01 June 2010

resistance culture

Perfect timing. 31 May, the day designated for the "Facebook suicide" I decided to take part in, happened to be the same day as the latest instalment of West End Stories. I got to have my resistance culture and enjoy it too!

The wonder of West End Stories is that it is a routine of novelty. Every month, without fail, this is what happens:
  • The cafĂ© opens up. People start to arrive and order refreshments/meals from Erin, who takes care of the food & drink side of things.
  • Howard, the ever-excellent host who presides over the chaos, appears. He puts tea lights on all the tables for the proper atmosphere, greets everyone who's there, and stands out on the sidewalk looking for all the world, as the ever-perceptive Rhonda put it, "like an expectant father."
  • A little after 7PM, Howard manages to herd all the cats (audience) and gets us to be quiet long enough to welcome us to another night of West End Stories. He quickly goes over the rules (anyone can tell, everyone else will listen), then tells us the story he always starts with. I won't spoil it for newcomers by telling it here — you'll have to come and listen for yourselves.
  • The first teller goes up and tells their story. Then the next, and the next, until a little after 8PM. A ten-minute break ensues where people go to the washroom, get more refreshments, and chat.
  • The second half proceeds with more story-telling until nine-ish. We all try to clear out quickly so Erin can finish cleaning up and get home at a decent time.
It's what happens in the two sessions that is so amazing. No two instalments are alike, yet you're nigh-guaranteed to have an entertaining night out if you attend. This last time we sang together, listened to a guitar player, learned about a web site where you can leave love letters to your favourite urban streets, heard a Sufi story, and more. Lots more.

Every time it all, miraculously, hangs together. No-one knows who will tell what, no-one knows what order the tellers will go up and tell in, but somehow it always works out. It's the opposite of rehearsed, yet it feels put-together. Casual, laid-back, but put-together.

I give the credit to Howard. He sets the structure every time, creating this "safe place" where first-time tellers can and do regularly go up and tell stories in public that they may not have even remembered until the evening got underway. Howard is a wonderful story-teller himself, so he can easily fill in when people get shy and won't volunteer, plus he gets help from experienced, superb story-tellers like Pat, Norm, Harry, and Ariel (who has to be heard to be truly appreciated).

It's hard to explain to people who have never experienced anything like it how accomplished it all is while you're there. We've been so conditioned to leave sharing stories to the professionals that we forget that people used to spend evenings this way all the time.

Come see. Come hear. And if you live too far away and won't be visiting soon, try creating your own.

2 comments:

  1. WOW! Thank you Katherine for that very kind description of WESTEND Stories.

    The evenings are unique and really magical in a very ordinary way. People get up and tell a story or sing a song. That's all that happens. (Oh, they also have some food and drink and talk with each other).

    We all have stories to tell. All I do is invite people to share them with others.

    And I am so glad that you have chosen to share the last Monday night of every month doing that.

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  2. There is so much to learn from other people!

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