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Meet Grand Slam Contestant, Kathy!

With the 14th Season Grand Slam just a month away, we’ve been introducing you to our fabulous lineup of contestants, so that you know who to root for! Up today, meet Kathy.

Our contestants are buying up their Grand Slam tickets like mad to make sure they each have a highly spirited entourage responsible for lots and lots of applause after their performances! Have you gotten your tickets yet?

Name: Kathy Houng
Age: 26
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Slam won: Shock!

FPA: How long have you been “Slamming”?

KH: Less than 6 months

FPA: How do you prepare for a StorySlam? Do you have any rituals or lucky pairs of socks?

KH: I watch the Yul Brenner/Junior mirror scene from Cool Runnings, have a beer, and do a few rounds of Darth Vader yoga breathing.

FPA: Share a storytelling tip with us!

KH: Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself. It makes you relatable and shows the audience that you aren’t taking yourself too seriously.

FPA: What would Chapter 7 of your memoir be called?

KH: Jalan Jalan Cari Makan. It’s a Malaysian saying that roughly translates to “Running Around to Find the Food”

FPA: Who’s the best storyteller you know and why?

KH: My maternal grandmother (“wai po” in Mandarin). I grew up with her stories at the kitchen table, mesmerized by the vivid descriptions of her childhood in a Macau bakery. Every meal we cooked, game we played, or ritual we shared all had stories behind them. She taught me the art of embellishment, the craft of a story arc, and most importantly, how to use the power of my own pen and voice to capture daily life.

FPA: What do you do in real life when you’re not out winning StorySlams?

KH: See “Memoir Ch. 7 title”

FPA: What do you love most about First Person Arts?

KH: The people!

FPA: If you had a storyteller spirit animal, what would it be?

KH: Rafiki from The Lion King

FPA: The winner of this Grand Slam will get a $250 prize! What will you do with the money if you win?

KH: Half will go into my rainy day “FUN-d” and the other half (begrudgingly) to the PPA for unpaid parking tickets…


The 14th Season of First Person Arts StorySlams is presented by Harmelin Media.


Meet Grand Slam Contestant, Tim!

It’s hard to believe, but there are just 2 StorySlams left in the 14th Season: “Big Time” and “#onlinedating”! So, you know that means our confirmed Grand Slam contestants are already sizing up their competition. We want you to meet the contestants too, so you know who you’re going to root for on May 14 at Underground Arts! We’re introducing you to the talented lineup of tale spinners one at a time. Up this week, meet Tim!

Be sure to grab your Grand Slam tix before May 1 and save money!

Name: Timothy William Sommers

Age: 49

Location: At the moment I live in Pittsburgh. But I travel constantly and have moved around a bunch. I am originally from St. Louis and have lived in East Lansing, Michigan; Providence, Rhode Island; Washington, D.C.; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Brooklyn and the Bronx.

Slam won: I did two Slams this year, both at L’Etage, because I love that place. At one, I told a story about South Africa, penguins, Brigitte Bardot, and apartheid. At the other, I told a story about getting locked out of my car at a strip joint and inadvertently participating in the armed robbery of a crack dealer. That one was my winning tale. Aparently Americans really love strippers, guns, and crack.

FPA: How long have you been “Slamming”?

TWS: Slamming” sounds like an alcohol problem. But I have been telling stories at StorySlams for about two years.

FPA: How do you prepare for a StorySlam? Do you have any rituals or lucky pairs of socks?

TWS: Even if it is a story I have told many times before, I write it down word for word, then practice it without trying to memorize it. This is for two reasons: Every new StorySlam becomes the occasion of a new written story as well as a chance to tell a story that way, but also I believe in effort and practice despite being a member of the slacker generation. You know what I believe would improve Improv Comedy? If they wrote the sketches ahead of time, edited them, rehearsed them, work shopped them, and then rewrote them based on audience reactions.

FPA: Share a storytelling tip with us!

TWS: Storytelling tips, like horoscopes, are often vague and hard to follow. So, here’s a really specific, easy to do one that, I guarantee, will work. You never know what people are going to laugh at. If they laugh at something that you didn’t expect or intend to be funny, you can always get a bigger, second laugh just by pausing and saying, “That wasn’t supposed to be funny.” If the second laugh is big and you really want to go for it, try, “And now you are starting to hurt my feelings a little bit.” Hilarious.

FPA: What would Chapter 7 of your memoir be called?

TWS: My bankruptcy.

FPA: Who’s the best storyteller you know and why?

TWS: I don’t who is the best, but I sure think Mike Birbiglia does an amazing job of combining comedy, pathos, and a little bit of a point. At StorySlams, I find, the stories that grip me are the ones from people who have had some really unique experience. When it comes to nonfiction, content matters a lot to me.

