Slam Sessions: There’s a Story Slam Near You

Liam Shaw at the Blue Chair Slam (photo by Tracy Kolenchuk)

Correction: Ice On Whyte’s Edmonton Story Slam event is Monday, Jan. 28 (not Saturday).

We all have a story to tell. Whether you learned it first hand, had it told to you or made it up, there’s at least one story in your back pocket right now. And should you be asked for one it would easy enough to retell it, right?

Well what if you only had five minutes, and had to tell it on stage before a crowd of people, some of them with whiteboards and markers, scoring you with like you’re the Jamie Salé of storytelling. Oh, and nine other people are competing. Maybe 11. Depends on the day.

The good news is your story might win you hundreds of dollars.

This is not torture for underprivileged people with public speaking phobias. It’s “story slam,” a trendy event that started in New York, was adopted by Vancouverites and Edmontonians, and now happens in cities around the world.

Edmonton has two independent slams – Blue Chair Slam at Blue Chair Café (every second Wednesday) and Edmonton Story Slam at the Haven Social Club (every third Wednesday) – and attract all sorts of storytellers. Past winners include a reverend, a photographer, a stand-up comedian and me.

I like to go because, aside from being great entertainment and healthy competition, it’s a great place for me to test my material on an audience.

This Monday Saturday, I’ll be testing some creative nonfiction at the special outdoor edition Edmonton Story Slam, part of the Ice On Whyte Festival. Check it out, and bring a story.

But first: Some housekeeping rules

Up to 10 readers pay $5 to enter. You’ve got five minutes to captivate an audience with a story (some StorySlams don’t pose time limits, but Edmonton’s do). Anything goes. It can be fact or fiction, but most likely something in between. Some people go up there with a story on paper, others freestyle. Five judges score you from one ten, but if you go over five minutes you lose points. However, if you win you take home the pot of money, donated in a hat by the audience during halftime.

I’ve seen pots between $75 and $600. The latter was at an annual “slam off,” where the year’s winners return to a packed venue, and the first slam off is just a few weeks away at the Blue Chair Café. I’ll be facing such local luminaries as Margaret Macpherson – an audience favourite.

Then, in March, it’s Edmonton Story Slam’s finale. Last year, I took the title, but can I hold onto it when faced by hilarious writer Matt Prins (who’s doing book-making workshop with EPL Feb. 7), Edmonton Journal columnist Elizabeth Withey and … damn it! … Margaret Macpherson again?

Although the money and completion adds a nice edge, it’s all about the stories.

Story slams, like poetry slams, return the art to its ancient, oral roots. In the end, whether it’s true or not is irrelevant. What’s relevant is whether it’s a story worth retelling. For the audience, it’s where “friend of a friend” stories are born.

As part of my residency, I’m collaborating with Edmonton Story Slam a couple of times this year to bring story slam to EPL branches so that at-risk you and newcomers take take part. It’s a great tool to overcome low-confidence and low-literacy. Check back at EPL.ca or the calendar to find out when it’s happening. In the meantime, here are the story slams across Canada.

  • Edmonton Story Slam happens every third Wednesday of the month at the Haven Social Club (15120 Stony Plain Rd.). Readers registration starts at 7:00 pm and the performances start at 7:30 pm.
  • Blue Chair Slam happens every second Wednesday of the month at Blue Chair Cafe (9624 76 Ave.).  Registration starts at 7:00 pm and the performances start at 8:00 pm.
  • Vancouver Story Slam occurs every second Tuesday of the month.
  • Ottawa’s Once Upon a Slam happens every fourth Friday at Mercury Lounge.
  • SLAMtastique, Montreal’s Bilingual Story Slam, also happens once a month.
  • Toronto has something similar, called the Monologue Slam. It starts in February.

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