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Smokin’ Stories at Saturday’s Summer Grand Slam

All of the winning storytellers from this past season’s Slams were on fire at Saturday night’s Summer Grand Slam. The theme was “Burned.” Eleven top storytellers took the stage at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts where they slammed their best tales on the theme for the chance to be named “Best Storyteller in Philadelphia” and win free Slam admission for life.

Popular FPA storyteller, Martha Cooney led a pre-show workshop, Storytelling in Hyperdrive, during which audience members learned storytelling skills in a flash and crafted their own one-minute true tales to get a taste of the skills, styles, and techniques the Grand Slammers would be taking with them to the stage.

First Person Arts is proud to welcome Marjorie, the current “Best Storyteller in Philadelphia,” to the FPA community of Grand Slam champions. Marjorie earned her spot in the Summer Grand Slam line-up with her tale from the very first Slam of the season at World Cafe Live this past December. The theme of that Slam was “Naughty or Nice.” Her charismatic and contagiously buoyant energy won the hearts of the judges and the audience a second time this past Saturday night with a tale about her first year on the job as a 7th grade science teacher.

We all remember fire drills in school, but do you remember the 7th grader who lit up like a an oily rag on a stick during a science experiment? Marjorie does. Hear her winning story and witness the fire she sparked in her students to rise above their fear and to never walk alone. See what our friends at Philebrity had to say about Marjorie’s story here.

Storyteller, Diana was selected to have her story printed in one of the country’s longest running literary magazines, the Painted Bride Quarterly next year by the PBQ editors.

Congratulations to Marjorie and Diana! Special thanks to all of our fabulous storytellers, to the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, and to everyone who came out. Stay tuned for more stories from all of our storytellers coming soon to the First Person Arts YouTube channel.

Join us as we kick off the next season on June 11 at World Cafe Live. The theme is “My Favorite Mistake.”

Marjorie, “Best Storyteller in Philadelphia” and Audience Favorite – 2012 Summer Grand Slam

Marjorie, Winning Storyteller – “Naughty or Nice” First Person Arts StorySlam

-Becca Jennings


Winning Storytellers Divulge Their Tips (Part 2)

Yesterday I posted storytelling tips from some of our 2012 Summer Grand Slammers who are scheduled to take the stage at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts this Saturday night. Here are a few more pearls of wisdom straight from this season’s Grand Slam line-up. Read advice on the dos and don’ts of storytelling from Slammers Chris, Marjorie, Bernardo, Diana, Jake, and Lansie. Popular FPA storyteller, Martha also shared a tip. Martha will be leading a pre-show micro-story workshop, Storytelling in Hyperdrive, before the Grand Slam. Be sure to witness each of our Slammers’ storytelling prowess in action and watch the videos of their winning performances below!

Chris: Telling a story in front of a bunch of people can be extremely painful. Do your best to look like *you* are enjoying the telling of the story. Enthusiasm is contagious.

Chris, Winning Storyteller – “Family Feud” First Person Arts StorySlam

Marjorie : A dear friend and stand up comic once told me: “the minute you try to impress or look good you will die a humiliating death. Don’t worry about the audience, just connect with your emotional truth and have fun.”

Marjorie, Winning Storyteller – “Naughty or Nice” First Person Arts StorySlam

Bernardo: Show respect for the stage. It is a sacred place. Listen to the audience, if they laugh, if they are quiet,if they are restless…. and enjoy every reaction.You might think it is a monologue but it is a dialogue in between you and the audience.

Bernardo, Winning Storyteller – “Against the Odds” First Person Arts StorySlam

Diana: Establish high stakes as quickly as you can.

Diana, Winning Storyteller – “Daily Grind” First Person Arts StorySlam

Jake: The audience doesn’t know you. A lot of stories we tell are to familiar audiences who know us, our friends, the places we go, the music we listen to. That means that the audience is interested because they already care about us and our universe. Strangers tend not to care about us, but are ready to care. Give the audience the right information so they can care.

Jake, Winning Storyteller – “Gifts” First Person Arts StorySlam

Lansie: Don’t ever forget that you are telling a story to people, not into some big, empty void. Some of those people are your friends, and many of them are strangers, but all of them have been in a pickle, and they’ve all had their hearts stomped on, and they’ve all had moments of incomparable joy. If you can find the parts of your story that people can connect to, and convey those points honestly and with some degree of humility, you’ll always tell a good story. It might not be the most polished or poignant or pithy, but it will be good.

Lansie, Winning Storyteller – “Social Network” First Person Arts StorySlam

Martha: Tell a story that would amuse you even if you were telling it to yourself out loud while driving in the car or walking down the street. Don’t worry about what other people think is funny. If you find something hilarious, chances are that other people will too. Make yourself laugh first.

