s theme “Last night a DJ saved my life.”

Read this Traverse Magazine feature about Here:Say Storytelling!

What gave you the idea to start Here:Say Storytelling?

“When I was in grad school—I have a creative writing master’s—we’d do a lot of readings. I really missed that atmosphere where you are just listening in the audience and people are sharing a piece of themselves. I saw open mic events for musicians around, but nothing for spoken word. I kept waiting for somebody to start one, and then I finally realized I could start one.”

What do you find so satisfying about the format?

“It has become a cliché that everybody is communicating at such a shallow level now, you know, 150 characters in Twitter or whatever, but there is some truth to it. I missed that deeper level of getting to know people. In storytelling, there is a belief that you can learn more about a person listening to them tell a five-minute story than from knowing somebody for five years.”

What do you think the storytellers get out of it?

“Well, it’s nice to have all the attention focused on them and their story. I mean, how many times are you at dinner with somebody and they are pulling out their phone in the middle of your conversation? Here, the audience is totally focused on you and your story. There’s something very gratifying about that.”

Who are the presenters?

“Some are writers, but many are not. They are just people who want to share a story.”

But you have criteria …

“Yes. Anyone who wants to perform can perform, but yes, there are criteria. The story has to fit the theme. And the person must be willing to meet with me to talk about the story. If they are from out of town, I can do Skype.”

How much coaching do you do?

“Part of what makes these stories so powerful is people talk and think about them before they perform them. They don’t just get up on stage and go off the cuff. This isn’t the same as telling a story in a bar. I work with people as much as they need me to. I used to teach college English, so it’s a natural inclination for me to work with people to improve their stories.”

What’s the most common thing storytellers ask advice on?

“A story needs a takeaway, that is the main thing a storyteller is trying to convey, but sometimes even though you know the main story, and it’s important to you, it may not be apparent what the main impact is. That is the main thing people ask me to help them with, finding that.”

Tell us about the April 18 theme.

“It’s ‘Last night, a DJ saved my life.’ It’s built off a line from a disco song, like the night is going really badly and then the DJ plays a great song and makes it okay. The stories have to fit the theme, but not in a super literal way, so there is flexibility on that. Music is such a universal thing. Like just the other night we were having a conversation, what song best captures the feeling of a breakup? What song captures the feeling of love … it’s just a perfect idea for a theme.”

Anything else you want us to know about the April show?

“We are redoing the opening to our podcasts and we will be asking the audience to help us with it.”

Here:Say Storytelling is co-produced by Karen Stein, Jordan Anderson, and Mike Moran.

Jeff Smith is editor of Traverse / MyNorth. smith@traversemagazine.com

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Photo(s) by Here:Say Storytelling