Storytellers gather in Gotham to show off craft

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Beneath the vibrant strip of sushi bars and tea shops there rests an underground venue that is ideal for one-person performances. Known as the Under St. Marks theater, the quaint space held talented storytellers and eager audience members for the first Gotham City  Storytelling Festival.

The festival lasted five days and included performances, workshops and panel discussions about the craft of storytelling and its value in the world of writing. On the theater’s makeshift stage, the festival brought together talented voices from “The Moth” podcast, “This American Life,” “Ask Me Stories” and “TOLD.” While some stories fell flat, the festival as a whole succeeded in presenting storytelling as a meaningful and
fun platform.

On Saturday night, a group of well-known storytellers took seats onstage to answer questions about the storytelling craft. Seth Lind, host of “The Told Show,” led the discussion with David Crab,
Cammie Climaco, Melanie Hamlett and Jim O’Grady — all of whom are prominent voices in the world of storytelling.

The panel jokingly asserted that the best storytellers deliver their tales as if they were gracing listeners with a casual anecdote at a party. The challenge of giving a relaxed presentation derives from the necessity of introducing the entire context to the audience without needing to hand out plot information and a character list beforehand. There are various strategies for bringing nostalgia to life in front of an audience, depending on the teller’s style and voice. This makes for a spectrum of storytelling genres.

Storyteller Melanie Hamlett spoke about how she found herself dressed as a baby on the lap of a 40-year-old body builder she met through a Craigslist ad that was seeking a woman who played board games. This was enough to earn her a spot on “The Moth’s” Hall of Fame. Hamlett described her chosen art form as an expression in present tense. Watching Hamlett tell her tales was as engrossing and nerve-wracking as answering a strange Craigslist ad would be.

Hamlett explained that her career in storytelling has led her to live a story-worthy life. The panel nodded in agreement as Hamlett explained how the world is filled with two types of storytellers: those who describe moments they have lived and those who seek incredible moments for the purpose of telling. For Hamlett, her own journeys — much to her mother’s dismay — are paths to making the incredible stories
she writes.

However, Hamlett and the panel clarified that to make a perfect story, the teller must realize his or her own shortcomings and biases. As Jim O’Grady explained, since we are not one-dimensional heroes, our villains are not one-dimensionally evil.

The Gotham Storytelling Festival took place Nov. 7 through 12. For more information about the festival or Horse Trade Theater Group, see horsetrade.info.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Nov. 13 print edition. Tali Kuhel is a staff writer. Email her at [email protected] 

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