The Radical Act of Community Storytelling by Adam Hostetter
Odyssey Storytelling has been a glittery thread in the Tucson tapestry for (going on) two decades. On my Connect With Me page, I list Odyssey Storytelling, an amazing monthly downtown Tucson event that I have been helping to produce since 2008. Four years earlier, on the only day that is also a command (March 4th), Penelope Starr launched Odyssey all by herself, and she produced the shows on her own until I joined her.
The day Penelope and I met, at the Surly Wench on Tucson’s Historic 4th Ave, she asked me to be a storyteller. Penelope has this gift–she slams down the ask and people say YES! Her enthusiasm for storytelling makes her an effortless convincer. You’re with her and want to be part of it! A month later I was on stage as a teller at the Coming Out: All Ages All Stages Show. I was so nervous as I walked toward the stage that I forgot my entire story.
But Penelope had prepared me.
“You can’t use notes–and don’t memorize your story,” she told the group of storytellers at our rehearsal. “It’s your story and you know it. The audience wants to hear it from your heart.”
“Memorize your strong first line. That line will launch you into your story. And as you walk up stage, nervous–you might forget everything you prepared–but you’ll remember that opening line, and the story will flow,” she said.
I stepped up to the microphone, and looked out across the faces of the audience. They wanted me to succeed. Love was poured from them! And my first line rolled out from memory: “When I was a kid, I wanted Wonder Woman underoos.” I told my story. People listened. Laughed. Cried. Talked to me afterwards about things they related to, questions they had and simply to tell me I was brave.
A few months later I produced my first show for Odyssey. I led the rehearsal with Penelope and I told storytellers not to memorize their stories, but to memorize that strong, opening line. We had a great show.
As one of the producers, sometimes I’m on stage hosting, sometimes I’m telling stories and sometimes I just a volunteer helping as timekeeper or usher. I love Odyssey, and have taken it on the road–to Michigan and Chicago as part of BMC Family Reunions–its a model that works. Anyone can join us in creating community one story at a time, and Penelope’s book about Odyssey Storytelling tells you how to do it.
The Radical Act of Community Storytelling is everything it claims in the title. It’s the story of Penelope’s radical step of faith, opening her life by bringing community storytelling to her community. It is the story of voices that often go unheard having the opportunity to speak and be heard. And it is about community building from start to finish … including everything any radical would need to start a community storytelling organization.
In our polarized (and getting more so…) society today, telling and listening to each other’s stories has never been more important. We need to understand each other. To laugh together, cry together, empathize and give folks standing ovations. We are not as divided as it seems, and the simple act of telling a personal story is the profound, radical act of reaching out to be community for one another.
You must read this book. And tell your story. Hope to see you at Odyssey Storytelling!
Posted by Adam Hostetter on his Quantum Mennonite blog