One of the types of storytelling that we don’t often talk about on the blog is the tradition of oral storytelling. I’ve often thought that it would be really amazing to host storytelling events as a way to engage a non-profit’s community.
Recently, I came across the Women’s Center for Creative Work through a storytelling event that they were talking about on social media. Today I have the pleasure of featuring an interview with the Women’s Center for Creative Work and their event partner, Gal Palace, about their storytelling event and community building.
Tell us a bit about the work that Women’s Center for Creative Work and Gal Place does.
WCCW: The Women’s Center for Creative Work is a collaboration of Los Angeles-based women engaged in conversations about creative practices and contemporary feminisms of all kinds. We represent a network of women interested in supporting each other socially, creatively and economically and building the structures (physical and transcendental) that maximize connectivity and empower us collectively. The organization has existed nomadically through events, workshops, conversations, screenings, residencies, collaborations, and site-specific projects for over a year, and is looking to establish a permanent, physical home base beginning in early 2015.
GAL PALACE (Aerienne and Chrysanthe O): The Gal Palace is a DIY events space, operated by four young feminists. Our mission is to create a positive space for creative expression for independent artists, feminist & queer thinkers, and the larger community. Once we met Kate and Sarah, it was a no-brainer to start a monthly collaboration between Gal Palace and WCCW!
Stories are an important part of non-profit communications and as an organization that focuses on creative work, I imagine that you have a lot of interesting stories to share. You recently held a storytelling event – Fool Me Once – a Feminist Storytelling Party. So awesome! How did the idea for that come about?
WCCW: We’ve hosted two Feminist Storytelling Events with the Gal Palace now, and both themes have been their genius ideas. The first was “Failed Expectations” and the last one was “Fool Me Once.” We’ll let them talk about it more though!
GAL PALACE: Aerienne (one of our Gal Palace gals) is a big fan of storytelling podcasts, and was intrigued to learn that the True Story Time podcast accepted submissions from its listeners. This is how the idea for the party began, but when brainstorming with the Women’s Center, it evolved into a feminist event where only women were invited to speak. The first event theme, Failed Expectations, came from a desire to openly talk about failure as a means to accept and embrace the experience. The second theme, Fool Me Once, came out of that same desire, to accept our imperfections, own our foolish mistakes, and realize we’re not the only ones!
What do you think some of the benefits are of community storytelling events like yours?
WCCW: We were talking about this at the end of the last show, that no matter what the topic, what makes these storytelling parties feel important, and feel feminist is an invitation for women to openly tell their stories. It complicates homogenous notions of what women’s experiences are and should be, and allows for a space for imperfection and to buck expectations. Like consciousness raising, and many other feminist tools, sharing stories is seen as a powerful connector, a way to bridge boundaries, and a way to connect individual experiences to understand larger cultural narratives.
GAL PALACE: It’s incredible to create a safe space to talk about the struggles and obstacles we’ve overcome openly and truthfully. When we think of stories, we tend to think of a very precise narrative arc that ends in a lesson learned. Like WCCW said, these stories disrupt the traditional structure. There’s not always a moral or a happy ending.
What were some of the outcomes of this event?
WCCW: I love when the people who didn’t think they were going to tell a story listen to a few, then get excited and decide they do have one to tell. The stories are great, but they’re also really disarming in a way, because they are people’s personal stories so they know them really well so they end up being engaging performances even if the tellers aren’t master storytellers, stand-up comedians, performers, etc…
GAL PALACE: Both times, the event started with about four people signed up for stories. Aerienne and I were worried that it would be a short show, but as the night went on, more people identified with the theme and decided to share, and it always ended up as a full show. It’s amazing that it happens naturally!
One of our favorite elements of the storytelling event is the range of emotions it brings out – some of the stories are rip-roaringly hilarious, while others are tragic and tearful. You can have an event with the same theme, and people will interpret it in so many different ways – it demonstrates the range of human experiences.
Afterwards, it connects people and creates a community – since we’ve all opened up stage, complete strangers suddenly feel like friends — people will stay around and chat, meet others, etc.
A lot of non-profits have great communities around them that could be strengthened through events like this. What tips can you share with non-profits who might want to host a similar type of storytelling event?
WCCW: I think the storytelling events could be a great way for a lot of people or organizations to connect. I would make sure you have a few people who are ready and willing to tell their stories so you have good energy to start off. But for us, they have been a great way to connect over real experiences and emotions in a safe, fun environment.
GAL PALACE: Hosting your own storytelling event is easy! It could be done in a living room, in a public park, around a dinner table – anywhere. All you need is a space, a supportive audience, and a few people willing to share their tales. I think it’s a great way to bring people together in a fun, unexpected way.
Thank you so much to the Women’s Center for Creative Work and Gal Palace for joining us on the blog today! You’ve shared some wonderful insights and I hope that we have a few readers who are inspired to host their own storytelling events!