words: Andrew Bucket
photos: courtesy of StoryLeague
S.M Shrake, or Scott as his colleagues refer to him, is along with Cathy Alter a co-founder of StoryLeague which is the fastest growing storytelling series in the city. The two upstarts put on their first show in March 2011, and most recently, in August, sold out the 200+ seat Dome Theatre at Artisphere, featuring performers from Huffington Post, Upright Citizens Brigade, and TEDtalks.
StoryLeague will bring DC their first ever story contest at Busboys and Poets 14th st location on Thursday 9.08 (tomorrow!)– an event that invites anyone and everyone to submit a short pitch of their story to a panel of seasoned storytellers, and perhaps be invited to compete that very night for $100 and loads of street cred.
What attracted you to stories rather than stand-up, slam poems, or performance art?
It was an easy way in, to performing I mean, because it was something I’d done before (i.e., my whole life): Told everyone in a room to shut up and listen to me tell a story. Without interrupting me! I’ve since tried stand-up, and boy is it hard. I can’t do poetry (not smart enough). And performance art usually entails something more like a monologue: And I hate monologues, because they are memorized.
Is a storytelling show a good date idea?
I don’t know if it’s good, but regardless I certainly end up taking my dates to story shows, because that’s what I’m doing most nights anyway. They can tag along. I call that a date. But when you think about it, I’d say: It’s as good as any type of show, and shows are good bets for dates because then you don’t have to talk to your date… until afterward, at which time you have something to discuss (the stories you’ve just heard, who was good, who stunk up the joint).
Do you see a lot of people just dying to get on stage after they see a show?
A lot of my friends come to a show and then they say they want to tell a story onstage, but I tell them it’s harder than it looks. It looks fun, but like the wise Tiger Mom says, “Nothing is fun until you are good at it.”
What is the best story you’ve heard recently?
I loved the one from our Politics show last month at Artisphere, about an Asian-American ex-Bible-thumper who becomes a teacher and takes a job at a Yeshiva school, where they won’t let him teach without a rabbi in the room to “correct” him on things like evolution. That was funny, with lots of acting, different voices, and subtle ironies: stuff I love.
The most impressive “serious” story was one I heard the first time I went to a story show, and that was about a woman who finally comes out as a lesbian, is really happy and is in her first relationship, and then she is abducted and nearly raped by a man. I was holding my breath and leaning in for the whole 7 minutes… it was terrifying and amazing, and the perfect blend of expert presentation and riveting subject matter.
What got you so excited to bring a story contest to DC?
Well, I’ve competed in “story slams” in New York (I survived the experience), Detroit (I won!), and Philadelphia (I was robbed), and it was really cool, helped me get some chops! But there were several operational methods I thought of while traveling around, and have been dying to try out, things that are different. Things having to do with the story selection, the judging process, the time limit, the prize, etc.
Is our storytelling scene having a boom right now?
I would say yes, definitely. There are more story events than ever here, in different venues, with different conceptions behind them.
Story League and the other story orgs in D.C. are building bridges with other cities, to nurture symbiosis and work on getting a national network that’s strong and shares its talent across different cities. Story League has brought down three tellers from Baltimore, one from Philly, and three from New York for our shows so far. And at the Contest we will have Amy Saidman from SpeakeasyDC, Laura Wexler from The Stoop in Baltimore, and Dan Gasiewski from First Person Arts in Philadelphia as our judges! I think that’s a step in the right direction.