Every Tuesday night for the last month I've been participating in a story telling class with the fine people over at SpeakeasyDC, and I've been loving it. The instructors are super experienced, my classmates are an interesting and diverse group of people, and I'm learning spades about crafting, practicing, and editing a compelling story. Class has been great. I've been thinking about this experience constantly, but what I've been mulling over isn't class, or even my own story. I'm stuck on what happened last Tuesday.
Last Tuesday, instead of class, we were instructed to go the "Second Tuesday" Speakeasy show at Town. What I found there astounded me -- although we were an hour early, there wasn't a seat to be found. As the time approached, more people than I thought could fit in there crowded around the edges. Despite the frigid temperatures outside, it was actually starting to get a little warm inside. And what happened next was spellbinding. One after the other, nine people stood up and told a true story, and the entire time there was absolute silence. No one was fiddling with their phones. Not one stray chirp or alert. No whispers. We were enraptured by what was happening on stage.
Maybe I don't get out enough, but I haven't seen a crowd with such singular attention in a long time. What I can't put my finger on is why. Telling stories is about as low-tech as you can get. It's been around forever -- before Homer, before Abraham. The stories were entertaining, witty and sometimes heartbreaking, but so are movies and people text through them. There was the element of performance, of a real person, but as a preacher I know that a live person talking to someone is not enough to hold an entire crowd's attention for seven minutes (maybe I need to step up my preaching game). During a sermon, there's always a bit of chaos somewhere. But not at Speakeasy.
The only thing I can think of that's drawing such huge crowds (entirely unadvertised, except by website and word of mouth) is a hunger for stories such as these. The stories must be autobiographical, and despite the peculiarity of each experience, interpretations of the self have a universal quality, because as humans we're always interpreting our own selves. The stories were also vulnerable, a quality forsaken in our digital weltunschauung. The vulnerability, given to us by each of the story tellers, felt like a gift, as though that person were entrusting with a part of their selves, and trusting us to not poke at their wounds. The story tellers trusted us to empathize with them, and in the empathy, we were allowed to all be human together. I'm grateful.