“Everyone Has a Story. What’s Yours?”
On Valentine’s Day, Baltimore will celebrate ten years of its very own storytelling series, The Stoop, so named for Charm City’s rich history of stoop sitting in its many neighborhoods. Just as row house neighbors rest on their front steps and share stories, so it is with The Stoop. Baltimoreans from across the city come together to tell tales simply for the pleasure of the shared experience.
Write, editor and producer Laura Wexler, 44, and teacher and improv performer Jessica Henkin, 41, joined forces a decade ago to bring a new form of community theater to town. Modeled after storytelling series in other cities (Porchlight in San Francisco, for example), The Stoop showcases extraordinary stories of ordinary people. Participants don’t read or memorize or perform their stories; they just tell them. And audiences have enjoyed the creative, intimate, open, and always authentic voices that have emerged ever since.
The Stoop has performed at The Creative Alliance, Center Stage, the Meyerhoff, and now at the Senator Theater. During the “Mainstage” shows, seven invited guests get seven minutes each to share a story around a pre-selected theme. In the “Second Stoop” shows, an open mic format, storytellers have three minutes each. Laura and Jessica always organize the evenings around universal human themes — “Family Circus,” for example, with stories about “twisted sisters, funny uncles, and mommies dearest” — yet highlight the great variety of experiences we see in our collective lives. The Stoop is like one big, community mirror we hold up to see ourselves — the good, the bad and everything human in between.
With hundreds of stories to recall, it is hard for the producers to choose a best or worst show. But Laura says that the best thing that happens, regardless of the story, is learning about extraordinary people when they share their most authentic self. One example Laura recalls with admiration is the story of Liz McAlister, from the show entitled “Oh, Pioneers!: Stories about trail-blazers, hell-raisers, and folks at the forefront.” Liz told her story of peace-fighting, law-breaking, and personal anti-war revolution in a dark-of-night attack on a B-52. She was a mother of young children who, with a small group of like-minded friends, decided to act on the shared conviction of the Plowshares Movement. Thanks to technology, and the generous producers, you can listen to Liz’s all of The Stoop’s stories by clicking on “past shows” on the Stoop Storytelling website: www.stoopstorytelling.com.
Laura and Jessica will celebrate ten years of Stoop with a sold-out show on February 10 at The Senator Theater: The Stoop Turns 10!: Stories about the awkward adventures of adolescence. As they always do, the show opens with cocktails and live music, this time with The All Mighty Senators. Laura’s hope for this, and every, show is that the storytellers will be “as naked as you can be with your clothes on.”
If past shows are any indication, it will be that, and more.