For more than half a decade, Lisa Kirchner has hosted a monthly evening of spontaneous storytelling. At her event, True stories, participants were randomly selected to stand in front of everyone in the room and tell a story: Five minutes about something they did, something they saw, something that happened to them.
When the pandemic rolled around, True stories – this was at this point in the spring of 2020, held in the Iberian Rooster restaurant’s downstairs performance/bar – was forced into the virtual universe.
“I did it for about six months on Zoom, and it just didn’t bring me joy like the old show did,” explains Kirchner, a journalist, author and occasional personality on the Home Shopping Network. “That doesn’t mean people can’t connect on Zoom. I absolutely believe they can. But there was distance.
The Iberian Rooster, as it happened, never came back – and never did True stories. So far.
Kirshner resumes “the show” beginning Thursday (Jan. 26) at Green Light Cinema, 221 2n.d Avenue N. This will be a monthly series.
“People have been asking me for years to bring it back,” she says. “And I feel a little guilty about it, because with all the things I do, it’s a lot to run a monthly show.”
She’s talking about promotion, marketing, ticket sales, not to mention just getting the word out.
“When Green Light offered to be a home for us, I was like, ‘That’s a no-brainer.’ What I love about the movie theater is that it’s designed to put your focus on one thing. They have comfortable seats, they have concessions, they have all the things you need – and they do a lot of the work for me, allowing me to just sit back and put on a great show.”
(Potential “storytellers” put their names into a bucket from which Kirchner and her co-host draw at random. Many people, the host says, come just to listen and enjoy the atmosphere.)
Kirchner became addicted to the oral tradition in New York in 2007 while working on her first book, Hello American Lady Creature: What I’m Learning as a Woman in Qatar. She would go on stage just to see if the anecdotes she wanted to include in the book would resonate.
“Because when you’re in front of an audience, you know what works and what doesn’t work in your story,” she says. “And honestly, getting on stage and telling stories was the best editor…better editor than I could have afforded, let me put it that way.”
After New York was Pittsburgh and finally St. Pete.
“When you get used to connecting with people like that, it’s almost addictive. A well-told story activates oxytocin in the brain. The love hormone. So when you listen as well as tell, both are transformed. In the same way that good love transforms people. It’s an experience like no other.
“And every show is unique. We don’t do stand-up, these are not “bits”. This is not a TED Talk. Definitely not a read. Come and tell a true, personal story. You want to know your story, but it’s not like these memorized, canned things that people always tell others.
Zoom’s distraction certainly didn’t lend itself to the necessary focus True stories attentiveness (there is also no love hormone). There’s just something special about being present in the room. “It’s that empathic listening part that gets activated when you’re involved in storytelling. I think that’s the key to these events,” explains Kirchner.
“What always happens—at every show—is that at least one person gets up who has never told a story before. They came, not even planning to tell a story, they just came to listen.
“Once people listen, they’re like, ‘That reminds ME of a story.’ And that’s where the real community-building connections are made.”
Find tickets for True stories here.