Everyone who relies on their city’s public transit has a story to tell. And for the last decade, San Franciscans shared their shocking, heartwarming, and laugh-‘til-you-cry stories at Muni Diaries Live, a live storytelling event.
Started by Eugenia Chien and Tara Ramroop, the city-centric blog blossomed into a live event series that’s brought readers together to laugh or cry about life in the “City By The Bay.” But how did the two women turn these one-off stories into a compelling events series?
Read on to learn how Chien and Ramroop created Muni Diaries Live to build a tight-knit community of supporters — and where they’ll take the event next.
What first sparked the idea for your event?
Chien: Muni Diaries started as a student project when I was studying journalism at San Francisco State University. I was riding Muni every day and talking about all the crazy stuff that happened to us on the bus with friends — who had their stories, too.
In early 2008, Tara and I decided to publish everyone’s stories on a blog. And six months later, we began receiving stories from complete strangers. From that moment on, Muni Diaries became an anthropological record of life in San Francisco and our love-hate relationship with public transit.
Then, one day, our friends said this would be good to see live.
Ramroop: At first, we were skeptical about a live show. We pictured a group of friends at our house reading the stories out loud. We never thought it’d be an ongoing series that would be around for a decade.
When did you know your event would be a success?
Ramroop: There were a couple of tell-tale signs. For one thing, strangers were paying money to come to our show, and the first show sold out. It’s always nice when your event audience isn’t just supportive friends. Then, people shared the next event on Facebook, encouraging their friends to go – that told us that something special was happening.
Chien: I knew we were on to something when people showed up to events and surprised us with things. Like when one person made name tags out of old Fast Passes (a monthly pass for riding San Francisco’s public transit system) and handed them out. There are photographers who constantly send us pictures they think we’ll like.
Was there a moment you had to take the leap and go all in on your event?
Chien: Both Tara and I have full-time jobs, but we definitely treat Muni Diaries and Muni Diaries Live like it was our full-time gig. It’s our passion.
Ramroop: We’ve always been able to handle the site, the events, and our social accounts. We just needed to carve out the time as things grew.
Chien: Like the podcast version of Muni Diaries, which allows us to reach a wider audience. Not everyone has the means to make it to a Muni Diaries Live show. So the podcast is another opportunity for our community to connect with us.
What was your first big failure and what did you learn from it?
Chien: It wasn’t an epic failure, but we had too many people show up once and it got too hot inside the venue. We were on a different floor from the entrance, so it was difficult to see how many people the door person was letting in.
Ramroop: Although it was thematically relevant — people packed in like it was rush hour on the bus — the uncomfortable heat made it difficult to enjoy the show. The experience taught us that we needed to communicate with our venue better and make sure they help us manage attendance.
Chien: Now we make sure there’s someone at the door we trust and set capacity. It’s important that everyone is comfortable so they can enjoy the show.
If you could go back in time and give yourself a piece of advice about your event, what would it be?
Chien: For me, I think my biggest regret was not taping the first show. We took pictures, but didn’t record the performances. It was a very special experience that I’d like to revisit. So if I could do it over, I would have captured it somehow.
Ramroop: I would tell myself to sweat the details before the show. That way I can give myself permission to enjoy the shows more. It’s like when people spend all that time planning a wedding, only to regret not having fun on the big day.
We still try to be as prepared as possible and nail every detail today. But once we put the work in, we try to have fun.
Chien: Yeah. We definitely enjoy our shows more now.
Give the people what they want
Although they were skeptical at first, Chien and Ramroop can’t imagine their lives without Muni Diaries Live. If you have a passion to share and people encouraging you to that you’re onto something, take a lesson from these ladies. You never know what happens when you listen to the people around you.
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