For well over half a decade, Lisa Kirshner was the ringmaster for a monthly evening of spontaneous storytelling. At her event, True Stories, participants were chosen at random to get up in front of everyone in the room and tell a story: Five minutes on something they did, something they saw, something that happened to them.
When the pandemic rolled around, True Stories – it was, at that moment in spring 2020, held in the downstairs performance/bar of the Iberian Rooster Restaurant – was forced into the virtual universe.
“I did it for about six months on Zoom, and it just was not bringing me joy like the old show brought me,” explains Kirshner, a journalist, author, and sometime Home Shopping Network on-air personality. “That is not to suggest that people can’t connect on Zoom. I absolutely believe that they can. But there was distance.”
The Iberian Rooster, as it happened, never came back – and neither did True Stories. Until now.
Kirshner is reviving the “show,” starting Thursday (Jan. 26) at Green Light Cinema, 221 2nd Avenue N. It’ll be a monthly series.
“I’ve had people asking me, for years, to bring it back,” she says. “And I feel a little pang of guilt about that, because with all the things that I do, it is a lot to manage a monthly show.”
She’s talking about promotion, marketing, ticketing, not to mention simply 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 a movie theater is that it’s designed to put your focus on one thing. They have comfy seats, they have concessions, they have all the things you need – and they’re doing a lot of the legwork for me, which lets me just kick back and have a great show.”
(Potential “tellers” put their names in a bucket, from which Kirshner and her co-host draw at random. Many people, according to the host, just come to listen and enjoy the atmosphere.)
Kirshner got hooked on the oral tradition in New York City in 2007, while working on her first book, Hello American Lady Creature: What I Learn as a Woman in Qatar. She’d go onstage just to see if the anecdotes she wanted to put in the book would resonate.
“Because when you get up in front of an audience, you know what is and is not working in your story,” she say. “And frankly, going onstage and telling the stories was the best editor … a better editor than I could have afforded, let me put it that way.”
After New York, there was Pittsburgh, and lastly, St. Pete.
“It’s almost addictive when you get used to connecting with people like that. A well-told story actives oxytocin in the brain. The love hormone. So when you are listening as well as telling, both people are transformed. In the same way that good love transforms people. It’s an experience like no other.
“And each show is unique. We’re not doing standup, this isn’t ‘bits.’ This is not a TED Talk. It’s definitely not a reading. 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.”
The distractions of Zoom certainly did not lend themselves to the focus needed for True Stories attentiveness (no love hormone, either). There’s just something special about being present, in the room. “It’s that empathetic listening part that gets activated when you participate in storytelling. I think that’s the key to these events,” Kirshner explains.
“What always happens – at every single show – is at least one person gets up who never told a story before. They came, they weren’t even planning on telling a story, they just came to listen.
“Once people are listening they’re like “That reminds ME of a story.’ And that’s where the real community-building connections get made.”
Find tickets for True Stories here.