He got up, drink in hand.
He told his piece to the crowd thick like lichen on every free surface of the tiny tavern. He gave stats on Latinos with PhDs. He talked about dodging gunfire the night before he defended his dissertation.
He backtracked and repeated himself. He laughed at his own jokes and sometimes talked so close to the mic I couldn’t understand him. He was unpolished and unprofessional.
It was the greatest storytelling event I’ve ever been to.
It’s called The Stoop. Every month, storytellers Lily Be and Clarence Browley gather people whose stories they want to hear.
Some are professionals — comics, writers, performers in the growing live lit community. But where any reading at any bar can fill a slow night with the pros, The Stoop gathers… people.
The stories at The Stoop are the stories you want to hear. Not polished pieces that, when the sparkling wordplay and staggering presentation are removed, boil down to “We broke up and I’m sad” or “Society needs work, man.” Real stories. Human stories. True stories.
Like dodging gunfire the night before a dissertation.
Or going bananas while working security at a heavy metal show, despite being the smallest guy on staff.
Or not being ready to go down a waterslide.
That last story was told by one of the folks who stood for the open mic segment. In testament to the mood Be and Browley have cultivated, the open mic was smooth and fluid, comfortable and just as entertaining as the main acts.
I’m going to harp on that for a moment. I’ve organized live lit events for the last two years and have been reading at them for three. Storytellers and writers can be lovely, hilarious people. They can also care about nothing more than proving that their soul is the most riveting to expose to the world.
Other performers be damned, audience be damned, time limits they agreed to before Printer’s Row but then took 20 damn minutes to read from their stupid book when they knew the limit was 10 minutes in order to get all the performers in be damned as well. What matters to some is forcing strangers to feel your struggles are harsh and your soul beautiful.
To create an open, welcoming mood in a performance space that attracts this particular type of wordy exhibitionist takes skill, of course, but it also takes an underrated amount of hard work. Be and Browley made it look effortless.
I’ve interviewed Lily for the blog before, getting all the whys and wherefores of her storytelling journey. You can read that for the backstory, The Stoop Begins.
But now I want to leave you with a scene:
A tiny tavern with murals on the walls, Christmas ornaments dangling from the ceiling, a small stage with the name “Rosa’s” in cut-out red cursive on the back and people of all ages, all incomes, all races and at every scattering along the spectrum of gender and sexuality standing in front of a crowd, sharing whatever it is they have to say.