"I have been an actress since I was 10 years old but always felt frustrated with saying other people's words,'" says Sharon "Shay" Knorr, who in 2008, after years of successful stage and TV roles, eventually wrote her own one-woman show and performed in the Portland Story Theater. It was then that she learned she was a born storyteller. "I wanted to connect in a deeper personal way with the audience," she explains.
In 2013, she formed Solo Speak to give herself and other performers a venue to share their stories. "The shows are called The Solo Speak Sessions, and the first performance was mostly actors who had never stood on a stage and spoke in their own words before," Knorr says. "It was a scary thought for them, thinking they had nothing to say, but once they got going, I could not get them to shut up."
Solo Speak, along with other storytelling events, like Armchair, have a real audience now. The last time tickets went on sale for the quarterly-produced Armchair, they sold out in five minutes. On the resurgence of spoken work, Solo Speak participant Andrew Hickman, says, "We all enjoy a good story, whether it is a myth told for centuries, a yarn told by the campfire at summer camp or a sharing of personal experience. In sharing, we can all find, in one way or another, parts of ourselves."
The theme for this Solo Speak Session is "Jump," and the storytellers will include Knorr, Hickman, Gail Menasco, Matilda Konigsberg, Mike Ficher and Ralph Steadman (the actor, not the artist).
"For me, 'Jump' means leaping into a new adventure, but it can mean so many different things to people," says Knorr. "It can also be connected to spring."
For something as ancient as verbal storytelling to be making a resurgence is a positive sign. Storytelling has always widely been viewed as a way to strengthen a community through shared experience and solidarity.
"It is my belief that everyone has a story and someone out there needs to hear it. It is a healing experience for the performer and the audience," Knorr says. "It doesn't matter if you cured cancer or make a great apple pie...it is all relevant." She adds, "On a grander level, I believe that hearing each other's stories can bring understanding between people and communities. That is my mission."
The Solo Speak Sessions: "Jump"
Fri. & Sat., May 16-17
Greenwood Playhouse, 148 NW Greenwood Ave.
$15-$18 at Solospeak.com.