Chicago is a town that tells stories. Everybody has them, but not every community affords its members the license or the opportunity to tell them to a live and engaged audience. Perhaps we can give Studs Terkel, whose 100th birthday next week will be celebrated at the Newberry Library, the credit for injecting Chicago’s culture with this particular desire to relate our experiences, and to listen those of others. Wherever the roots lie, next week’s storytelling events will surely pay tribute to Studs’ legacy; Story Lab’s monthly edition, plus a collaboration of various reading series at Version Fest 12 in which organizers will tell “Stories from the Bottom of the Glass,” are in store.
“The only requirement to do the show is that you see it first,” said Story Lab organizer Scott Whitehair. “Anybody can do this. There’s a craft of storytelling if you really want to work at it, but I think it’s a natural ability, and it’s something people should be doing. I don’t like the idea that it’s exclusive or some specialized ability that only some people have.”
Story Lab, which takes place on the third Wednesday of the month at Black Rock Pub at 3614 N Damen Ave., is an open forum that comes together without prompts or prerequisites. The open format welcomes performers running the gamut from first-timers to scene veterans. All readers participate in a round table workshop-type discussion of one another’s work before the show goes on, not for the purposes of reshaping, but rather, to expose performers to the way other people work.
“My philosophy is that people have a unique voice and it’s not about ‘do it this way,’ or ‘here’s how you tell a story,’” Whitehair said. “You go with your gut. This is only one version of the story, and if that’s the way you want to do it, do it that way, do it. I just offer suggestions. I don’t want to put my finger print on other peoples’ work.”
This particular edition of Story Lab will feature: Fulbright Scholar and writer Laura Hawbaker; Cyrus Irani; writer, editor, and yoga instructor Emily Johnson; actor Erin Kaho; “neck breaker” Monte LaMonte; and poet, essayist, and snail expert, Sondra Morin.
Whitehair and Dana Norris–organizer of the Version Fest 12 event “Stories from the Bottom of the Glass,” on May 18 at Co-Prosperity Sphere–both say they’re influenced by Terkel.
“We have Studs Terkel, and he’s integral to this idea–that the eight hour workday started here,” Norris said. “The everyday person, the worker, the fact that they have a legitimate story to tell, which is why getting many different people into this scene is very important to me. I feel like I learn a little bit more about how things actually look. It’s so educational.”
Educators set to take the stage down in Bridgeport include: Keith Ecker, host and producer of Essay Fiesta; Samantha Irby, writer of Bitches Gotta Eat; Ian Belknap, overlord of Write Club; JH Palmer, contributor to Gaper’s Block; Shannon Cason, winner of the Moth Chicago GrandSLAM; and Norris herself.
The fest is about bringing Bridgeport the attention and the crowds it deserves as one of our city’s most dynamic spots. Norris said it’s also a prime opportunity to bring the lit performance community, which tends to be based on the North Side, down South.
“This is an exciting opportunity to show Bridgeport what we can do, but also to show everyone what Bridgeport is and bring a bunch of people down there who would otherwise never go,” Norris said. “There’s a lot of social justice history, its very dynamic, people who live there seem to care to care about making their neighborhood a better place.”