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(un)told: An Open Mic Event Dedicated to Ottawa’s Stories

By Apartment613 on February 22, 2014

Attention Ottawans with stories to tell: Monday will see the launch of (un)told, a new monthly series that allows budding storytellers to try their hand in public. The series is organized by Ottawa StoryTellers, an organization dedicated to raising the profile of storytelling in our nation’s capital.

Why care about storytelling? In addition to being, arguably, the world’s oldest art form, stories are crucially important in how we understand the world. According to Caitlyn Paxson, Managing Artistic Director at Ottawa StoryTellers, storytelling comes naturally to everyone.

“People have an internalized yearning for story—to the point that they will take their experiences and shape them into story structures. Even when we tell the events of our day, we put them into a story shape because we have a collective urge to shape them into narratives”.

Storytelling also has a primacy that makes it unique. “There is a really intimate connection forged between the teller and the audience, which you can lose with other arts. In drama for example, things like costumes—while fantastic in their own right—can create divisions between the artist and the audience”. By contrast, storytelling leads to more direct interactions between artist and audience.

“I’ve heard people describe it as a triangle formed by the story, the teller, and the audience, with each part intimately connected to the other two”.

Ottawa StoryTellers has been active for over 30 years. Starting out as a club for storytelling enthusiasts, the group has grown into a full-fledged non-profit organization dedicated to fostering the art. These days they are involved in around 100 events every year, including open mics, story swaps, master classes, shows at the NAC, and storytelling festivals for both children and adults. They even enlist star power for some events, including actor Stephen Tobolowsky, whose storytelling podcast has become popular in recent years.

Caitlyn explains that even though the group’s storytelling festivals have been successful, they were looking to expand their audience, particularly toward a younger demographic. After a lot of research into the best way to accomplish this goal – studying similar organizations in other cities and consulting Ottawan storytellers of all ages – they came up with the concept for (un)told.

Basically, (un)told is an open-mic for people to share original stories. In each session, participants will share a five minute story based on a particular theme. The story can be personal or fictional, but they must be original. The format is designed to create an atmosphere that is “casual, but also avant-garde and edgy”. The idea is to allow “people to feel relaxed and welcome, but also comfortable expressing themselves artistically”.

Even though (un)told is just getting started, Caitlyn is already looking ahead to its future in Ottawa. The open-mic has become a big focus of the Ottawa StoryTellers in the immediate future, taking priority from the Ottawa International Storytelling Festival – although Caitlyn was careful to state that (un)told hasn’t “replaced” the festival, rather it is “on hiatus” while they experiment with (un)told. In the fall, Ottawa StoryTellers will expand (un)told to include a series of feature performers who will present thematic stories in a more polished and refined environment. “We hope that voices can develop at the open mic that will in turn develop into future features”.

Although (un)told is envisioned as a way to foster the future of storytelling in Ottawa, Caitlyn is also enthusiastic about the great experiences it will produce along the way: “I imagine one of those golden nights when you go out with your friends and everything is illuminated… everyone ends up with something to say”.

Anyone can check out the first (un)told this Monday, February 24 at The Daily Grind (601 Somerset Street). Signup starts at 7:30, stories start at 8:00. Cost is pay what you can. Appropriately enough, this month’s theme is ‘firsts’. (un)told will continue to take place every fourth Monday of the month. Anyone interested in telling a story can sign up in advance by emailing Caitlyn at info@ottawastorytellers.ca.