Fresh Ground Stories is an open-mic event for telling true, personal stories on stage without notes. Each month I choose a different theme and the stories should in some way reflect that theme.
Back in the Before Times when we could all exchange respiratory droplets, we’d meet on the third Thursday of each month at the Olive Way Starbucks. I’d pull names randomly out of a Mr. Coffee carafe and that’s how I’d choose tellers for the show.
Now that we’re Zooming, I’m running the show a little differently. If you want to tell a story, please email me as soon as possible through Meetup or directly at freshgroundstories at gmail dot com to let me know. About a week before each show I’ll put together the list of people who will be on that show and the order in which they’ll tell. If we have too many tellers I’ll email people ahead of time and offer some of them a spot on a later show.
If you’ve never told a story with us please attend one of the free weekly or monthly online storytelling workups that are available (links at the bottom). Or you can give me a quick summary of your story and I can help you workshop it if it’s not already fleshed out. It’s usually better to attend at least one FGS show first before you tell a story so you understand and kind of stories we’re looking for.
Everyone is welcome to just come and listen, but if you want to tell a story there are some important rules and guidelines you’ll have to follow. The rules are important for a lot of reasons so please don’t ask if you can break them.
The stories we’re looking for are ones that are not only important to you but will be worth sharing with a room full of strangers. The audience is the most important person in the room. If you aren’t sure if your story is right for FGS please email me as early as possible so we can talk about it. At the bottom of these guidelines, there are links to other shows where your story might be a perfect fit.
1. The story must be true and have happened to you. It should also mean something to you. We’re looking for stories that tell us something about yourself. Not every story has a moral but there should be something in there that tells us why the story is important to you or how it changed you. It doesn’t have to be serious. Funny stories can be just as meaningful as sad ones. The main thing is that you’re telling a story that will resonate with the audience and not just people who know you.
Most people have one story they always tell at parties and barbecues. Those aren’t the ones we’re looking for. We’re looking for stories that require you to be a little vulnerable and hopefully a little introspective.
2. Keep it under 8 minutes. Shorter is better. It’s very important that you practice out loud with a timer to make sure you’re under 8 minutes.
3. You can’t read your story or use notes. We want you to tell the story not recite it.
4. Practice out loud at home or on friends. This is very important. Your ears are better editors than your eyes. You’ll hear your story differently when you speak it than when you practice in your head. The audience is giving you their time and attention. You have to respect that by practicing your story out loud as much as possible in the weeks before the show. I’m always happy to help people on their stories either over the phone or by email. Seriously. I enjoy it and it makes for a better show. I almost never tell a story publically that I haven’t run by a whole bunch of people first. Send me an email if you don’t want to take one of the free workshops.
5. Know your last line first. The best advice I ever got for storytelling was to know the last line of your story before you start writing it. The last line should be something that wraps everything up and tells us what you learned or how the experience changed you.
Here is a great short article on what questions you should ask yourself when you’re coming up with a story: https://mailchi.mp/104f63f44a5a/you-should-be-able-to-answer-this-question-before-ever-telling-your-story?e=a4dd06ea14
Here’s a breakdown I did a little while ago on a five-minute story by Stephen Tobolowsky. It’s from an email I sent out to everyone in the Meetup group. It’s probably more than you ever wanted to know about storytelling but it explains a lot of stuff I talk about when I help people on stories.
6. Sharing is more important than performing. Don’t worry about turning your story into a performance. Tell the story as if you were sharing it with a friend over coffee. Great stories come from a place of humility and vulnerability. That doesn’t mean they can’t be funny and lighthearted. Most of the stories at FGS are very funny but they’re more self-deprecating than what you hear at a comedy show.
7. You need to keep your story clean. No stories about sex or genitals. Save those stories for barbecues and block parties, Also, no cursing or sexual innuendo. I purposely set the bar higher for this show. If a joke depends on cursing or sexual innuendo then you’re shopping at the dollar store of comedy. That’s fine for regular life. I talk that way all the time. But not at FGS. Don’t go for the easy laugh at this show. The audience will appreciate you for it.
Most other topics are fine. We’ve had stories of death, loss, suicide, heartbreak, mental illness, abortion, and human trafficking. All of these topics are fine as long as you tell them with honesty and vulnerability while leaving your social commentary out. Trust me on this. I know it feels good to end your story with a rant or your opinion on some topic but that’s not what this audience is showing up for. FGS is where we take the energy we normally spend examining other people’s lives and use it to examine our own.
8. No speeches, opinions, or social commentary. Those are all great things but FGS isn’t the place for them. This isn’t a town hall meeting. If your goal is to get people to do something or change their beliefs about something then this show isn’t right for you.
Opinions separate people and stories bring us together. Even if I and everyone else in the room agree with your worldview, FGS isn’t the place for telling us about it. We get enough of that on Facebook, Twitter and everywhere else on the internet. FGS is where we get to take a break from it.
I do, however, believe that storytelling is a great tool for helping to make the world a better place. I regularly volunteer my time to coach people on TED talks, advocacy speeches, stories for radio, etc. I absolutely support anyone using their personal story to create positive change. If you’re a regular teller at FGS and want some help on something like that, send me an email.
I don’t allow speeches, opinions, or stories with social commentary at FGS because I need a break from it. Outside of FGS, I’ll support your storytelling in any way I can.
9. Don’t be gross. We all have stories about body fluids and things like that but those aren’t the stories we’re looking for. There are lots of other places you can tell those stories. Barbecues and block parties for instance!
10. If you put some thought into it you can tell a story on almost any subject. Choose your words carefully. I know it’s hard but it’ll be worth it. The audience will love you for it.
11. Don’t plug your own show, website, blog, book, etc after your story. Talk to me beforehand if you want to let people know about a story related event. There’s a chance I’ll remind people of it in my thank you email later.
12. Just because something isn’t listed in the rules doesn’t mean it’s ok to do. I have the final say in how the show is run and what I allow on stage. I hate to write this last rule but every now and then someone wants to argue over how I run the show so I finally had to write this stuff down in black and white. If you’re unhappy with any of these rules I will encourage you to attend one of the other wonderful storytelling shows in the area. Thanks for your cooperation and understanding.
Links to other shows in the area where you can tell stories: