A while ago, the Examiner glowingly reviewed Briefly Knocked Unconscious By a Low-Flying Duck, the print anthology of 2nd Story, a Chicago storytelling performance series. It then occurred to the Examiner that she should really write about this series in its natural habit, the live show. So on an extremely cold January Sunday night, she went off to Webster’s Wine Bar and pulled up a stool at “New Again: Stories of Starting Over”, a recent 2nd Story production.
The first thing you should know is that 2nd Story’s mission is to get people to, well, tell stories. That includes the audience, which is what gives the series its name. The program deliberately includes space between the acts for listeners to tell that “second story”, inspired by what they just heard. And the crowd at Webster’s took this to heart. One of the most gratifying things about the evening was the immediate buzz that took off moments after each teller concluded. The Examiner herself even had a conversation or two in between scribbling in a notebook.
What didn’t seem apparent until talking with 2nd Story members is how much the process got those putting together the show to tell stories. 2nd Story has had a slow evolution, with missteps and occasional imbalances. They tried doing fictional stories, they tried having people read stories that weren’t theirs. At moments writing and theatre weren’t married as comfortably as they are today. But sticking with the event enabled the writers to learn more about performance and theatre types to learn more about writing. Julie Ganey, the night’s emcee with a background in theatre, now has a whole pile of publishable stories (one in Low-Flying Duck). Megan Stiestra, writer and 2nd Story's Literary Director, says she used to “just do readings”, but now has a whole new sense of how to tell stories in public.
Performers and staff willingly mixed with the crowd, taking questions about their story and how it got up to the mike (after all, they want your story too!). Rebecca Kling, a first-time teller, said she felt like the whole process “got her out of her cave” creatively. A seasoned performer in other venues. Kling’s energy, her thoughtful honesty about being transgender, and her visual sense made her piece, about changing her name as a result of changing her gender, and then trying to get that pesky little “M” signifier on her license changed at the DMV, pop. Director Liz Rice, who works with the Goodman theatre, coached the tellers to heighten those visual sequences, as did C.P Chang, a writer who curated the evening. Chang must have had a hell of a time with order—in a night about new beginnings, how do you decide who goes first?
Company member J. Adams Oaks’ story had one of the most beautiful lines about a first kiss ever penned or read aloud. Alyssa Sorresso, another first-timer, and Nick Ward, a company member, highlighted strong themes and relatable moments that hit the Examiner in such a way that she nodded her head at their stories’ “theses” or “moments of truth”. And the soundscapes backing the works were surprisingly essential and perfect. Reading Oakes’s story in Low-Flying Duck and then hearing it aloud, the gentle flamenco guitar at calibrated moments now seems wedded to the piece. Curator Chang’s order seemed organized yet playful—the evening ended with a restart of an old relationship.
The crowd looked to be dressy folks in their late twenties and early thirties, perhaps due to ease of connecting to other’s experiences when you’ve had them too, and a somewhat high admission fee. ($15 tickets, dinner, and a wine flight add up.) Though the Examiner did not partake in Webster’s epicurean offerings, they both smelled and looked delicious, and you’d hope a wine bar knew what it was doing with the wine. Still, eat out less or choose to eat out with professionally produced storytellers. It’s worth it: especially if you don’t always get to reading series, or you love This American Life’s more personal offerings but it’s not often live and New York is too far away. (The Examiner hears rumblings that there are sometimes free 2nd Story events at bookstores or Columbia College’s Story Week, and ticket prices vary slightly with location.) Depending on the venue (the next show is at Underground Wonderbar) a show might be a good date night, or a semi-fancy evening out with friends. With the help of 2nd Story, you could hear your companions tell a tale never heard before.
2nd Story's next events will be Friday, January 25th from 6-7:30 pm at 57th Street Books, 1301 E. 57th St, Chicago, IL, for free, and Saturday, January 26th from 7-10 pm at Underground Wonderbar, 710 N. Clark St, Chicago, IL. Tickets $15 in advance, $20 at the door.