Tucson Tales Told Monthly at Odyssey Storytelling

August 28, 2015

Anticipation is high for every show, as is evidenced by the line outside the door every month. (photo by Jen Nowicki).

Anticipation is high for every show, as is evidenced by the line outside the door every month. (photo by Jen Nowicki Clark).

by Mariana Colín

Every first Thursday, a line forms outside the door of The Screening Room for one of the most fun and unifying performances Tucson has to offer. With no prompt except a loosely defined theme of the month, Tucsonans from all walks of life overcome their stage fright and grab a microphone to perform one of the most ancient and basic arts of humanity: telling a story.

Over the past few years, Odyssey Storytelling has integrated itself into the Tucson community, bringing people together to a place that allows you to recognize your own life story in the stories of others, and hopefully gain more of a connection with your fellow humans of Tucson in the process.

According to founder Penelope Starr, the model is based on other storytelling events around the country, including one her daughter-in-law started in San Francisco, with one small but important difference: there is absolutely no pretense of prestige. Rather than only inviting the great local artists and writers to speak as other similar events do, Odyssey Storytelling makes a point of finding the most diverse group of people possible, those who truly represent Tucson.

Penelope says the idea behind Odyssey is implied by its name: “I was thinking of in terms of a journey,” she says. “It’s about self-exploration, and exploring the city.”

The Screening Room, which once a month is host to Tucsonans with a story to tell.

The Screening Room, which once a month is host to Tucsonans with a story to tell.

Executive Producer Jen Nowicki Clark adds, “We allow people to practice their stories, and we always ask what kind of a journey they’re taking us on.”

And that’s almost all the direction the performers get when they rehearse for the show. Often, storytellers have no experience onstage. They are discouraged from reading or memorizing, and are advised that, above all, that “storytelling is an oral art, not a literary recital.”

The idea that the story being told should have a natural, even vulnerable feel is hugely important to the purpose of Odyssey. “We want people to get in a space where they’re speaking from the heart,” says Penelope. “It’s that connection, that’s where the magic happens.”

Watching the performance, “magic” doesn’t feel like too strong a term for the feeling it creates, which resembles hearing a good friend tell a story over a beer or around a campfire. It’s that kind of intimate human “high,” as Jen put it, of good conversation which is what she and Penelope are after in every show.

Jen, the first part-time employee of Odyssey (which is otherwise run entirely by volunteer work), sees the show as part of a human need for connection and healing. “You realize that you’re not alone in so many of the things you might be feeling,” she says.  “And that’s what we see a lot when people are laughing; when people are tearing up.”

A storyteller stands on stage with nothing but a story and a microphone (photo by Jen Nowicki).

A storyteller stands on stage with nothing but a story and a microphone (photo by Jen Nowicki Clark).

Most important, however, is the inclusiveness of the event. Whether storyteller, audience member, or volunteer, every person involved has an equally important part to play in making the event a success.

“Everyone has a story,” says Jen, “and everyone deserves to be heard.”

It’s clear that the message of Odyssey, and the community and human connection it provides, is striking a chord among Tucsonans. The event continues to grow in popularity, with future plans including a podcast, due for release in the next few months.

Penelope is writing a book about the event, titled Voices Uncensored: The Radical Act of Community Storytelling, and Odyssey has recently been nominated for a Lumie award by the Tucson Pima Arts Council, which honors arts organizations that have “demonstrated excellence in serving the people of Tucson and Pima County.”

Odyssey Storytelling, whose next event is Thursday, September 3rd, is always looking for more help and storytellers. If you have a story to tell or would like to volunteer, email Stories@Odysseystorytelling.com.

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