Storytelling resonates with community speakers

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BENNINGTON — Without interruption, props, or notes, one must tell a true story in five minutes pertaining to a chosen theme. Similar to a TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) Talk, storytelling is taking on its own platform in town. Originally held at South Street Cafe last March, the overflowing crowd is now located at the Tap House at Catamount Glass on every third Tuesday of the month.

TED is a nonprofit with the mission to spread ideas via 18 minute or less talks ranging from business to global issues, according to its website. Locally, Forest Byrd hosts the Tap House's storytelling nights for himself and the community.

The Front Parlor series that started five years ago in Troy, N.Y., is the same kind of initiative that led Byrd to expand Bennington's spoken word culture.

"You're a celebrity for five minutes, it's great," Byrd said. "You don't even think much about it. It's an honest thing, and people reveal themselves in such ways that it's just like – you thought you knew somebody, but then they go up there and you're like 'wow, I didn't know that.' It's kind of crazy and that's what I love about it."

One frequent storyteller who practices and prepares his words shared his experience about encountering bedbugs for the first time, however he left out that distinction until the end of the story, acting as a punch line, Byrd said.

"Most people go up there and tell an experience but they're not story crafters, they tell an experience," he said. "I think Bennington is right for it, it's amazing how many people resonate with the idea."

Different from an open mic event, Byrd believes that storytelling gives an individual a reason to attend. During open mic, the entertainment is random and offered to a range of talents, but with storytelling, people "say something that means something." He noted that speakers rarely bomb a performance due to bravery taking over their act.

Every month there is a new theme that Byrd decides on. The first one was "Beginnings: New and Old," December was "Forgive and Forget" relating to the terrorism even in Paris, and January's theme was "Easy as Pie." Some included sweet experiences in their stories unplanned to fit the theme, Byrd said.

"What's nice is that people feel safe and free to tell something that they maybe wouldn't tell a normal existence," he said. "I think that's what the draw is for people to come to it. Hopefully it alleviates gossip and people can learn things from people but they can also speak easily too."

A storyteller once told Byrd "you can never tell your story if you're stuck in it," and that's why themes help people tell stories in a different manner to help them grow from the experience.

"What this is, is that you teach people to listen, which is more important than actually telling the story. A comedian has to earn your respect and the way I like to do it is to say we're all in this together and it's important that we respect each other."

The next storytelling event will be held at the Tap House (309 County St.) on Feb. 16 at 7 p.m. with readings to begin at 7:30 p.m. The theme is yet to be announced. It is free and open to the public.

Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.


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