FPA: What do you do in real life when you’re not out winning StorySlams?

TWS: Nothing. Travel, I guess.

FPA: What do you love most about First Person Arts?

TWS: StorySlams are to this decade what stand-up comedy was to the 1980s. But what I love about First Person Arts is that they are devoted and committed to building an independent storytelling community rooted in one of American’s greatest cities, Philadelphia, and covering it from every angle from Slams to podcasts to teaching and community outreach. I hope First Person Arts becomes a model for other cities around the country.

FPA: If you had a storyteller spirit animal, what would it be?

TWS: I feel strongly that keeping wild animals, even as spirits, is wrong and I don’t do it.

FPA: The winner of this Grand Slam will get a $250 prize! What will you do with the money if you win?

TWS: Get the Luxury Room at the Morris Hotel. Best hotel in downtown Philly. This was the view from the window the night I won a First Person Arts StorySlam!


The 14th Season of First Person Arts StorySlams is presented by Harmelin Media.


Meet Grand Slam Contestant, Emma!

Holy smokes! Is it really that time again? On Thursday, May 14, 2015, winners from the 14th Season of FPA StorySlams will be sweaty, nervous, and excited to compete against each other at the Grand Slam at Underground Arts. It’s Philly’s biggest storytelling showdown, and an always sell out event. Psst! Grab your tickets early and save money!

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be introducing you to our lineup of this season’s super talented tale spinners. Up this week is Emma, winner of the “Family Matters” StorySlam.

Name: Emma H.
Age: 31
Location: Flourtown, PA
Slam won: Family Matters

FPA: How long have you been “Slamming”?

EH: Officially, about a year, but according to my friends – always.

FPA: How do you prepare for a StorySlam? Do you have any rituals or lucky pairs of socks?

EH: My only real ritual is neurosis, lots of self-doubt, and the absolute conviction that people are going to throw things at me. That way, whatever happens is usually a pleasant surprise.

FPA: Share a storytelling tip with us!

EH: Be your own fool.

FPA: What would Chapter 7 of your memoir be called?

EH: Vodka Coma (and Other Cautionary Tales from the Former Soviet Union)

FPA: Who’s the best storyteller you know and why?

EH: Andrew Panebianco. His attitude is always self-effacing and charmingly neurotic, but his use of language is so precise, so clever, and so clean that it makes his storytelling aspirational instead of just relatable.

FPA: What do you do in real life when you’re not out winning StorySlams?

EH: Fail adulthood in spectacular fashion.

FPA: What do you love most about First Person Arts?

EH: How welcoming everyone has been. The first slam I did was a special event out at Woodmere Art Museum, and the group that came out from FPA immediately embraced me and encouraged me to continue. That lack of competitive ugliness is incredibly appealing.

FPA: If you had a storyteller spirit animal, what would it be?

EH: Something you’d see on an ASPCA commercial.


The 14th Season of First Person Arts StorySlams is presented by Harmelin Media.



“Secrets” was the theme of Tuesday’s StorySlam at L’Etage where 10 brave storytellers took to the stage with some of their juiciest never-before-told tales. Some of our more private audience members got into the action too, and shared their secrets anonymously on slips of paper, which were read throughout the evening by our fabulous host, Marjorie. Here are some of our favorites!

The jury is still out on whether this person kisses on first dates.
photo 1

Cold… Literally, just cold.
photo 2

That might explain why this person writes the letter “m” with 3 humps.
photo 4

Finders Keepers…
photo 3

Give this man his theater, art, music, and pets merit badges ASAP!
photo 1

This guy didn’t get the memo that size doesn’t matter.
photo 4

And the moral of the story is: Steer clear of apples.
photo 3

The next StorySlam is Monday, April 13 at World Cafe Live. The theme is “Big Time”. See you there!


Top FPA Videos of 2014

As we’re counting down the final hours of 2014, we’re reliving the stories you enjoyed most this year. Yesterday we rolled out a list of the top FPA Podcast episodes of 2014. Now, we’re serving up a countdown of the most watched FPA YouTube videos from the past year. Who’s #1 in your book?

#10 May | First Person Arts StorySlam: “Obsessed”

#9 Steve, Winner | First Person Arts StorySlam: “Superstitious”

#8 Matthew, Winner | First Person Arts StorySlam: “Obsessed”

#7 Kat, Winner | First Person Arts StorySlam: “Wild Things”

#6 Mary | First Person Arts StorySlam: “The Ex-Files”

#5 Steve | “Best Storyteller in Philadelphia, 2014″

#4 Ky | “Best Storyteller in Philadelphia, 2009″

#3 Amanda | “Best Storyteller in Philadelphia, 2010″

#2 Mary | First Person Arts StorySlam: “Awkward”

#1 Janeane Garofalo in Kevin Allison’s RISK! presented at the 2012 First Person Arts Festival

Join us in person for more stories like these in 2015! Check out the full calendar of StorySlam dates and themes.

