“Dorothy Parker has said something like, ‘I hate to write but I love to have written.’ That is the way I feel about storytelling,” she says,
With 30 minutes to go before the show begins, Wolfe says she’s never seen the venue this full, this early.
Her story is about her best friend’s wedding.
Wolfe is among the eight storytellers participating in “Better Said Than Done,” a live storytelling event at a small cafe tucked away in a strip mall in Fairfax, Va.
The brainchild of 38-year-old Jessica Robinson, “Better Said” is part of a growing trend in performance art that focuses on narrative storytelling, one of the oldest art forms in the history of man. It was founded almost two years ago to showcase talented storytellers in Virginia. The group also offers to coach anyone who wants to learn the art of storytelling. Since it started, “Better Said” has grown from 20 storytellers to nearly 50.
For Anne Marie Trester, 39, storytelling is one of the most important ways that individuals share information. Trester is a sociolinguist at Georgetown University. For her, ”Better Said” is something that shapes how one understands the world.
One of Trester’s research interests is social media, which she sees as a platform that helps proliferate storytelling. Whether social media helps because of introversion or isolation, she isn’t sure, but either way she thinks that the growth in popularity of storytelling in whatever form is exciting.
Trester has been a storyteller for the last two years, but is nervous about the embarrassing story she is going to tell next: her experience with speed dating.
“It honestly feels like I am giving people a piece of myself tonight,” she says. “People here will now always associate me with this story.”
Mattie Cohan, 49, is performing for the third time. A non-profit lawyer by day, Cohan finds that the development of the story is the most challenging part of her storytelling process.
“For the most part, these are stories I have told over the years to my friends,” she says.
“The challenge is framing them in a way that is relevant to people that don’t have the context of knowing me.”
Cohan is telling a story about re-entering the dating scene after her divorce.
The theme of the show is “The Road to the Altar,” and the storytellers have spent a week perfecting the telling of their true story during rehearsals at Robinson’s house.
“One of the things that I have really enjoyed is the rehearsal process. It feels more like a workshop because everyone’s story is still in progress and you get really great feedback that is incredibly supportive and creative,” Cohan says.
From day one, Robinson has insisted that shows be rehearsed before they are performed, which she feels gives the stories a more polished and prepared feel. She says, “Writing is very important to me, so I like a story that is actually a story, with a beginning, middle and end. And I think that comes across in the stories you see at our shows.”
“Better Said” distinguishes itself from other area storytelling groups such as “SpeakeasyDC” and “Story League” whose shows are generally open mics and competition-based. “Better Said” works from a core group of storytellers who over the years have been as young as 27 and as mature as 76. This diverse age range is something Robinson credits to the fact that the group doesn’t try to present itself as a certain style of storytelling.
“Our stories aren’t always funny or crazy or big. Sometimes they are heartfelt and moving and contain lessons. But sometimes they are just plain silly,” she says. “I think we draw people who are interested in having fun, but also in learning about the world and connecting with people on a deeper level.”
Robinson is the hosting and opening storyteller at the event. Her story is about meeting her husband, who is watching the show from behind the camera as he record’s the night’s performances.
“Something about love makes people want to tell funny stories,” Robinson says. “We have had a number of great nights of storytelling and, to a degree, I think that is thanks to a good theme.”
“Tapping into something that really happened to me and turning it into something that other people want to hear – that is one of my favorite things,” says storyteller Jeremy Strozer, 36.
Strozer spends his days conducting research on cyber intelligence for Carnegie MellonUniversity, and has been telling stories for many years now. He says he gets his energy from being in front of people and loves performing.
“I’m usually best in front of large groups; I’m not so good in small groups; and I’m very bad one on one,” he says.
His story is about a relationship he had while stationed in Vietnam.
Strozer believes people like storytelling because of the attachment that comes from knowing that they’ve gone through something that someone else has also gone through.
“They either identify with you or they can laugh at you. Either way, between those two things, you can cover everybody in the world,” he says.
“It’s all about drawing the audience in, letting them understand where you are coming from, getting them to care, and to take a journey with you,” Robinson says, “Then, you need to make sure it’s a great ride.”
Wolfe — in spite of some friendly teasing as Robinson introduces her by mentioning the meltdown — ends her performance with a look of relief and enough applause and cheers from the audience to remind her how great it is “to have written”.