Thursday night I was one of forty or so folks who crammed into Tin Pan Theater to witness the first Armchair Live Storytelling Night.
Like the Moth in New York City or Back Fence PDX in Portland, Armchair featured an evening of storytelling from performers who told never-before-shared, true stories without the use of props or cues. This first Armchair at Tin Pan Theater was the pilot for what organizers hope will become a storytelling series in Bend.The event was the brainchild of several of Bend’s creative all-stars: Cassondra Schindler, Gretchen Raynack, Matt Ebbing, Jordan Elliot, and the night’s MC, Sara Yellich. Armchair is one of the first non-movie events that theater owners Micah and Esme LaVoy have hosted in their new digs since opening in March and an indication of the kind of niche the may be filling in Bend.
“For a whole creative culture to survive, you need to create those venues that are approachable for [people] that have aspirations but are not professional performers,” Schindler said of Tin Pan Theater. “There’s something about a belief in that space and a belief in the creative space in Tin Pan Alley.”
Schindler and the other organizers decided on trespassing as the theme for this first Armchair event. It’s a word steeped in treachery and proved to be the perfect inspiration for the evening’s storytellers. In fact, the event was the most intimate cultural experience I’ve witnessed in Central Oregon.
It was as if I were hearing stories from strangers that are usually reserved for close friends. Some were gripping, others filled with hilarity, and a few evoked dread. If our city had a diary, pages would be lined with the stories from this event.
Each storyteller interpreted trespassing differently. Greg Bolt, a former player on a collegiate baseball team in Arkansas, told one of the more literal stories. His heart-thumping account of being hazed while on the team went something like this: Upperclassmen blindfolded and bound the arms of Bolt and his freshmen teammates, drove them deep into the rural hills, then booted them out of trucks onto a private farm.
As the freshmen ran through cotton fields fleeing the dozens of eggs fired at them by upperclassmen, an angry farmer and his dogs retaliated. Bolt shared four sounds you never want to hear while trespassing on a farm at night: a door open, a dog bark, the command “get ‘em,” and the sound of a shotgun.
Others interpreted trespassing as the invisible divisions between social groups. In Shelley Anderson’s mischievous story, she and her friends used their beauty and wit to steal a keg from a fraternity party.
Tracy Treu’s story also dealt with social trespassing. Treu is a small-town Nebraska girl and women’s study major who somehow fell in love with a star football player. When her husband entered the NFL, she entered the NFL wives club. Initially she was swept up in the glamour and glitz, but after a run-in with the star quarterback’s wife, she realized she was treading where she did not belong.
In addition to the nine planned storytellers, MC Yellich kept the momentum of the event alive with clever and comedic bios about the speakers. These introductions used descriptors such as what the storyteller would do if approached by a grizzly bear, their aptitude with a map and whether they were on team cake or team pie.
A pleasant, acoustic string trio warmed up the theater before the first set and during intermission. Toward the end of the break in the sets, two bonus speakers were introduced by MC Yellich. They told brief but entertaining stories. One had carefully crossed the road on her bike in front of an energy efficient vehicle but was verbally assaulted by the driver for no apparent reason.
“I realized I was trespassing on his afternoon,” she said.
A second Armchair event with more stories that are up to interpretation is planned for the fall with the tentative theme of Up All Night.
“It was a great collaborative effort,” said Schindler. “There is the intention to continue this as a series.”
Stay tuned for more information at Facebook.com/ArmchairBend.