4th September 2009 Storey Creative Industries
Review by Mollie Baxter www.molliebaxter.com
Lancaster may be no stranger to Poetry Slams, but this is something a little bit different – a Story Slam, with 5 minutes to enthral the audience with your tales, and -to put a little extra adrenaline in the system – no recourse to scripts or prompt sheets allowed, only what may be contained on the back of a hand! This is not a reading, therefore, but a performance. Organised by professional story-teller Mary Lockwood, the Slam takes its inspiration from the successful Story Slams in the U.S. (go to Mary’s Slam blog at www.thestoryslam.co.uk if you’re interested in seeing some videos of overseas slammers, as well as for information about Mary’s project itself.)
Mary Lockwood – Story Teller, Organiser and Compere
So how did it go? Very well indeed, despite some what must have been nail-biting glitches in the run-up of the last few days where no less than 5 slammers pulled out. It is a reflection of Mary’s excellent organisational pizzazz that ensured the evening went very smoothly, despite necessary adjustments to the programme.
The audience was of a respectable size, but perhaps less than I expected – offer a cash prize and usually people appear in their droves – so why not tonight? I speculate there may have been something of a domino effect linking back to the guidelines for slammers, who are advised to prepare 3 x 5 minute pieces, so that there can be two rounds and a potential mano-e-mano for the final winner. Not adverse to writing short stories, I was put off at the thought of preparing 15 minutes worth of material that I could perform without notes – I wonder if others felt the same? If so, for every slammer that’s lost, a bit of the audience is lost too, which was a shame because there was a great evening’s entertainment. However, in the end, each slammer was only asked to perform once, even though many had prepared their 3 rounds. All that is needed is a little clarification and all would be sorted.
As compere, Mary ran through the rules at the start of the show to let us know what we were in for. She was an excellent host: warm, organised and clear. There would be 5 judges from the audience, she explained, selected by their proximity to a bundle of cards marked 1-10, plus their willingness to put a number to a performance and hold it aloft. I had such a bundle on the seat adjacent and enlisted the help of the very pleasant trio behind me – between us we got an average vote from the four of us – thanks guys!
The scores would be recorded and the highest and lowest discarded – a nifty move I thought since it tackles, to some extent, the issue of potential bias in either direction of approval. The two highest scorers would return to stage for a ‘Cheer-Off.’
First up was Dave Winkfield, who raised smiles telling us about his experiences with ‘chatty ladies.’ Interestingly, he adopted a stand-up format, as did many other slammers, which was something I hadn’t expected, having perhaps a more traditional (perhaps old-fashioned) idea of what a story is. Dave’s style was deliberately rambling, aiming to capture the sense of an ordinary day.
Simon Chapman also used humour, but within the structure of a story with a beginning, middle and end. A teacher, Simon told us of an April Fool’s joke played on his science students who were tricked into thinking that the materials for the urine tests had been provided by various teachers during the break. Very funny and well-executed, perhaps Simon’s experience in front of a class helped him appear so relaxed and companionable on stage.
Simon Chapman – Do not accept a flask from this man.
Kevin McVeigh was the third slammer and, for all Beard Spotters waiting with their cards, on this night his beard was pink. Kev was also the first and only performer to tell a fiction, or at least a story that was not presented as true experience – there were in fact some wonderfully spurious tales later on! He performed a humorous re-telling of the George and the Dragon myth – rather than drawing directly from life-experience.
Slammer number four was Simon Baker, who told us three mini cautionary tales linked by a theme of, I would speculate, a weary exasperation with himself: The time he ‘fought the rum and the rum won,’ a first kiss and a failed attempt to woo a girl on the telephone. It’s a tricky thing to pull off – the ‘I’m a bit of a wally,’ routine, because the risk is the audience will simply agree, but Simon had people on his side within seconds.
Simon Baker – He fought the rum and… well… won.
Last up was Mark, who tonight wasn’t silent – only he was, for it was ‘Silent Mark’ from Diversity FM. Mark drew from his DJ-ing skills, for he had only agreed to take part at the last minute and yet was cool as a cucumber and did a bit of impromptu stand-up.
Who won? Well, I’m not going to tell you just yet, because true to the format of the evening, there was another segment before the winner was announced. We were treated to four short films that each told a story. I thought this was a canny idea for a number of reasons. Not only does it show by entertaining example how one might approach telling a story in such a short space of time (Focus, simplicity, originality and action) but it also took us out of ourselves a bit to see what creative people are doing in other parts of the world. Plus it made use of the audio-vis resources in the auditorium which are likely to sulk and not work next time if not given enough attention.
Just to mention one of the films – we saw the subverted process of a job-pool. Instead of a harried and hardened exec driving to the car park to hire on sight a lucky selection of worn-out immigrant workers, here a driver with a Mexican accent called for ‘2 financial directors,’ ‘1 IT consultant,’ etc and a group of business-suited professionals clamoured for a place in the pick-up truck. Satirical and clever.
But, to the winner… there was something happening in the alignment of the planets because the two finalists were the two Simons and it was put to audience vote via ‘Cheer-Off’ as to which would gain the accolade of Super Slammer and a £20 cash prize. It took two rounds of cheering to decide that … Simon Baker was the well-deserved winner this time, but Simon Chapman certainly gave him a run for his money.
The evening ended with an Open Mike with performances from Neil Simpson, Paul Rhodes, a return appearance from Kev McVeigh, a Robert (sorry I didn’t get your second name, Robert!) Moll Baxter, Simon Chapman again and Rod Savage.
Rod Savage – Faced the Gold and Black Banded Snake…
The final act came from Mary herself who told us two stories, one about an ill-fated visit to Ghana in her Gap year, and a true ghost story about Eddie, the Storey Centre Ghost. For those who missed it, the important thing you need to know is if you hear strange ball-bouncing sounds and a whispered ‘On the ‘ead, son!’ on the third floor, it’s only Eddie, a young man tragically killed in the war at eighteen. Before he was old enough to sign-up he made parachutes in the factory housed in the building at that time and used to pass his break times having a bit of a kick around. He is a benign spirit though, and can be encouraged to ‘Go home, Eddie,’ should you ever meet him. Alternatively, you may wish to join him for a bit of footie.
So, a very successful Story Slam, and hopefully the first of many such events in Lancaster. Mary will definitely be taking the Slam around the country, so if you want it to make a return appearance in Lancaster specifically, it would do no harm to say so here or on the Story Slam website! www.thestoryslam.co.uk