Megan Sukys brought Northwest residents’ personal stories to local radio airwaves as producer of KUOW Presents on Seattle public radio station KUOW-FM (94.9). Her Tacoma neighbor, Tad Monroe, was also familiar with the power of stories to connect people through his work as former pastor at Urban Grace Church.
“In different ways, we were both using stories in our work as a central piece in how to build community as well as our understanding of how transformation happens,” Monroe says.
And so they created Drunken Telegraph, a storytelling series that borrows its name from a travel piece novelist Rudyard Kipling wrote about debauchery he witnessed in Tacoma in 1889. “The crude boarded pavements of the main streets rumbled under the heels of hundreds of furious men all actively engaged in hunting drinks,” he wrote, a few years before “The Jungle Book.” “Overhead the drunken telegraph, telephone and electric-light wires tangled on tottering posts whose butts were half whittled through by the knife of the loafer.”
But the Drunken Telegraph series is not so much about perpetuating Tacoma’s still rowdy reputation as it is about empowering locals to tell their personal tales of transformation publicly.
Since June 2012, Sukys and Monroe have coached local storytellers and overseen storytelling events held at Anthem Coffee, Over the Moon Cafe and Medi’s Pizza & Pasta. The first half of each has featured five speakers telling tales that fit a loose theme, i.e. “first time,” “just my luck” or “the greatest gift.” Then the more structured half of the show is followed by a “story slam,” during which audience members are invited to spin their best five-minute yarn in pursuit of a small prize.
The only hard and fast rule is “it has to be something that happened to you,” Sukys explains. “So it's not tall tales, it's not fiction. It's not this thing I saw from somebody else. It has to be a story about something that happened to you, and at the heart of every story is transformation. When we're working with people that's what we're looking for: What happened to you and how were you changed by it?”
On June 20, the Drunken Telegraph curators will lead a workshop at King's Books aimed at bringing new storytellers into the fold. Participants will learn about story structure and methodology; and those with the most compelling story pitches may wind up in an upcoming Telegraph performance, two of which will be part of Broadway Center's next season, in November 2013 and April 2014.
“In workshop, I take people through the questions you can ask … to figure out where the turning points of the story were,” Sukys says. “What's at stake? What would happen if this didn't work out? That gives you a sense of tension. … If you can identify in your story what's at stake and what the tension is, then you can start to roll out the details in a way that leads to an exciting conclusion.”
“We just try to help people find their own voice,” Monroe says. “We spend a lot of time helping them discern what details are important and maybe what details aren't as essential to the story.”
The workshop will start at 7:30 p.m. at King's Books, 218 St. Helens Ave., Tacoma. Follow Drunken Telegraph on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/drunkentelegraph) for the most up to date information on upcoming events.
Drunken Telegraph live storytelling workshop
7:30 p.m. June 20
King’s Books, 218 St. Helens Ave., Tacoma
(253) 272-8801 or http://www.Kingsbookstore.com