If you like what you’ve heard, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to your home for Philly’s stories. Every dollar you give helps us to continue to build community through the power of personal storytelling.

And now! When you join or renew your membership, you get access to ALL NEW BENEFITS like one-on-one storytelling coaching from pros like Kevin Allison (RISK!, MTV’s The State) and Elna Baker (The Moth, This American Life), the opportunity to co-host an FPA Podcast, meals at World Cafe Live and L’Etage Cabaret, and more! Plus the perks our members have enjoyed for years: complimentary tickets, discounts, and the chance to grab tickets to FPA’s most popular shows BEFORE they go on sale to the general public. Click here for the full list of new membership levels and benefits.

Thanks for being part of our story in 2014! Happy New Year from your family at First Person Arts!


Top FPA Podcasts of 2014

We’ve rounded up some of this year’s best tales in a countdown of the top 10 most-listened-to FPA Podcast episodes of 2014. Did your fave make the list?

Andrew_Icon#10 Choose Your Pants Wisely

Andrew plans a date that involves ice cream, a long bike ride, and culminates with a vague suggestion of sex. What could go wrong?

Bernardo#9 Dressing for an Assassination

Bernardo is deemed a suspicious man at a major historical event. The cause for suspicion? His underwear.

JarettB#8 In Search of Magic

Jarret studies abroad in Ghana where he visits a voodoo fetish market to look for the perfect magical object.

sean#7 Alone in Good Company

Sean doesn’t want to die alone, but he doesn’t want to live with anyone else either. This story won Sean the title of “Best Storyteller in Philadelphia, 2013″. The theme of the night was “Dilemma”.

Icon_Peter Aguero, Courtesy of the Artist_Web#6 Pick Your Battles

Peter Aguero‘s dad prepares him for gladiator combat with a neighborhood bully. Later in the episode, even from beyond the grave, Linda‘s mom is still able to piss her off, and more importantly, keep the family laughing.

marywebstericon#5 Proud Mom

Mary tells the story of her experience as a teenage mom and her journey to break free of shame, judgement, and feelings of being unqualified.

TrevorCassidy#4 Sexual Identity Via The Scientific Method

Trevor, a Catholic schoolboy living in what he describes as a very gay neighborhood in Denver, employs the scientific method to come to terms with, or rather “deduce”, his own sexual orientation.

Teresa M Icon#3 Confessions Of An Escort

From retail to sex work and back again, Teresa regales the audience with stories from her time as an escort.

justineicon#2 Outsmarting Google

In the throes of a bipolar manic episode, Justine travels to Seattle for a job interview with Google, and is determined to ace the corporation’s nontraditional applicant evaluations.

KatieSamson2#1 Katie’s Got Game

After a traumatic sledding accident Katie is left paralyzed, but not asexual. She wonders if she’ll ever reclaim the successful romantic career she once had. But when a sweet and charming young man invites himself into her bed, she knows she’s still got game.
Want to hear your story on the Podcast? Click here to learn how you can record your story for special consideration by our team of Podcast producers!

Join us for more stories like these LIVE in 2015 at twice monthly StorySlams! Check out the full list of upcoming Slam dates and themes here.

We’re taking a short Podcast break for the holidays, but we’ll be back next year with more stories!

FPA Podcasts are release on Tuesdays and are made possible thanks to generous support from he John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Special thanks to Philadelphia Weekly and WHYY’s NewsWorks.


Meet Yowei Shaw of First Person Arts Podcast LIVE!

Screen shot 2014-11-10 at 1.17.24 PMOur FPA Festival performers just keep coming! Today, we’re here to introduce you to the fabulous award-winning radio producer behind the First Person Arts Podcast, Yowei Shaw.

This Wednesday, the First Person Arts Podcast will go LIVE for the first time ever and Yowei will perform a radio documentary on stage accompanied by music, audio mixing, and sound effects. A diverse group of talented storytellers will share their true tales on the theme “Talk to Me.” If you love real life stories and podcasts, you won’t want to miss this exciting premiere event! Tickets on sale here.

AG: What excites you most about performing at the FPA Festival as a part of First Person Arts RAW this November?

