• This Is Rutherford

What's Your Story?

Rutherford Pride Alliance Sponsors Storytelling Night at Williams Center


By Contributing Writer Matt Payne


Carl Kelsch, Photo credit: Dan D'Errico, Montclair Film StorySlam

“The difference between a Storytelling Night and hearing someone at a TED Talk is that TED Talks are more about instructions or coming to some conclusion. A great Storytelling Night is all about the messiness of the journey and embracing the specifics of your life—even if you feel like other people might not be in the same place as you.”

–Carl Kelsch, Storytelling Night Co-Producer


Stepping in front of an audience to weave a tale might sound like a simple thing to some—and a terrifying thing to many. But when done right, it’s worth the effort—sharing one’s stories with others bonds people and strengthens communities. Storytelling is one of the original art forms—an expression, in its oral form, that predates writing. As a storyteller myself (usually in the form of the written word), I believe that the need to hear and share stories is encoded deeply in human DNA—in the past for survival, now for deep interpersonal and community connection, always for education.


Rutherford Pride Alliance (RPA) member Carl Kelsch is a huge fan of storytelling. He initially fell in love with The Moth, whose podcast and radio show lead to “StorySLAMS” around the country where regular, everyday people share 5-minute stories about their lives. Carl has even participated in a few.


But what happens at a Storytelling Night and can anyone really join in?


“For people who’ve never been to a Storytelling Night,” says Carl, “the best way I can describe it is, ‘you will hear real people’s stories.’ They are just as entertaining and run the emotional gamut of a great blockbuster movie. You’ll be laughing, you’ll also be moved—possibly to tears. There’s just something really satisfying and immersive about the experience. But the bonus is you’re going to feel like you know a dozen new people because the stories are so personal.”


Carl will co-produce the upcoming Storytelling Night at the Williams Center on Friday, November 18, along with Kat Ruhno-McCallum. Carl was inspired to spearhead his first RPA-sponsored Storytelling Night (at Felician’s Iviswold Castle in 2019) because of his love for the format and because he felt it was a wonderful way RPA members could share their LGBTQ+ experiences.


The RPA is once again a sponsor of the Williams Center’s Storytelling Night, but the entire community is invited to share their 5-minute stories on the theme of “Turning Points.”


“Turning points seem to apply to many of the best, relatable, tellable moments from our lives,” says Carl. “Especially coming out of the changes we went through with the pandemic, many of us don’t have to look back more than a couple of years to think of a big turning point.”


The Turning Point theme helps to focus the evening and the stories, but it will be up to each individual storyteller to make the night special. The best stories are ones from which the audience can learn something—not to be hit over the head, but a more subtle lesson that the audience can read between the lines to learn.


Perhaps the hardest part of being a good storyteller is the unvarnished honesty and vulnerability the best stories require—perhaps the reason so many are so scared to put themselves out there. But that’s where a supportive community, in the form of the audience, comes in.


“Knowing how audiences have been at the Williams Center Open Mic and other events,” says Carl, “I know that our storytellers are going to be on stage in front of a very supportive group of people who are rooting for them, and they’ll feel really great showing their vulnerability. And having RPA sponsor this storytelling event is fitting because if you have an identity that is not fully accepted, it helps to see people in your town come forward as supporters of diversity and openness.”


Photos from the 2019 RPA Storytelling Event. To read more about the event, click here.


If you’re interested in sharing your story on November 18, you can contact Carl at CarlKelsch@outlook.com for more information—and help.


Says Carl, “Please know that we’re here to help you figure out how to tell your story in five minutes if it doesn’t come naturally to you.”


We’ve also compiled some tips from Carl below you can use to prepare for the night.


More about the Williams Center at williamscenter.co


More about the Rutherford Price Alliance at rutherfordpridealliance.org


Advanced tickets to Storytelling Night are $10 and can be purchased here. Use the promo code RPA2022 for discounted tickets.


Carl’s Tips


HITTING THE THEME OF THE NIGHT

If someone was thinking of telling a story, you should identify a key moment that you know turned your life into a different direction from where it was headed before. That’s the kind of story that would be celebrated at this Turning Points-themed storytelling night.


DO YOU ALREADY HAVE A STORY TO TELL?

People tend to tell the type of anecdote that they have told a dozen or more times—a big story from their life—so it’s not hard for them to tell it on a stage. Other people might have some personal story that they’ve never expressed, and they take the time to hone it, write it and commit it to memory, and make it more casual so that it can be told in this format.


GAINING INSPIRATION

Looking at forums online about how to tell stories is another great way to get inspired to consider telling a story. I recommend people look up “Moth StorySLAM',” go to themoth.org, look up other podcasts and storytelling events like Kevin Alysonn’s RISK!


PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT

I’ll tell the story several times to my voice memo on my phone, timing it, and honing it down. What you find is that some parts of your story are tangents and are making it a little too unwieldy for five minutes. And a great part of workshopping is the simple act of running it by one or two friends ahead of time and making sure you can keep it in the general time limit without losing the crucial details. You could find that, once you run it by a friend, you’re glossing over something that really needs to be added back into the story to have it make sense.


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