Nothing loosens the tongue like a frosty mug of ale. Lost love, bad bosses and terrible jokes tumble out onto bar tops faster than salty pretzels and sugared peanuts. All this chatter may be the bane of the bartender's existence, but for at least one night, it will be embraced as art, the very accessible art of storytelling.
As part of the Spirit & Place Festival, Storytelling Arts of Indiana, IndyFringe, and the Indiana Historical Society are co-sponsoring an amateur storytelling session called "One Pint at a Time." Next Tuesday in the history center's Cole Porter Room, a vintage hotel bar, local brewers and drinkers will gather together for beer and beer tales. Whether you drink craft beer or Bud, this night's for you. After five guest tellers share their ale tales, the floor will be open to anyone with a story, or at least those who can pull themselves away from the complimentary beer tasting.
"One Pint at a Time" is part of the monthly Jabberwocky series developed by Storytelling Arts and IndyFringe to remind Indianapolis that everyone has a story to tell and quite possibly one they need to hear.
On a mission
"The first time I saw a professional storyteller performing for adults," says Storytelling Arts Executive Director Ellen Munds, a former children's librarian, "it was like he saw my face and knew what story I needed to hear." Munds was going through a divorce at the time, almost 25 years ago, and this particular folk tale about a married woman giving up the things of her youth felt like Mund's personal lesson in "letting go." Since then, she has been on a mission to bring storytellers together with Indianapolis listeners.
In 1987, Munds and two friends, fellow storytelling enthusiasts Bob Sander and Nancy Barton, co-founded Storytelling Arts of Indiana and by the next year had launched their first storytelling festival at Conner Prairie. The festival grew into a three-day event at Military Park that nurtured local professional storytellers and grew audiences for regional and national performers.
Two years ago, city and state funding cuts ended the festival's long run. With a shrinking budget, Storytelling Arts let go of the festival in order to afford its year long programming, including monthly professional performances, weekly storytelling at Riley Children's Hospital, workshops for teachers and a storytelling group for seniors. Munds found herself at a crossroad when a new friend came to her aid.
An amateur night for jabbers
Munds met Pauline Moffat six years ago [verify year] at a cultural tourism conference, when Moffat was taking over the Indy Fringe Theatre Festival. The Australian native [verify] had been involved with the Melbourne Festival of the Arts, but she was new to Indianapolis when she became Executive Director of the 10-day August festival in the Massachusetts Avenue theater district.
"Ellen was very forthcoming about how to get grants," recalls Moffat. Where other arts organizations might have seen competition, Munds saw a kindred spirit and a reason to collaborate. She helped Moffat navigate the grant-writing process and watched the Fringe go on to attract hundreds of performers and over 65,000 theatergoers over six years.
In 2008, IndyFringe acquired its own theater at Massachusetts and College Avenues and began to host theater year round — new local theatrical companies, plus regional troupes and touring, fringe-y performers. The growing venue gave Moffat and Munds another chance to work together for the good of both their organizations.
Together Munds and Moffat created Jabberwocky as an amateur night for jabbers or, to put it more kindly, storytellers. Every second Tuesday of the month, Munds invites five guest tellers to spin tales around a set theme, and then she opens the floor to audience members to share their own stories. She likens it to passing stories around the dinner table or campfire, in which one storyteller sparks a memory in another that must be shared.
Past Jabberwocky nights have focused on professions and past-times with guest tellers coming with their memories but usually no professional storytelling experience. "Writer's Block" night drew a group of fifty, with media leaders like the Indianapolis Star's Dennis Ryerson and the IBJ's Lou Harry as guest tellers.
The turnout for teachers' night, "Anything for an A," was much smaller, but intimacy had its own rewards. As teachers talked about what they do for students and what students do for them, the storytelling session took on the feel of a support group. Tales of frustration and inspiration linked teachers and former students alike.
"It shows me a side of America I wouldn't know," says the Australian Moffat, who pitches in food and wine with Munds to create a "down home" evening for their afterwork crowds. "I've heard about segregation and bussing. I've learned about summer camp."
"The stories are great," says Munds, adding that story construction isn't always — and doesn't need to be — perfect. Many tellers step up spontaneously, but a few plan out their story theatrically. Munds isn't trying to make everyone a professional, but to encourage participants to be a storyteller for their family or group. "The teachers' [night] was so powerful and for the Writer's Block, everyone stayed around to talk. The camp counselors even brought crafts."
Storytelling Arts co-founder Bob Sander is now a full-time professional storyteller. He often emcees storytelling events and holds workshops on crafting a good story. For Jabberwocky wannabes, he offers some simple advice.
"Love the story that you tell," says Sander. "You can work and study and practice and acquire a lot of knowledge about story structure and presentation. Just know that the audience wants you to succeed. The biggest thing you can do is be genuine and love the story."
Future Jabberwocky sessions will seek tales about religious life, how famous couples met, how we spend the holidays, and even how we bring babies into the world.
"One Pint at a Time" will feature beer historian Douglas Wissing, author of Indiana: One Pint at a Time, several local brewers, and beer blogger Tamre Mullins, founder of "Girls Pint Out," an Indianapolis group which holds women-only beer tastings.
"It's a closed setting," says Mullins of the need for a women-only beer tasting events. "No condescension, no guy saying, 'Now, Honey, that's a big beer."
As the only female guest teller, Mullins hopes to bring a unique perspective to "One Pint at a Time." During her craft beer outings, women usually talk about old boyfriends and bad break-ups, tame stuff compared to beer rites of passage like getting thrown out of bars. Mullins admits, however, that she did have an emotional meltdown once at a beer festival. She was five months pregnant and after a long day of not drinking....
Well, that's another story.
One Pint at a Time is free, but limited space requires reservations by Nov. 8. Register online or call 232-1882 for more information. Must be 21 years or older to attend this event. As a courtesy to others wishing to attend this event, please cancel up to the day of the program so that others can be allowed to attend. Libations generously donated by the Brewers of Indiana Guild. Doors open at 5:30 p.m., Storytellers and open mic, 6 to 8 p.m.