Martha, Pre-show workshop leader

-Becca Jennings


Winning Storytellers Divulge Their Tips (Part 1)

With the 2012 Summer Grand Slam just days away, we’ve checked in with our fabulous line-up of this season’s winning storytellers and asked them to each share a a bit of the storytelling wisdom that took that took them all the way to the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts stage where they will compete for the title of “Best Storyteller in Philadelphia” this Saturday night. Over the next few blog posts, we’ll let you in on their insider storytelling tips. Who knows, maybe their advice will help you to win a place of your own in a future Grand Slam spotlight!

First up, here are storytelling tips from Grand Slammers Andrew, Katie, Evan, Shrake, and your host for the evening, Mike. Enjoy the videos of the stories that earned them their spots in this year’s roster.

Andrew: Stories – the best stories – are about when the joke’s been on us… the times we’ve failed. There isn’t much that’s more entertaining or enriching than stories of failure, regret, and humiliation. And nothing in the world is more exhausting than listening to someone’s good news. So be ugly. Be ugly and dopey and vile. Because when you’re ugly, you’re sincere. And sincerity is what makes everyone want to listen.

Andrew, Winning Storyteller – “Your Mom” First Person Arts StorySlam

Katie: The beginning and the end reunite in a moment where people think,
“Oh that’s where she/he was going with that!

Katie, Winning Storyteller – “Identity Crisis” First Person Arts StorySlam

Evan: Just because I’m making people laugh doesn’t mean I’m telling a good story. A story requires cause-and-effect (or cause-and-effect moments/scenes). Stringing together funny anecdotes with some exposition and calling it a story results in failure/audience boredom. Plus, I make sure there’s an actual conclusion to the plot; otherwise, the story gets one of those “And that’s how I got burned” sentences and no one knows it’s time to clap.

Evan, Winning Storyteller – “Around the World” First Person Arts StorySlam

Shrake: Always connect directly with the audience. Acknowledge them! They are human beings.

SM Shrake, Winning Storyteller – “Philly vs. Detroit” First Person Arts StorySlam

Mike: Time goes forward in a straight line and life is lived on many different levels at once. However, to effectively convey a story, whether to strangers or friends, one must break from the linear notion of the regular world and tell their tale in the form of a circle. Why? Because we must remain cognizant that the protagonist is not only the “you” described in the words, but also the “you” encapsulated by mannerisms, word choice and presence. So take the audience on a trip from the stage to the plot of your life, visiting places you describe and sharing moments you’ve lived, but understand the story must end, exactly where it began, with a single voice on a microphone in the present.

Mike, Host – “I Think We’re Alone” First Person Arts StorySlam

-Becca Jennings


Spring Roundup!

Hey ladies and gents, care to see what FPA has been up to this past Spring? We hosted some absolutely amazing events and we hope that you enjoyed them as much as we did. Let’s check out our Spring roundup and you can find more photos on our Flickr page.


Grand Slam winner, Caitlin. (Photo by Maria Moller)

This Spring we heard stories about families, fame, inheritance and much much more! Our popular slams culminated in the Summer Grand Slam on May 25 where we crowned Caitlin as the best storyteller in Philly! The Grand Slam was hosted by funny man Doogie Horner and everyone feasted on delicious Sweet Lucy’s BBQ before the slam went down. I don’t know about you, but we had the best time chowin’ down and listening to all the Out of Place stories!

Curtain Call. (Photo by Benjamin Cromie)

Slam Nation

For our Slam Nation event we joined up with PIFA and brought some of the greatest storytellers to the Kimmel Center on April 26! One of our most popular storytellers, R. Eric Thomas, hosted the big show while storytellers such as Elna Baker, Laura Packer, Adam Wade, and Giulia Rozzi delighted us with stories about their “Worldy Possesions!” Big shout outs to all our storytellers, PIFA, and the Kimmel Center! We had a blast, didn’t you?!

Boston v. Philly

Teams Philly and Boston. (Photo courtesy of massmouth.)

On April 15 we headed over to the Free Library and threw the gauntlet down against Boston’s Massmouth storytellers. We heard all about our slammers Experiments and even though Boston storyteller Jim Stahl won the competition with his hilarious story about a homemade rocket and a false eye, Team Philly came out on top overall! The slam featured Philly favorites such as Marla Burkholder, Michael McCarry, Bernardo Morillo, and Michael Minard! I can’t say I’m surprised Philly came out on top with such a stacked team!