YS: I’d have to say I’m most excited about trying out a new medium with live radio performance. It’s definitely been a challenge to think of effective ways to adapt radio for the stage, but it’s also such fun to get to do things you could never do on the radio!

AG: As an award-winning radio producer, you’ve gotten to work with WHYY’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross, This American Life, Studio 360, NPR, and more. How did you get started in the business?

YS: In college, I got internships at WXPN and WHYY, and then I just started freelancing for different radio programs. In the beginning, I also obsessively read transom.org, joined the Association of Independents in Radio, and basically became a radio fangirl/nerd, and eventually a maker. My biggest advice for anyone interested in getting into this kind of work is to go make stuff. A lot of it. Eventually, you’ll get the hang of it.

AG: Throughout past projects you’ve worked on, like Going Black: The Legacy of Philly Soul Radio, Really Good Elevator Music, and the First Person Arts Podcast, you broadcast amazing stories from Philadelphia and beyond. What was one of your favorite stories to work on?

YS: When I was in college, my Taiwanese immigrant parents – the last people I’d ever imagine doing the dance of passion – took up the tango on a cruise to South America. They began dancing five nights a week and staying out until 2am (later than I did). They practiced dance steps while waiting to be seated at restaurants and played tango music 24/7 in the house and car. When I caught my mom wearing dresses I used to wear while sneaking out of the house in 8th grade, I knew something big was up.

So I pitched the story to Studio 360 with the subject line: “How Tango Saved My Parents from a Mid-Life Crisis”. I thought, this will be easy – who has better access to a source than a daughter? It turned out to be the most challenging story I’ve ever reported. First, I had to convince my incredibly private parents to go on national public radio. They eventually relented – only after I guilt-tripped them about supporting my career, and allowed them to use pseudonyms. It was also hard because my interviews would sometimes provoke arguments. At one point, my dad threatened to stop dancing tango forever!

Luckily, that didn’t happen. What the story did do was help me discover that my parents were actual people with flaws, complexities, and passions. It also helped my parents understand this radio thing I was doing, and that I’ll never be a lawyer! You can listen to the story here.

AG: Considering it is the 13th Annual FPA Festival, can you tell us what inspires you in 13 words?

YS: Hard question! Let’s just say for now – experimenting with the good and bad.

-Alyssa Guckin, Marketing Intern


Meet Johnny Showcase of Stripped Stories!

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TONIGHT! We’re serving up back-to-back hilarious storytelling shows at Underground Arts: Story League Sings, a karaoke-style storytelling show hosted by David Crabb, followed by Stripped Stories, a sex-themed storytelling show named one of the 10 Best Storytelling Shows in LA by Time Out Los Angeles. Tickets are still available!

Over the past few weeks we’ve been introducing you to our fabulous Festival lineup. Today, meet Johnny Showcase! His sexy tunes are sure to put you in the mood at Stripped Stories tonight!

FPA: What excites you most about performing at the FPA Festival this November?

JS: I can’t wait to share the stage with Giulia and Margot of Stripped Stories. When funny meets sexy, that excites me. Also, is that cat from Earth, Wind and Fire playing? His falsetto excites me. That’s not even a falsetto– That’s a truth-setto.

FPA: FPA loves your clothes! How would you describe your style?

JS: I would call this Rhode Island chic. It’s a little bit of the ocean, and a little patent leather.

FPA: What is your favorite part about filming your music videos in all different locations in Philadelphia?

JS: I love writing little love notes to Philadelphia– to show us as we are and what we can be with a little imagination. I would love to do more of these.

FPA: Your spiritual adviser is Rumi Kitchen. How does he help you in performing?

JS: We are musical brothers. Rumi Kitchen channels the spirit world, and opens up our ears to frequencies we didn’t know existed. He funnels the energy to the band, and they groove on that. It’s like a connect to the ancients. Its also helpful that he is one of the best singers you’ll ever hear.

FPA: Where do you find inspiration for your colorful and creative posters?

JS: Angela Miles of Carpe Diem Construction. Me and her is collaboration station. She is on our vibe and puts those colors into the world.

FPA: What advice can you give those with stage freight looking to perform?

JS: Believe what you are saying, then get some people behind you that believe in what you are saying. Together you can do and say whatever you want, and nobody can tell you that you are wrong. If your flying solo, though, just be yourself. That’s what I do.

FPA: Considering it is the 13th Annual FPA Festival, can you describe Johnny Showcase using 13 words?

JS: Joy Sweat Work Sex Funk Love Dance Rumi Kitchen Truth Owl Dream Merchant


Meet David Crabb of Story League Sings!

