BAR HARBOR — Storytelling is one of the things that defines us as humans. Folks probably started telling tales from the first time the big fish got away or a Cro-Magnon came home late from work and his mate got together with another woman to talk about their men folk.
But with the advent of theater, movies and TV, storytelling started taking more elaborate forms, and in this culture anyway, the simple act of sharing a good tale with friends and neighbors has become something of a lost art, found mostly at fringe festivals and in college calendars of events. These days, a good story has been reduced to a few dozen Twitter characters.
But thanks largely to public radio and the popularity of shows such as “This American Life,” “Moth Radio Hour,” “Snap Judgment,” the documentary “Serial” and a sudden abundance of podcasts, storytelling has had something of resurgence.
This has not been lost on the folks at the Jesup Memorial Library, and for the second year now, this venue has been part of the revival of storytelling and that other struggling art form, poetry, with alternating weekly storytelling “Words Unleashed” and poetry “Verse Unleashed” slams.
Last Friday night, it was story time. A good 30 or so people showed up to be entertained, amazed and moved by four people that evening. Each story teller was willing to take the risk of revealing something about themselves in front of people they likely would see again, and relate – without visual aids, background music or a script – an episode from their life.
“It’s not really a slam,” moderator Jeff Miller explained, “Because there is no winner picked. We tried that at first, but the element of competition, we thought, took something away from it.”
First up was Miller’s wife, Liz Cutler, who enthusiastically related a fun story from her teenage years about talking a boyfriend into going camping with her when her parents were away and getting caught by her dad.
Marcy Willow’s story concerned a near-drowning incident she experienced as a young nature guide. Willow, who appeared to be a seasoned storyteller, managed, with a quirky, rather deadpan delivery, to make this horrifying tale both gripping and humorous. “You know, I grew up on a lake as a child but had never been taught how to swim because my mother was afraid I would drown,” she said.
Gary Friedmann, another polished storyteller, gave us just enough background information to let us know how he managed to end up on a Christmas vacation road trip from Connecticut to Disneyworld with a van full of rambunctious inner-city Boy Scouts who were all dressed for their Florida destination and not the winter weather they encountered along the way.
Gretchen Westphal’s story about helping out a fellow bus traveler had a great punch line. Her story told us loud and clear that she is the kind of good Samaritan who, when she sees someone who may be in trouble – in this case an Asian woman on a bus to Boston with three heavy suitcases, poor English and unclear travel plans – can’t help getting involved, very involved.
All in all, it was a thoroughly entertaining hour of listening to the sorts of stories we all have collected in our lives and have told our friends and families at the dinner table and on road trips for years. But this was a terrific chance to hear new ones from people who may not be in our immediate circle of friends. It was great getting to know a little about these folks as a rebellious teen, while trying to find the bottom of a lake, on the road to Disney World or lending a hand to a stranger.
The next event is “Verse Unleashed,” on Feb. 19 at 7 p.m.