Spilling Guts

One venue at a time, Story City brings local strangers’ raw tales to the stage.

by Joseph Kleinschmidt

What: Story City: “My First Time”

When: 7 p.m., Thursday

Where: The Loft Literary Center, 1011 S. Washington Ave., Suite 200, Minneapolis

Cost: Free


When Adam Marquardt took the stage at Honey for Story City’s “Haunted” event, he told a tale about his stint as a grotesque clown for the Soap Factory’s Haunted Basement.

“The kind of feeling that you get when you see people reduced to tears, cowering in the corner, soiling themselves — even vomiting in fear before you — can only be described as power,” he said, recounting his story, “Predator and Prey.”

“And it can give you a hangover.”

The spontaneity of each story, with pauses and “um’s” included, lends to a conversational quality missing in more refined tales via This American Life. Although the two founders of the event select each performer based on the descriptions they receive, Story City is often unpredictable.

“My favorite parts are the side notes or just the raw way people end up telling their story,” co-founder Lara Avery said.

For the upcoming themed event at the Loft, “My First Time,” Avery and fellow Macalester College alumna Jemma Brown cull from a slew of stories submitted involving multiple interpretations of the suggestive prompt — though no deflowering sagas so far.

“It definitely has a sexy undertone,” Brown said. “We haven’t gotten any legit my-first-time stories. I think everyone is just too darn creative to follow the beaten path.”

“Well, most people’s first time stories have pretty much the same elements — it was awkward, it was painful, it hurt a little bit,” Avery said.

After detailing her time as an Applebee’s waitress (and “ribpublican”) for the Moth, a national storytelling outlet, Avery connected with Brown. Drawing from Avery’s background in improv as well as Brown’s time working for StoryCorps, a national nonprofit oral history project, the two carve out a local storytelling niche in a performing world dominated by artful perfectionists.

Never settling in one location for its live offerings, Story City seeks an ever-expanding pool of performers.

“We like to think that the atmosphere and the kind of people that would go to one space would change at each event,” Brown said.

For a past event’s theme, “The Great Outdoors,” storytellers gathered around a bonfire at Stone’s Throw, an urban farm in Minneapolis. Story City vows to never use the same locale twice, sort of an appeal for the unexpected.

Avery and Brown see the event as providing a physical space for stories where an increasingly digital culture consumes stories without face-to-face interaction. The event fosters a kind of communal structure where participants can safely spill their guts.

“The appeal of storytelling is trying to bring that back into a physical space,” Avery said. “You spill your guts on Facebook or Twitter or you post embarrassing pictures of yourself, but it’s all interface. It’s all digital.”

“This is the bricks and mortar,” Brown said.