On a recent Saturday, the group hosted a workshop at Epicure Cafe in Fairfax called “Spotlight on You: Telling the Story of Your Life.” Seven students came to tell their true tales in seven to 10 minutes each, in front of a casual and kind audience.
“I love telling stories,” said Tom Croce, a 54-year-old mechanical contracting manager and heating and air conditioning teacher who came to hone his classroom skills. “You can’t really teach without telling stories in between,” he said. Teaching “is like improv for three hours.”
David Supley Foxworth, a 39-year-old software developer and manager from Reston, already had attended a couple of storytelling performances. “When I was a little kid, I wanted to be a stand-up comic,” he said. “I was always a funny person. Storytelling seems more natural.” Foxworth had signed up to perform for the first time at a show featuring well-rehearsed storytellers in front of a paying audience. For today, the workshop was about improving his skills in front of kind, if critical, listeners.
In no time, the students each climbed on the small stage in front of the cafe window and proceeded to tell their stories: No paper in front of them, no practice, not even a lot of time to think about what they wanted to say.
To give students an idea of the goal, the instructors performed, too. Ruben, a stand-up comedian and a molecular biologist, told a story about trying to find the right Christmas presents for his hard-to-please ex-girlfriends. The story begins with humor but turns poignant when Ruben realizes the right woman is one who doesn’t care what the present is, as long as it’s meaningful.
Between performances, the group critiqued each other and asked questions: Should you admit you’re nervous? (No.) Should you write the story beforehand? (If you want.) Should you acknowledge it if the microphone falls over in front of you? (Definitely.)
“The best teacher for storytelling is stage time,” Ruben said. “Every time you get up in front of a live audience, you learn something.”
Kathy Stershic, 51, said improving her storytelling skills could improve her work in communications. “I hope that I learn things to help my executives tell stories about themselves,” she said.
Perhaps even better, she has found new friends in storytelling circles.
“I thought it was a lost art form,” she said. “That there are people out there . . . maintaining that tradition especially in a digital age [is] very compelling. It’s very human.”