By Sarah Jamieson
VANCOUVER – Outside the Cottage Bistro, onlookers press their faces to the window, puzzled by the Story Slam audience inside. Why do they sit silently, leaning forward? Why is their breath bated? Two others stop and listen by the door, proving that storytelling has a universal, magnetizing effect on all of us.
“We’ve all got a story to tell. We just need a place to tell it. Vancouver Story Slam provides that space, that stage — the audience and performers bring the talent, the enthusiasm, and the inspiration,” says Susan Cormier, the event’s producer. “The experience of sharing your creative work with an enthusiastic, attentive crowd and receiving a hearty round of applause (and perhaps some neat prizes!) is so empowering and exhilarating.”
Every second Tuesday, 10 storytellers share an original short story and the audience votes for their favourites. The three top-voted storytellers receive cash prizes. The hosts also hand out several additional ‘fun’ prizes (Best Time, Line of the Night, Rhonda’s Secret Word, or a chance to win the Decadence and Magic prize).
Anyone who has written a short tale or who has an interesting anecdote to tell is welcome to sign up to perform, regardless of their level of experience, style of writing, or cognitive abilities.
Story Slam is a brainchild of local performance artist Johnny Frem and slam poet Sean McGarragle, who wanted to mix the energy of competitive poetry slams with the community of Native storytelling circles. Cormier took the helm with her partner, Bryant Ross, in 2015.
“Bryant and I met at story slam when we were both frequent participants, so the show holds great sentimental value for us,” she says. “And I knew that this show had…great potential to be far bigger than the charming, intimate event it had been for its first decade.”
Ross hosts and Cormier handles production. During the past two years, she has watched it grow from a small gathering of storytellers to a vibrant and attractive event. Proceeds from the $5 entrance fee go to show expenses, such as cash prizes; recently, they’ve formed a scholarship fund for those in marginalized communities to support storytelling and writing.
“Our first scholarship recipient, Tawahum Justin Bige, is a dynamic and talented writer and community volunteer, and we were thrilled to show our support of his academic endeavors,” Cormier says.
There are only two additional Story Slams left before finals in December. The championship is at the Rio Theatre. Tickets often sell out early, Cormier warns, so buy tickets in advance to avoid disappointment.
Many of Story Slam’s participants have had books published independently or by established presses, such as Lozan Yamolky and Deborah Kelly, Elen Ghulam, Jason Porath, and Alexis Sugden. Countless others have had their writing appear in literary magazines and journals, such as J.P. Lorence, and contributors to Birdy Told Me, a creative writing website based in Vancouver.
Ross recently received the Royal City Literary Arts Society nonfiction award. Cormier has won or been shortlisted for a handful of awards, including CBC’s National Literary Award, SubTerrain Magazine’s Lush Triumphant prize, and the Federation of B.C. Writers’ Literary Writes award.
The next Vancouver Story Slam takes place on October 10 at Cottage Bistro.poetry, Story Slam