StoryOly proves the power of vulnerability.
Olympia's story slam, hosting its second annual Grand Slam on Saturday, has garnered a growing group of devotees who turn out monthly to hear local people tell true and often intimate stories.
StoryOly organizer Amy Shephard and host Elizabeth Lord are major, multi-talented figures on Olympia's entertainment scene, yet in StoryOly, they’ve created a space that is not so much about performance as it is about the willingness of storytellers to reveal themselves — and to do so before about 100 strangers in a bar.
The crowd is likely to be standing room only Saturday — it was last year — and tickets aren’t available in advance, so people will be standing in line outside Rhythm and Rye waiting for doors to open at 7.
Unlike the monthly slams, the Grand Slam has no theme. It does have music by Chicory — a group assembled just for this occasion — and celebrity judges Olympia poet laureate Amy Solomon-Minarchi, novelist/publisher Ned Hayes, and Debe Edden of the Heartsparkle Players.
There are no local celebrities among the dozen monthly slam champs who’ll face off Saturday night, Lord said, just “citizen storytellers.” A couple do belong to the South Sound Story Guild, and one, Billie Mazzei, competed in last year’s Grand Slam. But several of this year’s monthly winners were first-time tellers.
“These are people who displayed great storytelling skills,” Lord said last week. “Not everyone has that.
“For people who’ve not attended a live storytelling event, this is the event to go to,” she said. “They will be delighted and astounded at how much they enjoy listening to other humans tell stories live on stage.”
One of the first-time tellers who won is Gabi Clayton, an activist and mental-health counselor, and the wife of writer and artist Alec Clayton.
Gabi Clayton, one of the two June winners, had thought once before about putting her name in the hat from which the night’s tellers are drawn, “but I chickened out,” she said in a phone interview last week.
In June, though, she did it. Her story was about her late son Bill, who committed suicide in 1995 after he was the victim of a hate crime. He was 17 and openly bisexual.
“It’s something I’ve done a fair amount of talking about,” she said, “but not in that kind of venue, in front of a full bar.”
She hadn’t prepared much for the possibility of telling, just thinking about the story and how she might begin and end it. Winning “was kind a surprise,” she said. “I didn’t expect that.”
“Part of the appeal of Gabi’s story to the audience that night was how earnest and honest it was,” Lord said. “She also addressed a difficult topic — the death of her son and hate crimes and all of that.
“She was vulnerable on stage. She allowed herself to share a very personal story with a room of mainly strangers.”
“It’s definitely a friendly competition,” Clayton said. “I’m really not competitive — I don’t care if I win or not — but I’ll get up and do it again since I got picked.”
StoryOly Grand Slam
What: StoryOly’s second annual storytelling championship pits 12 monthly winners against one another and adds celebrity judges and live music to the increasingly popular formula.
When: 7:30-10:30 p.m. Saturday; doors open at 7.
Where: Rhythm and Rye, 311 Capitol Way N., Olympia
Tickets: Pay what you can; $10-$20 suggested. Half of proceeds will be donated to hurricane relief efforts.
More information: storyoly.com
Monthly slams: StoryOly hosts monthly story slams from 6 to 8 p.m. the third Tuesday of each month at Rhythm & Rye. A $5-$10 donation is suggested; half of proceeds go to local nonprofits.