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Show up early if you want a seat at StoryOly’s Grand Slam

Carl Schroeder tells a story at Rhythm & Rye.
Carl Schroeder tells a story at Rhythm & Rye. Courtesy of StoryOly

If you think storytelling is just for kids, you haven’t yet heard about StoryOly. And you’re part of a group that’s getting smaller.

Olympia’s story slam, having its third annual Grand Slam championship Saturday, draws crowds even to its monthly events, inspired by such slams as The Moth — which produces events around the country along with a podcast and a radio program — and Seattle’s Fresh Ground Stories.

“At most events, there are people standing at the back because there’s no more seating,” said Elizabeth Lord, the slam’s host and co-founder. “I’ll ask, ‘How many are here for the first time?’ and there are always a good 20 people who raise their hands. That’s exciting to see that the word is getting out.”

At the Grand Slams, where monthly winners return to tell fresh stories, the crowds have been even bigger.

“The venue doesn’t open till 7 p.m.,” Lord told The Olympian. “Last year, we had a crowd of people around the block waiting. If I were going to this event and I wanted to make sure I got in and got a seat, I would show up at 6:30.”

The popularity is justly deserved, said writer and actor Christian Carvajal, one of those who’ll be vying for this year’s championship. “I’ve thought this at monthly events, and I definitely thought it at the Grand Slam last year. I don’t remember who won, but whoever it was really earned it, because every story was terrific — vivid and funny and poignant.”

Carvajal is the closest thing this year’s competition has to a South Sound household name, though Paul Currington, founder of Fresh Ground Stories, is among the competitors.

If, that is, “competitors” is the right word.

“It is ostensibly a competition, and there is a winner every time,” Carvajal told The Olympian. “But the atmosphere in the room is really supportive. … It’s a lot less like an American game show or sporting event and a lot more like ‘The Great British Baking Show,’ where the contestants can freely admit when someone did a better job than them and they’re happy for the person who won.”

While there are certain storytellers — like Billy Mazzei, who competed in the last two Grand Slams and this year will serve as one of the judges — that StoryOly regulars know and love, first-time tellers offer something equally appealing.

“Sometimes you get people who have never told an eight-minute story anywhere,” Carvajal said. “Maybe they’ve never even told it at a party. Maybe it’s a story that’s been filling them from inside for years, and they’re about to burst and they just have to tell that story.

“Sometimes those stories come out in a rush, and sometimes they come out a little haltingly or a little inexpertly, but there’s such a passion behind them that the audience really goes along with it.”

Besides the stories, the Grand Slam also features a band, The Wild Pitch Swingers, which will play before and after the stories and during breaks. The old-timey band is made up of Scott “Scuff” Acuff on guitar, Harry Levine of the Mud Bay Jugglers on bass, James Schneider on mandolin, and Theo Ragan on accordion.

“It’s a band put together specially for this event,” Lord said. “It’s kind of an all-star band.”

StoryOly Grand Slam

What: StoryOly’s third annual championship pits monthly story slam winners against one another. The evening also includes old-timey jazz, blues and Western swing by The Wild Pitch Swingers.

When: 8-11 p.m. Saturday, with tunes beginning at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Rhythm & Rye, 311 Capitol Way N., Olympia

Tickets: $10-$20 donation suggested, with 30 percent of proceeds going to Empowerment 4 Girls, a local nonprofit whose camps aim to inspire and educate girls about their bodies, their health and their value.

More information: 360-250-2721, storyoly.com

Monthly slams: StoryOly hosts monthly story slams from 7 to 9 p.m. the third Tuesday of each month at Rhythm & Rye. A $5-$10 donation is suggested; half of proceeds go to nonprofits.

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