Soda City Story Slam gives community an opportunity to open up
From The Free Times
Article by David Travis Bland
If Shannon Ivey told you a story, she might tell you about “THAT FACE,” her name for the subtle contortion of a person’s visage when they find out about her divorce. The words created by the embouchure of “THAT FACE” often speak too much about eHarmony and too little about rolling in the sheets. She speculates this latter phenomenon is due to some sort of guilt that kicks in right at the good part.
What: Soda City Story Slam
Where: Columbia Museum of Art, 1515 Main St.
When: Thursday, June 23, 6 p.m.
Price: $10 ($8 for CMA members)
More: 803-799-2810, columbiamuseum.org
“Why do we make THAT FACE at folks?” Ivey notes in a finely crafted essay that the local Southern women’s website Auntie Bellum published in May. “A divorce is an arduous, scary process, and at best, it takes well over a year. I SHOULD be congratulated. I made it out. I made it through. And, I have enough leftover to buy expensive mascara that, thank goodness, is waterproof.”
Ivey, an actor, director and “recovering theatre professor,” gives the stage to other story-smiths with the Soda City Story Slam. Taking cues from The Moth, the popular onstage, storytelling podcast, the slam brings together 16 people of diverse backgrounds in front of an audience and allots them each about six minutes to break hearts, bust guts or both.
“It’s the human condition in a condensed form, empathy in a bouillon-cube size,” Ivey says. “Extremely powerful for those telling the stories as well as those listening.”
The Story Slam grew out of Ivey’s work with forum theatre, a type of performance in which audience members engage with and alter the production.
“I wanted to see if Moth-style storytelling could be a way to get to the same thing, giving often ignored or oppressed folks the mic,” she explains.
Earning a grant from the SC Arts Commission, she put on together a story slam series last year in Orangeburg where she was a professor at South Carolina State University.
Ivey came to Columbia by way of her new career as a trainer in reproductive health and justice and found connections between acting and her latest gig. Through both jobs, she looked for a way to give voice to those often silenced, and in that search galvanized empathetic ties to her new city. She began discussions with the Columbia Museum of Art about an event that could realize this passion.
“At first, they wanted a piece of forum theatre,” Ivey says. “When we talked more about how to make the event truly connected to the community, of and by the community, as well as respecting the busyness of folks’ lives, a story slam format was much more accessible.”
In many ways, Ivey found Columbia to be a golden town.
“When I was offered my current job, I could live anywhere in South Carolina,” she offers. “I chose to come here because of people. Because I’ve seen positive change happen for people, by people.”
That inspiration guides the Soda City Story Slam, an event she hopes will become a regular series.
“Story is all we have, really, that is ours,” Ivey says. “It’s also our most valuable natural resource when it comes to building community. So a Story Slam is a natural fit for Columbia.”
For Ivey, the Soda City Story Slam isn’t her event as much as it belongs to the city. It’s another way for her to bring people together and to help them understand each other, goals she has long actualized.
“Columbia has so many people doing great work, meaningful work,” Ivey posits. “This is a moment for folks to have five minutes to be authentic, to revel in what we share as humans, and connect with someone you might have never thought you could connect to. A good story can be many things. As a performer, I encourage my storytellers to prepare it well but write it from the heart.”