Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Learning to Slam

A Story Slam?  I’d heard of but never attended a Poetry Slam.  What’s a Story Slam?

This definition is from Norah Dooley of massmouth: “Based on a poetry Slam format and similar to American Idol, a story slam is a contest of words by known and undiscovered talent. massmouth posts a theme on its website and story slammers sign up on the night [of the Story Slam] to tell a 5-minute short story on the evening's theme, and a lucky eight to ten names will be drawn at random from a box. Other audience members may feel moved to join in on a judging team. There will be a team of 5 judges - interested amateurs, storytellers, theater people and anyone who loves stories. Each set of 5 stories will begin with a story by a sacrificial teller, usually one of the past winners. Listeners will be engaged in story improv games and other interactive entertainments between each 5 minute feature.

Each of the featured 5 minute stories is judged on how well it is told, how well it is constructed and how well the story explores, connects and/or reveals some truth about the theme and, how well it honors the time limit.  The 2 highest-scoring tellers and 1 Audience Choice are awarded prizes. … Prizes will be awarded at each slam.”

 Stories Slams were beginning to work their way into the venue of Storytelling Conferences, when I attended both Sharing the Fire produced by L.A.N.E.S. and the Northlands  Conference produced by the Northlands Storytelling Network.  I watched and listened as my friend, Judith Heineman, prepared her slam story for Sharing the Fire and wondered if I could tell a personal story in five minutes.  At the Northlands Conference, I was invited to be a “Judge-in-Training” which meant sitting with the judges next to Judy Sima so I could ask questions about what she was doing and what the numbers meant.  I learned that you don’t want to be the first contestant.

Set the mic on FIRE
 Also at the Northlands Conference, the audience was invited to participate by telling “Filler Stories,” a one minute anecdotal story on the theme.  Well, I had some of those in my back pocket, but would they fit the theme.  I pondered…  One of the contestants told a story about playing games with her father.  Ah Ha!  That was one I could do!  So I volunteered to tell while the real judges deliberated out in the hall.

Venturing to the stage I began my story of playing Monopoly with my dad almost every weekend in the winter.  It was a dual to the finish with Dad usually winning.  Finally I figured out what his strategy was, tried it; and found it worked.  Then the real battles began.  Many years later, while attending the International Science and Technology Fair with my daughter, I heard a young scientist explain his project: “Winning Monopoly” to the group of assembled students and their adult companions.  It was the same strategy Dad used and I copied – exactly!  Scientific Proof which validated one ten-year-old's creative thinking skills. 
I’ve expanded that one minute anecdotal story and am now waiting for another theme to be Right.  Searching through the anecdotes of one’s life can be likened to a Treasure Hunt.  Once the treasure is discovered, it takes building and paring to discover the essential truth of the story.  Both a challenge and a discipline in building a good story.  That, I think, is the pull of Story Slam.

Copyright 2014 Julie Moss Herrera. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Julie Moss Herrera.


Anonymous said...

Slams are great discipline for paring your stories down to the bare essentials. You can always flesh them out again, but when you go to re-fatten them, you find that much of the detail you had to cut really is extraneous. Here in Philadelphia, First Person Arts has been running slams for about thirteen years. I've been a fan and a participant since moving here. What a sweet community of "regulars"! I'm glad you're enjoying the sparring matches and would love to hear how it's changing your longer format telling.

Also…what WAS your father's strategy for winning at Monopoly?

Paula said...

Nice post, Julie - slams definitely have their own culture. Interestingly I did a story about the Game of Life for a slam (the theme was games, so...) I do find anything theme-based is helpful in getting the imagination going.

Stories by Julie said...

Thanks, Megan. Since I am so new to Slamming, I have not pared stories down, but have found stories I wasn't sure I had. That's what I find so exhilarating.
I need to find a venue now to tell this story so all those who are waiting with baited breathe for THE strategy will be able to win.

Stories by Julie said...

The theme is a wonderful way to find stories rattling around in the attic of your brain.

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