Monday, September 22, 2014

I finally get back to (un)told

Maybe it's because it's fall: I'm suddenly itching to go out and do things and see shows. And so I was pretty happy that I could finally, for the first time in a few months, get out to (un)told tonight.

The open mike storytelling series has moved: they're now in the Black Rose room of the Heart and Crown on Clarence. Or, to be more clear - that pub in the Market that is really a whole bunch of interconnected pubs where you're never really sure, once you've gone in, which one you're in? Go round to the back of that (the Murray Street side) and look for the little door next to the Black Rose. Or, wander inside, past miles of oak rails and tiled floors, till you see this:

 . . .and then go down the stairs. 

The room feels nicely packed with thirty people, it's cosy, and pretty quiet, because of the stairs.

The format is still pretty much the same - open mike, you can sign up in advance online at the website or, presumably, talk to Liz when you get there - and they still do the thing where they hand out little slips of paper so the audience can share their own stories on the theme of the day, in a smaller, possibly tweet-able format. (The stories from the slips are read out periodically, giving the writer a small taste of how the tellers feel: a clever move, I think.) Tonight's theme was "Fight or Flight."

And the audience is interesting. Definitely a younger crowd than you see at some other storytelling shows in the city. This was a twentysomething crowd for the most part (not everyone though), and tonight, I'd argue, predominantly male (another oddity: many other storytelling shows skew heavily to women. Then again, that might have just been the way it played out tonight.)

But, the stories!

Some memorable lines, and some impressions:

"'It's a fetish,' was the first thing he said." A woman waiting for a streetcar in Toronto gets approached by a guy who explains he just wants her to kick him in the balls. After making sure he's serious, and won't sue her or anything, she decides, well, she's got nothing else to do till the bus comes. . . this winds up spiraling into a strange sidewalk domination session, to which she remains a completely bemused party. Until the bus comes, and he asks for her number, when she says, "no, are you nuts?"

". . . the Grand Canyon, the vast space between a mother and child. . . " The fight: in a dreamscape campground, two momma bears face off over the same child, through a car windshield. The flight: across America's west.

"I have to confess, I've never really been a fan of outdoor sex." Stuck on a tiny island with your wife when a storm makes your northern Quebec lake impassable? Found a nice, comfy bit of flat stone where you could have a little adult fun? Then suddenly aware of a motorboat approaching, carrying two sketchy guys in camo and hunting gear? Convinced for some reason they're here to take your wife? All you have is a Swiss Army knife? What do you do? What do you do?

"So I turned the gas up to maximum and I walked away from that shit." Bad enough that the mouse crawled out of the barbecue when he fired it up for the first time. But to think it might have had a nest in there . . . and little mouse babies . . . when he turned on the gas . . . well, it had been on full blast for twenty minutes by the time he manned up and went back out there, so if anything was left of the mouse babies, it was only their souls that got into the burgers.

"I was going to die. They were all going to die. I closed my eyes and I could see her. Her lips. The smell of her hair. The feel of her body pressed against mine. And the train was still coming." . . . and you thought this was going to be a love story? This was a story with a first kiss, a remote town, young love, and a terrible storm that took out the train bridge. . . and a barreling passenger train heading for the loose rails over the river. . . and the best "gotcha" tall tale ending I've heard in a long while.

"If someone asks you where you live, don't give them a fucking address. Point right here, at your frontal lobes, and tell them 'Right here, and right now,' because that's all you've got." A raw, emotional account of living through a family member suddenly having a medical crisis and winding up in a vegetative state, and why that means you have to live, and you have to laugh. Also included a badass, tough-as-nails smoke jumper who was (almost) too shaken by grief to dig his wife's grave. And a couple of moments where the teller stopped and said to us, yeah, yeah, it's okay, you can laugh, it's funny, this is how life is. This is how death is. And it's kind of ludicrous.

"She turned around to her assistant and said, 'He has to do this! He has to do this! He has to do this! He has to do this!' She said it four times." All DJ was trying to do was vote. And it ended up with her walking in circles in the polling station, trying to calm down, because despite a driver's license and health card and birth certificate that all said she was female, the woman at the polling station was certain she was male. Was it her voice? Does she have 'one of those faces'? When just voting is a fight-or-flight situation, when "proving you're a person" and that you exist is even harder, how do you cope with it?

It looked to me, coming in after a couple of months off (and, I think, as my first time at (un)told as a non-teller) as though the series is going gangbusters. And it's doing some interesting things. A lot of the people who got up to tell were taking some big risks - not just in being emotionally invested, but in the ways they chose to tell. They banked on the audience coming with them, and most of the time, I think, the audience did. Even to some kind of painful places. It was a good night, with hushed moments and laughs trading spaces.

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