Performance with Punch: A Storytelling Revival at Montreal Story Slams

Storytelling has brought people together around campfires, dinner tables, and TED conferences since the Sumerian empire; it’s a tradition that predates written language. It’s more than a way to confide in each other, storytelling allows us to share our fears, loves, and values. And it’s everywhere. Isn’t your Facebook wall just one long (if not disjointed) narrative of modern life? I’d argue the current storytelling revival is a reaction to our experiences shouting into the void of cyberspace. From front porches to bar stools, we just can’t help ourselves. We love spinning yarns. Why not ditch your #selfie feed for some direct human contact this summer? Montreal has numerous events to quell your need for performance, exhibitionism, and soul-baring. You may have read last month’s interview with Cameryn Moore of the Smut Slam? The city’s story scene also includes This Really Happened, the competitive Confabulation and SLAMtastique, the publication Carte Blanche, as well as the biannual Festival Interculturel du Conte du Quebec.

To understand more about this human compulsion we talked to two-time Ottawa story slam champion, and founder of Montreal’s SLAMtastique, JD Hickey about the elements making this tradition so timeless.

z IMG_8091What makes the story slam format special for the teller? The audience member? How is the experience different from other genres of performance?

The Story Slam has a few elements that make it more challenging for the teller. There is a five-minute time limit that has consequences if you exceed it (you lose points). The time limit forces the teller to distill the story to make it fit the time frame, whilst keeping it interesting. The teller is scored after his performance, which provides them with instant feedback on their performance.

Storytelling is an intimate and engaging performance art because, when done properly, the audience can feel like the teller is relating a story that appeals to each member personally.

Why the “no reading” rule? What does that contribute to the experience / performance?

The teller will not be able to connect to the audience if his/her eyes are glued to a script and one arm is locked holding the page. It doesn’t feel natural or personal. The teller embodies the story and uses the whole body to pass it on to the audience. The Story Slam isn’t a creative writing class: the teller is as important to the story as the story is to the audience.

What are the elements of a great story? A great storyteller?

In all of my favorite stories, a universal truth is revealed via one of the characters. This doesn’t mean that every story has a moral, but it can have a moment where the listener thinks “What would I have done?” or “That’s just like what happened to me last week.” This is the universal truth that strikes a chord. Whether the story is myth or personal anecdote, the listeners can often feel like the story was meant specifically for them.

Also, a told story and a written story are two very different beasts. The written story must describe a scene, but storytellers can embody the scene: you can see it in their faces, you can hear it in their voices, you can feel in it the moment. It’s not enough for the story to be funny or sad or tragic or true: the story must be meaningful to the storyteller, and only then can the storyteller make it meaningful for the listener.

Can you describe a specifically memorable SLAMtastique event?

My favorite moments of last year was watching a younger writer/teller as she rose to the challenge, overcame her stage fright, and shared her stories with our crowd. She eventually won the May 2013 competition. I was proud as punch to have played my small role in giving her a place to share her voice.

What would you say to encourage someone who is interested in story slamming, but is scared or intimidated?

Come and listen to a few stories at the Slam to get a feel for the room and the style of performance. Speak with the tellers to get advice and some support…after that, jump right in and give it a try!

The SLAMtastique event happens every 2nd Monday of the month at Cafe Shaika.

The Confabulation story slam is held monthly at The Mainline Theatre.

Listen to the This Really Happened storytellers on Carte Blanche.

Tune in to the Confabulation podcast at No More Radio.

Get more details about the Smut Slam here.


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