Gabrielle and Guest (Photo by Marisa McClellan)

Edible World

At our latest Edible World event we sat down with Chef Gabrielle Hamilton. She’s a writer and James Beard-winning chef of New York City’s Prune and on April 3 she shared her new memoir, Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef at Philly’s very own, Pumpkin Restaurant. One of our most delicious events this spring, FPA feasted on brunch prepared by Pumpkin’s Ian Moroney while former Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Rick Nichols introduced Chef Hamilton and her journey through kitchens, french creperies and the University of Michigan writing program. Flying Fish Brewing Company provided beer for the brunch and we were all left feeling quite satisfied, if not a little bloated!

Sad you missed out on these events? Don’t worry, we have plenty more for you this summer and at our Festival in the fall! Visit our calendar for upcoming events.

– Laura Reeve


What Mo Inherited

The last (but definitely not least) storyteller we are featuring who will be competing in our Summer Grand Slam this Wednesday, May 25 is Mo! She won our inheritance Storyslam when she signed up last minute and told a story about the laughs she inherited and how they once stopped traffic. Watch Mo tell the whole story below AND COME OUT TO THE SLAM WEDNESDAY!!!!

Name: Mo Burroughs
Current Location (as specific as possible, please): South Philly
Slam won: Inheritance
Favorite Philly summer activity: Chillin in the various parks.
What’s your dream StorySlam theme? “Why should you rule the

Tell us a summer story in 10 words: Water ice in hand, peepin on the cheepin’ sparrows, summertime.
What’s the best story you ever heard? Uh, the best stories are not, uh, strictly speaking, fit for general consumption.  You understand.
What makes a great story? What makes a great storyteller? A great story requires relatability.  A reason for the listener to care.  A great storyteller can make the subject of the story relatable to an audience based on subtle feedback from an audience.
Why should your competitors watch their backs? They shouldn't.  I'll be winning right in front of them, where they can see me clearly. 😉

Check out our our other slammers here and don’t miss the Grand Slam!

– Laura


Do you know who she is?

Out next storyteller, Jane Doe, (aka Janet Von Trapp) won our Almost Famous StorySlam when she told a story about the time her mother asked for Jesse Jackson's wife's I.D. at the bank. You can watch the whole story down below. Don't miss Jane(t) and our other amazing storytellers when they compete for the title of “The Best Storyteller in Philadelphia on Wednesday, May 25.

Oh, and in case you didn't know, she's Dr. K's daughter.

Name: Haven't thought of a new name yet
Current Location (as specific as possible, please): Philadelphia
Slam Won: Almost Famous
Favorite Philly summer activity:
Looking around on south street. I like going to the little stores…. shopping for shirts with inappropriate sayings….etc.
What's your dream StorySlam theme?:
I have no dream theme, I don't dream of themes.
Tell us a summer story in 10 words:
This is a story all about how my life got
What’s the

best story you ever heard? My favorite story is how Harriet Tubman returned to slavery over 10 times to free people, even with fainting spells… that's dedication to a cause.
What makes a great story? What makes a great storyteller?
A great story is comical, a great story teller is monotone.
Why should your competitors watch their backs?
They should watch their back because I'm in their face…. and they might not want to look at my face too long so it's best to watch their back.

Check out our our other slammers here and don’t miss the Grand Slam!

– Laura


Marla Tells a Love Story

Marla won our Beasts StorySlam and now she’s competing at the Summer Grand Slam on Wednesday, May 25! Marla told the story about the time a possum fell through her ceiling…twice. Watch the full story below!

Name: Marla Burkholder
Current Location (as specific as possible, please): West Philly
Slam won: Beasts, January 2011, L’Etage
What’s your dream StorySlam theme? Beasts part 2
Tell us a summer story in 10 words: One summer I cleaned hundreds of toilets at Pottypalooza.
What’s the best story you ever heard? Tough one.  Probably any story by my 90 year-old grandfather.
Why should your competitors watch their backs? No one knows being out of place like a Mennonite girl.

Check out our our other grand slammers here and don’t forget to get your ticket for the Grand Slam!

– Laura


Johnny doesn’t tell the Midget, Mexican, Prostitute Story

Johnny may be new to StorySlams, but he still won our New Territories Slam in January. Johnny won when he told a story about meeting his father for the first time and living with him in Southwest Georgia. Check out the full story below and don’t miss Johnny compete in our Summer Grand Slam on Wednesday, May 25!

