Follow Up on Success of Suffolk’s Story Slam

If you could not tell from all the recent posts, Suffolk University hosted its very own story slam last Friday for the second time and reading the other posts as well as hearing the feedback from other attendees, with myself included, the story slam was a splendid success!  It was simply an excellent and heartwarming finale as the spring semester of 2016 comes swiftly trickling down to an end as all students rush to finish projects and essays while studying for finals next week and teachers pressured to grade paper after paper.  It certainly helped that it was hosted on such a nice warm Friday as well.

Now that we have established that the grand success of the story slam, let’s talk about why and how.  If you did not attend, do not worry; there are two other posts describing the highlights and the performances of what transpired.  However, it should be said that reading about the performance and the story is much more different than actually seeing the performance live and hearing the story in person.  There is an intimate connection that is created between the storyteller and the audience member even if it lasts for a mere five minutes.

We view a tiny glimpse of this individual’s life-a person that we may or may not know personally-and it is wicked emotional and impactful because this is obviously an important piece of their life whether it be humorous or bittersweet.  This is where they are coming from after all.  This is what shaped them into the person they are today.  So, the story they told could be a significant factor in either reaffirming any aspect of their personality or acting as a stepping stone into piecing together their identity.  On the other side of the coin, it could be a little endearing story about their hometown that may even bring feelings of homesickness, nostalgia, or that warm, fuzzy, and uplifting feeling in your chest that not’s quite nostalgia or homesickness as you remember the place you grew up in.

If you could not tell already, the range of emotions that each story presented to the audience member was wide.  There were bellowing laughs as one man burst into a brief yet actually pleasant rendition of Adele and another describes how her old Brooklyn self would not stand for some pompous hipster’s attitude.  There were cheerful chuckles and soft giggles as another describes his friend’s passionate ardor for his hometown as well as his own-keep on doing whatever you’re doing, Bronx and Lexington.  There were the glistening tears from either sympathy or empathy as our ears strained to hear every last word that fell from a storyteller’s mouth as they described their hardships from losing a wonderful mother, reuniting with your precious father after many years, or surviving familial adversities.  There were quietly surprised faces from the intense performance of a storyteller’s experience of lost friend.

Even the host of the story slam, Nora Dooley, chimed in between each stories to tell her own stories and managed to get the audience to participate with everybody telling other people around them where they were from with a one minute exercise.  It was a fantastic feeling because it felt casual and comfortable when you could hear excited chatter all around you sharing little snippets of your life regardless of whether you were acquaintances, great friends, best friends for life, or just plain strangers-nobody was not going to judge in a negative or callous way.  Also, it helped that the theatre itself was cozy; it was not the biggest, but it was small enough for the storytellers to create that intimate connection between them and the audience.

Moreover, the story slam was a casual, friendly, and intimate event.  It was a cozy and tranquil Friday evening on a warm April night that relaxed the minds of any stressed person, at least for me.  Personally, it was the first Suffolk University official event I had gone to all year and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Should it happen again, I would not mind attending once more.  In contrast to the bustling city of Boston filled to the brim with employees dressed in chic outfits and sleek shoes constantly checking their phones for text messages or calls from coworkers, tired students rushing out of Park Street Station to get to class on time, and other busy individuals, the words that fell from the lips of the ten storytellers transformed my lethargic fatigue from the endless projects and essays into a comfortable and calm exhaustion like the feeling when you fall into bed after a long day of work or going out with friends.

This is one of the reasons why I hope Suffolk University will host another story slam is because of how storytelling can be used a healing agent for others.  One of the books I had read for another class focuses on this aspect.  If you want to know the name of this book, it is called the In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Rattner.  It is a fantastic book, one of my personal favorites, although rather depressing, but it teaches you the importance of storytelling especially in one important scene.  Long story short, after Raami, the seven year old protagonist, mistakenly reveals her father’s identity to the Kamaphibal, the invading group searching for Raami’s family, her father tells her, “Words, you see…allow us to make permanent what is essentially transient.  Turn a world filed with injustice and hurt into a place that is beautiful and lyrical.  Even if only on paper.  I wrote the poem for you the day you lay sick with polio.  I stood over your crib and you looked at me with such mournful eyes I thought you understood my grief.” (106) allows the reader a glimpse of how storytelling can be a powerful tool in empowering the individual.  Storytelling, no matter what form it may be presented in whether it be from orally or verbally, will always be a subjective experience and has this magical ability to conjure powerful emotions.  In this case, storytelling can produce a sense of healing and comfort to the reader.  The story itself, weaved by the words that the author utilizes, acts as a silent yet substantial companion to the reader.  There is no judgement in the aftermath of the finale because there is only everlasting introspection since as Raami’s father stated, “Words…allow us to make permanent what is essentially transient.”

In addition, storytellers are able to compose stories, poems, narratives, and more that could turn tragedies intro triumph in the end because they held the power of creation.  This quote, “We’d been talking about storytelling, how there could be many versions of the same story, many ways of telling it, and how each versions of the same story, many ways of telling it, and how each version was a kind of manifestation, as if the story itself was a living, evolving entity, a god capable of many guises.” (103) along with the quote above displays the magical quality of storytelling.  After Raami leads her own precious father to his own death, one of the most tragic and heartbreaking moments in the novel, the family begins to lose more control over their lives as they constantly are victims in a war they cannot stop.

Storytelling allows the individual the power to create their own story and their own ending.  It allows them to transcend reality and give them the chance to find their own wings so they can soar through the memories of their own life to find the closest thing to tranquility.

~Vena Nguyen~

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