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John Lamb, Published November 04 2012

Monthly storytelling event lets anyone 'Tell' their tale

While the nonstop election coverage on Tuesday will prompt some to turn off newscasters, commentators and assorted partisan pundits, others will come out to see a different troupe of talking heads.

Tuesday marks the second installment of the storytelling showcase The Tell at Studio 222, behind Atomic Coffee on Broadway in Fargo.

“So many of us are so sick of the elections, so I like to think it will be a good night,” says organizer Laura Egland.

The monthly event is fairly straightforward. Folks pay $5 to listen to other people’s short stories – five minutes or less – based on that night’s theme. Tuesday’s theme is “Whoops.” If audience members are inclined to share a story of their own, they enter their name to be one of 10 drawn. A panel of three judges weighs the contenders’ tales and names a winner at the end of the night.

The winners from each month (Egland is skipping December) return for the season finale Tell-Off in April. That conclusion’s theme will be announced after the March Tell.

If the basic idea of The Tell sounds familiar, there’s good reason.

“I completely stole it from ‘The Moth,’ ” Egland says, referring to the popular Public Radio show and podcast. “I compare it to giving birth. You know what a baby looks like, you know that anyone can have a baby, and yet, you want to have your own.”

Egland became mildly obsessed with the show and decided it was something that could and should be done locally.

“I love the ability to connect with a complete stranger, someone whose face I couldn’t even see. But the way a story is told when it’s told from a place of realness of open vulnerable humanity. There is something unbelievably connective about that. I wanted to experience that firsthand from an organic, grass-roots place.”

She’s not the only one who has fallen for the format. Appropriately enough, the debut show’s theme was “Fear,” and Egland worried no one would show up. Instead the event was packed, and more tellers entered than the 10 whose names were called. Those who did get to the stage made an impact with the crowd.

“When the first teller stepped up to the mic, when he reached out to the audience and through his story was inviting this engagement and then watching them reach back and agree. There was this magic moment where it hit me, ‘They got it,’ ” Egland recalls. “I almost broke my face smiling. My cheeks hurt for a full week.”

“I was really impressed with not only the amount of people that showed up to tell a story, but how real and raw the stories were,” says Matt Langemo, one of that night’s three judges.

The judges are told to look for something that is indeed a story with an arc and something that fits the night’s theme. They’re also looking for authentic experiences and something that’s engaging.

“Is it true or fantastic enough that you want it to be true?” Egland explains. “Monologues, rants don’t go over well.”

But practice and poise helps sell a story.

“It’s really fun listening to other people’s stories,” says Jin Thieschafer.

The North Dakota State University English student attended the October event mostly to listen, but after hearing a story in the first half, she put her name in the hat on a whim during intermission and was called up shortly after.

Her tense, but humorous story, “Slice on Slice,” about a Russian customer with a particular demand for how his deli meat was packaged, wowed the judges and earned Thieschafer a spot at April’s Tell-Off.

“It was really fun,” she says.

Not all of the experiences were as successful. To break the ice, Egland took to the mic with her own tale of fear.

“I told a story about my dad and therefore very close to my heart and made myself cry,” she recalls. “Having to introduce someone right after that, I’m sure it was as awkward for everyone else as it was for me. So I don’t think I’ll be doing that again.”

But she will be back on stage tomorrow night (“I am such an extrovert,” she says) emceeing the event, but also listening to the stories and likely hurting her cheeks with a face-breaking smile.

If you go

What: The Tell

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Studio 222, 222 Broadway, Fargo

cost: $5

Online: http://thetellfargo.blogspot.com

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533