On a Wednesday night of my sophomore year, I walked into The Burren in Davis Square (for the first time, to boot) alone. I settled myself in the back room, where I was definitely not just the only person under the drinking age but maybe the only person under 30. I know what you’re thinking, fair readers, but I wasn’t there to throw down with the older crowd. I was there for a Story Slam, sponsored by local nonprofit Massmouth. While I came that night to just be a wallflower, I ended up being goaded onto that stage in front of a crowd of strangers, telling a poorly improvised but devastatingly hilarious story of my own personal struggle to connect with my sister while hunting for a showing of Frozen that was not sold out, rescheduled or as in one theater, literally on fire. I won second place. I went on the semi-finals a few weeks later, and I’ve loved live storytelling ever since.
Story slams are like poetry slams, but thankfully for people like me who have no talent for cadence nor rhyme, the whole event is focused on another kind of artistry, and experience, in total. For anyone who listens every week to The Moth podcast, or anyone who has listened to a particularly captivating tale over the dinner table, it’s about being present, being connected and being true. This can mean a lot of different things; it can mean painting a detailed picture of the moment of your story, bringing the listener there with you. It can mean using comedy, or drama, to engage the crowd. It can mean that your story has an incredibly important, global message to the audience, or it may be something entirely personal. The one thing that is always the same is that it has to be live. The slam is a space of co-creation and co-interpretation. As an audience member, being so close to the raw memory of another person is intimate, and it can be scary, but it is always moving and enlightening.
Last week, I was asked to help design and lead a workshop for a Hillel and MSA (Muslim Students Association) co-sponsored programming called Dignity in Difference, a day for spiritual reflection and evaluating peace between Israel and Palestine. A professor of mine, Norah Dooley, who teaches the Ex-College class Storytelling and Social Justice invited me on board the planning committee. It was an all-day event, beginning with early afternoon Jum’ah and ending with evening Shabbat. Somewhere in between the events of the day, there was a 45 minute stretch where we gave participants to take claim of their own narratives and experiences when encountering someone different, or facing something that tested their faith. Participants paired up to share their experiences to prompts like “barriers” or “flipped.” Finally, MSA representative and friend of mine Nazifa Sarawat told the first story, of the first time she interacted with Jewish girls of her age group and realizing that barriers aren’t permanent. Several students followed in suit, and although our time was brief, it’s the kind of genuine sharing that makes stories such a powerful barrier breaker.