Screen shot 2014-11-07 at 11.10.59 AM

We’re excited to have storytelling star David Crabb of RISK!, The Moth, and Bad Kid, coming to Philadelphia TOMORROW NIGHT in Story League Sings! Join us for outrageously funny stories, and even funnier songs. Grab your tickets now!

AG: Tell us three words that describe the story and song you are going to perform at Story League Sings on Sat., Nov. 8 at Underground Arts!
DC: Don’t know yet. Scott and I are torn. It will be old fashioned country or early 90′s goth-pop. Some contrast, huh?

AG: It seems like you’ve done it all: You’ve performed stories, hosted live events, taught storytelling, and wrote your own solo show and book, Bad Kid. Can you tell us a little bit about your development as a storyteller and performer? What’s next for you?
DC:I came at it all through an improv/acting background. I wanted to get into standup but discovered storytelling via RISK! and the Moth, where I began telling loads of tales. I’d been telling stories my whole life and couldn’t believe I’d found a place that gave this interest not only context, but an audience. Structuring these stories within a long-form piece with Bad Kid forced me to focus more on my writing. A year later, when I started creating the memoir of the show, I realized what a fun challenge writing for the page was, versus writing for your own voice. Currently I’m developing a television script for Bad Kid, writing a second memoir, and presenting a new solo show “$1800″ at next week’s Gotham Storytelling Festival in NYC. Throughout all this I’ve been teaching storytelling as well, which has taught me more about the art-form than any class I could have taken. There’s a reciprocity to teaching that’s really a gift, in that, very often, I’m also the student.

AG: What advice can you give those looking to take their storytelling to the next level and develop a one-person show?
DC:Tell as many 5-10 minute stories at slams and shows as you can. A 60 minute one-person show doesn’t simply grow in isolation until it’s ready to be presented. And if it does it will probably be a mess. Baby steps, y’all. Baby steps…

AG: What do you find to be the #1 must-have quality in a great story?

DC: This is subject to taste. But for me it’s contrast. I want dark and light, joy and sorrow, yin and yang. My brilliant Bad Kid director and co-creator Josh Matthews calls it “Hug ‘em and hit ‘em,” which sums it all up really. As funny or sad as a story might be, it needs a strong dash of the opposite spice somewhere to be effective. The harder you make me laugh for 5 minutes, the more intensely I’ll cry when you deliver all the #feels during your big finale.

AG: You use a lot of accents in your performances to help the audiences get a vivid sense of the characters. What is your favorite accent to do? Is there one that you struggle with?
DC: I love doing vapid, urban, vocal-fry girls the best. It’s such an insidious vocal trait. As funny as I think it is, it depressed me that young women are adapting it. The moment I hear it eek from someone’s shimmery, pink lips I just stop listening to them in any serious way.

The hardest accent to do that I gave up on a long time ago is the Newfoundland accent. My mother speaks with it and I tried like hell to emulate it in Bad Kid. But the dialect is just too oddball to mimic without moving to Canada to immerse myself in it for 6 months. And I’m not doing that.

AG: Considering it is the 13th Annual FPA Festival, can you share an embarrassing story in 13 words?
DC: Once I almost clogged up and destroyed Whoopi Goldberg’s very expensive European toilet.

-Alyssa Guckin, Marketing Intern


Meet Grand Slam Contestant Nimisha!


Name: Nimisha Ladva
Age: 30+
Location: L’Etage
Slam won: “Teen Spirit”

AG: What was the last thing you won (StorySlam not included)?
NL: Tickets to Longwood Gardens in a raffle.

AG: This is our 13th Annual FPA Fest. In honor of that, could you share with us a 13 word story?
NL: They said I was weak. Then I had three babies–with no drugs.

AG: For the first time ever, the winner of this Grand Slam will get a $250 CASH PRIZE! What will you do with the money if you win?
NL: Renew my FPA membership! And go on a date with my best guy: my husband David.

AG: What would your dream theme be for a StorySlam?
NL: “Liar, liar.”

AG: Who would you love to perform live on stage with?
NL: Sting!

AG: Why are you a good storyteller? (aka why should your competitors be scared?)
NL: I’m a vegetarian (!)

-Alyssa Guckin, Marketing Intern

Upcoming Events
  • 6th Annual “Ex-Files” StorySlam: Early Show | SOLD OUT
  • Date: February 14, 2016
  • Time: Doors at 6:30PM, Show at 7PM
  • Venue: Underground Arts
  • Location: 1200 Callowhill St., Philadelphia
  • 6th Annual “Ex-Files” StorySlam: Late Show
  • Date: February 14, 2016
  • Time: Doors at 8:30PM, Show at 9PM
  • Venue: Underground Arts
  • Location: 1200 Callowhill St., Philadelphia