By Shelby Little
Thursday night I was one of forty or so folks who crammed into the Tin Pan Theater to witness the first Armchair Live Storytelling Night.
Like the Moth in New York City, Armchair features a series of storytellers who tell never-before-shared, true stories without the use of props or cues.
The theme was trespassing: a word that is steeped in treachery. I’ve only trespassed a few times in my life, experiences that were rites of passage in college, or moments of stolen entitlement in forbidden places.
What moments of mischief, brushes with the law, or forbidden places had these nine storytellers experienced?
In the suspenseful interlude between the doors opening and the beginning of the show, one storyteller, Pauly, shared with me that he had moved from a glamorous little ski town in Colorado to Bend because he wanted to live in a city with a soul.
This event proved to be the most intimate experience I have witnessed in Central Oregon. It was as if I were hearing stories from strangers that are usually reserved for close friends, late at night; well after a bond of trust is established. 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. There were the literal translations of trespassing: to wander where you are not wanted.
A member of a collegiate baseball team in Arkansas, Greg Bolt, told a heart-thumping account of being hazed by upperclassmen. They blindfolded and bound the arms of he and his freshmen teammates and drove them deep into the rural hills before stopping their trucks on a private farm. As the freshmen ran through cotton fields to flee dozens of eggs that the upperclassmen were firing at them, an angry farmer and his dogs retaliate. 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. Shelley Anderson’s story also occurred some years earlier while she attended college in Boulder. In her mischievous story, she and her friends use their beauty and wit to steal a keg from a fraternity party, trespassing in a social function in which they were not invited.
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.
René Mitchell gave a bold an unapologetic account of the day her husband committed suicide. Before she went onstage she told me, “I feel the need to share my story as a way of survival.” She displayed a rare and brilliant strength as she debunked many assumptions about suicidal people. He was not depressed. They were happily married. There were no warning signs.
“He was bright and beautiful. Maybe he was too beautiful for this world.” Mitchell’s story captivated everyone in the room, but what was the connection to the night’s theme? Was she inviting the audience to intrude into her life with a brutally intimate and frank story? Or is suicide a socially taboo topic, especially if the victim is at the top of his game and there is no clear explanation? “Silence is dangerous,” said Mitchell.
The Armchair Live Storytelling Event was put on by several of Bend’s creative all-stars: Cassondra Schindler, Matt Ebbing, Jordan Elliot, Gretchen Raynack and the night’s MC, Sara Yellich. The next event is planned for the fall with a tentative theme of Up All Night.