In these increasingly argumentative times, there’s been a resurgence of nights where people are willing to share their lives through stories, letters, old diaries, music and comedy.
Across London, true storytelling nights like Spark, Tenx9, and Natural Born Storytellers have been running for several years. And they’re growing. “As we become more detached from each other in society and more of our communication is done through a screen, nights like these are stripped down, totally raw, and you never know what you’re going to get,” explains Michael Kissow, organiser of Natural Born Storytellers. “They allow us to connect, listen, be heard, and to be given a glimpse into people’s lives we would otherwise have never had.”
Tenx9 organiser Becca Baron agrees: “Whether they’re funny or poignant, people’s stories give us a sense of shared humanity. There’s always such an intimacy in the room at the end of the night.”
Sometimes the truth is hilarious. Comedian Megan Hockley has noticed a rise in confessional-style stand up and says her show Loser, at this summer’s Camden Fringe, comes from the belief that only by being honest can we truly connect with one another.
“I think we’re so emotionally isolated in the modern world: we’re surrounded by people, but if we don’t connect on that deeper level, we remain lonely,” she says. “It’s so joyful and lovely to be in a roomful of people saying ‘Yes! Me too!’.”
Reading your teenage diaries in public, which is what people sign up to do at Cringe, could also arguably be considered both comedy and therapy. Mortified takes it one step further, allowing people to share their adolescent letters, poetry, home movies, plays, and other artistic endeavours.
But the trend doesn’t always lead towards the hilarious or embarrassing. Kristian Brodie started One Track Minds three years ago – a cross between Desert Island Discs and a TED talk – where invited guests tell the story of how one particular piece of music shaped or changed their life. Up until now it’s been authors, journalists, comedians and the like, but Brodie is opening it up so anyone can tell their story at a night called Hidden Tracks.
“A story isn’t a story without listeners,” he says. “People have explored their inspiration, their grief, their creativity, through a song that means something to them. It’s incredible.”
An antidote to stand-up comedy, Natural Born Storytellers is a monthly storytelling night where people meet to share true stories, that are, granted, sometimes hilariously comedic, but that can also be raw and beautiful, in a welcoming space.
Started in 2007, Spark is the longest running true storytelling night in London. Every month they host a monthly night of curated stories in Exmouth Market featuring guest storytellers and the best true stories from their regular open mic nights, which are held in Hackney and Brixton, for anyone who wants to chance their arm at telling a true story on a theme within five minutes.
Nine people have up to ten minutes to tell a true story from their own life, linked to a theme at this roaming pop-up storytelling night. Part of a diaspora of Tenx9s that started in Belfast and now have outposts in Nashville, Chicago, Glasgow, Adelaide and even Juba in South Sudan, it’s free and open to everyone brave enough to share their tale.
Started in New York by Sarah Brown, the London edition of Cringe has seen people reading out extracts from their teenage diaries since 2009. The melodrama of adolescence makes the material unintentionally hilarious, and the shared experience of those teen years means it’s a heartwarming night too.
Another night dedicated to the weird and wonderful writings and creations of our teenage years, Mortified is a show-and-tell style storytelling night that celebrates the angst-ridden artefacts of adolescence.
Taking the premise that we’ve all got a soundtrack to our lives, One Track Minds invites people of note to tell the story of how one song changed their lives, and Hidden Tracks is where anyone gets to have a go. The result is often thought-provoking and moving, a celebration of the transformative power of music.
Confessional comedy is all the rage, and if you want to hear true stories told for comedic effect, Megan Hockley’s show Loser, Jim Campbell’s Trampoline, and Julius and Adam’s Excellent Comedy Show, all have the ring of truth at the core of their humour at this year’s Camden Fringe.