Name: Johnny Walker
Current Location (as specific as possible, please): West Chester Pa.
Slam Won: New Territories
Favorite Philly summer activity: Cook outs are my favorite activity.
What’s your dream StorySlam theme? “What’s love got to do with it” would be a good topic.
Tell us a summer story in 10 words: Girlfriend threw out my concert tickets. I faked a press pass.
What’s the best story you ever heard? The crack house story on the Moth. When the guy left his infant in the car and was going to be right back but stayed 4 hours in freezing temps near Christmas
What makes a great story? What makes a great storyteller? Honesty and keeping it simple. A great story teller doesn’t seem overly rehearsed.
Why should your competitors watch their backs? I never knew about story slams until my new girlfriend told me about them. So in hopes of winning her over, I competed and lost. Then I gave it one more try and my girlfriend showed up just as I was called (story teller #7) up to tell a story. I didn’t even know the theme until I got there. And with Lesley watching I won. Now we are engaged. So I hope I win again to prove to myself it wasn’t just luck.

Meet our our other slammers here and don’t miss the Grand Slam!

– Laura


Janet Keeps on the Sunny Side

Janet won our Family Ties Slam when she told a story about the moment she realized her family was unique: a road trip with her entire family to visit her uncle in prison. Janet will be competing against our other storytellers on Wednesday, May 25 at our Summer Grand Slam! You don’t want to miss it!

Name: Janet Williams
Current Location (as specific as possible, please): Front porch of a Palmyra, New Jersey Bungalow.
Slam won: Family Ties
Favorite Philly summer activity: I am never happier than when I’m at a Phillies game.
What’s your dream StorySlam theme? Road Trip–I got a million of ’em!
Tell us a summer story in 10 words: Fresh garden blackberries and tomatoes eaten still warm from the sun.
What’s the best story you ever heard? Washing dishes with my great-grandmother, her tales of the early 1900’s: coal-mining, hat making, school days, being courted by my great grandfather.
What makes a great story? What makes a great storyteller? I love a story that surprises and a vulnerable storyteller.
Why should your competitors watch their backs? Well…there is that time I won a push-up contest.

Check out our our other slammers here and don’t miss the Grand Slam.

– Laura


Anissa (aka Ellen DeGeneres’ girlfriend)

Anissa is the next featured storyteller that will be competing in our Summer Grand Slam on Wednesday, May 25! She won Audience Favorite at our Inheritance StorySlam when she told a story about how she inadvertently helped a young woman discover her blossoming sexuality at her partner’s sister’s wedding.

Name: Anissa Weinraub
Current Location (as specific as possible, please): On the roof out my 3rd floor kitchen window, overhearing my neighbor do a lot of lung clearing. A lot. West Philly.
Slam won: Inheritance
Favorite Philly summer activity: Singing the original song “Urban Heat Island” as I sweat and curse, stuck riding my bike behind a SEPTA bus on Chestnut. Oh, wait, favorite? BBQ’s.
What’s your dream StorySlam theme? Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right. Or Do They?
Tell us a summer story in 10 words: Ocean City: Avoid buying beachtags; overdose on photobooth and bananawhips.
What’s the best story you ever heard? Who can choose? I love the one where my friend thought she would really get back at her mom by baking a pan of brownies with laxatives, but, then, she kept looking at the pan and thought, well one piece won’t be too bad. Of course, she’s a chocoholic, and she ate the whole pan herself and was sick for days. Or the other one where my dad paid his way through college by being a party promoter. Sock hops, I guess. He raised enough for a whole semester once by raffling off tickets to a Beatles show. Strangely, he won the tickets. Or the other one where my friend went back to his hometown to come out to his mother, but before he could tell her his news, she came out to him. He didn’t want to steal her thunder, or felt like she’d already stolen his, so he didn’t tell her for another year.
What makes a great story? What makes a great storyteller? Do you know want to know what the key to badminton is? Deception. I learned this in 9th grade gym class. And truer words were never uttered. The key to comedy, as I’ve been telling people for years, is re-integration. Think Seinfeld. 30 Rock. Some improv show you went to by yourself, embarrassed, disguised maybe. Why were you laughing? Re-integration. Great stories mix those life lessons of deception and re-integration.

I’d say that the key to storytelling is not giving away everything too soon, circling back to themes, letting motifs emerge, upping people’s expectancy, not going too far over-the-top with facial expressions, and, just generally trying to connect and communicate with the audience.
Why should your competitors watch their backs? Actually, I just took a ‘strengths inventory’ on-line, and found out that I’m not as competitive as I thought. I guess I like to meet everyone where they’re at in their individual talents and try to build them all up to reach a common, often visionary, goal. So it says. Competitors, beware. I may try to convince us all to become a collective, working to end oppression in all forms. Of course, the internet often lies. So maybe I’ll actually try to spike the other storytellers’ drinks with cayenne pepper. Either way, look out!

Check out our our other slammers here and don’t miss the Grand Slam!

– Laura

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