The Business of Storytelling
On a cul-de-sac off the Canyon Road, bracketed by the Sawdust and Seven Degrees, Laguna’s beloved cooking school and wine center, Laguna Culinary Arts, is also home to the local branch of Dime Stories, where writers, aspiring writers, or anyone with a story that can be told in three minutes, is welcome to test their voice.
Ed Kaufman, a Laguna psychiatrist and author, who also serves on the clinical advisory committee for Friendship Shelter, facilitates the readings as the emcee and generally imbues the session with a kindly professorial aura. Writing of all types is a solitary act, without frequent opportunity for validation, so these sessions provide a small, devoted audience of literary spirits. And, unlike critique groups, speakers find validation in an atmosphere of communal support.
Surrounded by shelves of wine bottles, a little like a bookstore, the tranquility that should permeate literary readings has been broken by the presence of a weekly Sunday evening gathering for the LBGT community at next-door ReMark, but writers, who tend to tune out extraneous sound in favor of the words in their heads, or on the page, pressed on as if the disco-style techno beat that served as their soundtrack barely existed.
Founded by novelist Amy Wallen, operated entirely by volunteers, and managed by a small team, including Kaufman, Dime Stories [www.dimestories.org] offers open-mic events in many locations and a variety of reading programs online and on the radio. Readings are also transferred to downloadable podcasts at iTunes.
At the September session, an eclectic array of readings included a memoir about taking a Mensa test online, a diatribe about healthy eating, a response to the Syrian crisis, a narrative about finding memories at a museum gift shop, and an extemporaneous tale about eagles flying into the clouds at a silent retreat.
It is both a challenge and a valuable discipline to streamline a story into the shortest of short forms, and a good lesson for all writers. Thus there is a strict policy about the three-minute limit [the website suggests that humiliation begins at the three minute, 15 second mark] and strict adherence to the story form [writers are discouraged from poetry.] The short-short story lends itself well to humor, with oratory reminiscent of Mark Twain or Erma Bombeck.
Dime Stories propagates the ancient art of vocal storytelling, while other programs do the same using professional actors. Word Theatre [www.wordtheatre.org] headquartered in Los Angeles, will export their performers to Chapman University this fall, beginning Sept. 16, with readings from celebrated writer Jill McCorkle.
Thankfully, the business of storytelling is alive and well, and I think I might have been able to read one of my columns in just three minutes. Did you?
Randy Kraft is a freelance writer who previously covered the city for the Indy and pens the OC BookBlog for www.ocinsite.com or @ocbookblogger for Twitter.