Everyone has a story to tell.
Some do it in the pages of a notebook, keeping it obscure and hidden. Some do it in front of a camera, making movies they later upload to a YouTube account. Still others fall in love with the written word and use this to detail their experiences.
For much of this year, Whitaker Center has been organizing the Harrisburg Story Slam, the events taking place at the Hilton Harrisburg, with the monthly winners slated to compete in a final slam-down in November.
Whitaker Center describes it as being “like ‘Celebrity Deathmatch,’ but with real people and zero violence,” which, in my experience, was spot on.
On the night I attended, the theme was “Declaring My Independence.” As the event took place shortly after Independence Day, the subject was, appropriately, freedom. The contestants all had their own unique variations on the theme.
One constant I noticed in all the stories was that, even if the plots involved strange, outlandish events, the audience could relate to the subject. Not a single piece went by without at least a snicker or two.
Who hasn’t experienced moments of dissatisfaction with their body? Who hasn’t been curious about what the hippies in the Volkswagen van are really like?
Keeping with the idea of America, the contestants were a melting pot: youthful, older, of varying races, ethnicities and body types.
Phil Broder was the opening storyteller, kicking off the event with a humorous story about environmentalism and graduating from college. In listening to him offer his singular take on the theme, I already knew that humor and quirkiness were the keys to a potential win.
Linda Silberman was the third performer, and her cautionary tale of travelling on a bus with hippies resulted in riotous uproar from the audience. Indeed, her misadventures sat well with the judges and the audience alike—she was the night’s winner.
As the evening went on, I learned just how crucial the use of humor can be, how it can take the darkest of subject matter and transform it into something enjoyable and relatable. The subjects of the next two pieces—getting robbed and body-confidence issues—demonstrated this with deftness.
The fourth contestant and runner up, Carol Karl, detailed going to Europe for eight months, which led her to discover her independence. She gripped the audience with an impassioned narrative about getting pickpocketed in the Czech Republic, a cultural misunderstanding to blame.
Orchid Adams, the fifth contestant, imbued her entry with a very calm sort of confidence. She discussed her attempts at weight loss and how she learned the power of self-acceptance. It spoke to me on a personal level, as I’ve had my own issues with self-acceptance throughout the course of my almost-30 years.
“I was looking at the mirror of other people,” she explained.
Gina Napoli, the second performer after a short intermission, talked about her father using a brand of lip balm called “Raspberry Beret,” because, as she explained, “It was 1982.” Yet again, this was an average subject elevated to another level through humor.
The stage presence of the second-to-last storyteller, Gina Federico, was phenomenal. She delivered an entry about joining the school football team as a down marker, all to purchase koosh earrings “in every color ever made.”
Thomas Wenger, the last performer, discussed high school—the second most-common theme behind motherhood—and how he ended up working in the mining industry before confessing to his parents, “I wanna go to college.”
Following this was another short break, this time to give the judges a few minutes to determine who would go on to compete in the second round. It was clear they knew who the right picks were, and, although I may not have agreed with them, there were no “bad” choices.
To watch the contestants in action, visit Whitaker Center’s YouTube channel. For more information, go to www.whitakercenter.org/story-slam. The next slams are slated for Sept. 13 and Oct. 5, and the monthly winners will compete in the finale on Nov. 8 at the Hilton Harrisburg.
Author: Trey Knarr