Live storytelling in Chicago

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Somewhere between my pre-school preacher years and high school, I came down with a bad case of stage fright.

I remember taking my first speech classes in college and being simply terrified of the crowd. I tried every trick in the book, and I even took an acting class to try to learn to be more comfortable with it.

My father is a preacher.

I am most certainly not.

So when CHIRP’s Julie Mueller approached me about doing the CHIRP’s live storytelling and music series called The First Time, I tried to think of every excuse why I shouldn’t do it.

Chicago is, perhaps, the world center for live storytelling right now. There is not a night of the week where you can’t find a themed storytelling event in any part of this city.

From the Moth to the Third Coast, Chicago is going through a storytelling renaissance that is hard to ignore.

Mueller wore me down and got me to commit shortly before the new year, because I decided that I wanted to explore live storytelling as a new creative path in 2015.

I thought maybe the city’s storytelling vibe might rub off on me a little bit.

But first I would have to overcome my fear of public speaking.

Reading something may be the worst form of public speaking for me. The stage lights and the crowd energy cause me to read fast and forget to breathe, which produces an effect similar to helium in my voice.

I jump a few octaves and take large gulps of air, which don’t sound very good when things are mic’d as well as they are here in the world capital of live storytelling.

I wrote and then rewrote my story, sending it off to friends at the Moth who told me where to make cuts, where to pause and where to growl.

And then then January 14 arrived, and my wife accompanied me to something I thought might reveal just how bad my stage fright is to the world beyond the journalists who’ve had to listen to me give a presentation on analytics.

I was the opening number, which host Jenn Sodini thought would be good, since I had more experience than some of the other “first time” storytellers. I hated to correct her assumption, so I dutifully took my place at the head of the list.

It was ungodly quiet as I got up on stage. I tried for a funny opener, but the crowd was cold and clearly in a mood to be entertained by sheer force, rather than letting it come to them naturally.

And then it just flowed. It came out as smoothly and evenly as I have ever read something before with a hint or two of performance in between the labored breaths.

I exited the stage after the reading, and listened to the band, The First Time Three, play their interpretation of the song I had chosen to accompany my piece.

A couple of guys who had introduced themselves to Cheryl and I before the show were all hugs and congratulations after, which made me feel awesome.

As I sat and listened to the rest of the storytellers that evening, I thought, hey, this isn’t so bad. This was fun. I think I might want to do this again.

And I do.


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