From our Point of View series.
Rachel Smith, producer and organizer at storytelling group Hong Kong Stories, attended her first meeting on impulse after a friend kept haranguing her to join events site MeetUp.com. Now, she hosts workshops and live shows dedicated to crafting stories about real life experiences and performing them to an audience. Hong Kong Stories has a podcast, a live show every month and free workshops every Tuesday, is a frequent presence at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival, and has plans to launch a Spoken Word Festival in early 2018.
I met the founders of the group, Tom and David, in 2013. I told a story about how I met my husband, and they asked if I would tell it at their next show. I said yes. After my first performance, I was hooked! Since then, I have told over 20 stories in various shows. Hong Kong Stories has moved to a bigger venue and regularly has sell-out shows. I stepped in as producer-slash-organizer in May, 2016. The group is full of talented and able members who all pitch in to help out when they can.
Storytelling is an important form of communication. It is a way of sharing experiences, thoughts and feelings with people you don’t know and finding a connection with them. We often don’t get to see beyond the first impression — especially in a busy place like Hong Kong — but when you hear a story from someone you get to know them a little better. One of the things that happens to our storytellers time and again is having audience members come up to them after shows and say something along the lines of: you know that story you just told? The same thing happened to me. And then there is a conversation and a connection with someone who was a complete stranger only moments before. It is kind of magical.
Work It Out
At our workshops, everyone in the group tells a story. Some of the stories are short, some long, some just sketched outlines. There isn’t a right way or a wrong way. The only rules are that the story has to be in the first person and they have to be true. The other members of the group listen and after the storyteller finishes, they ask questions and give feedback on the story: what points aren’t clear, suggestions on improving the flow or the structure. If a story sounds like it might fit into the next live show’s theme, the storyteller is invited to attend a pitch workshop where the next live show host will choose stories for the show. There are a couple of private rehearsals, and then a live show where typically we have eight storytellers on stage, each telling a six to eight minute story. It is a very satisfying process and the majority of our storytellers end up coming back and doing the process more than once.
Art Imitates Life
We have people telling us about lost love, or amazing good fortune; everything from landing their dream job to living on the streets. We have had a woman break down crying while telling us about being a “left-over woman” and the audience shouting encouragement while the show host gave her a comforting hug. We’ve had the whole room frozen while listening to a story of fear and loss, and people rolling in the aisles with laughter over an experience at summer camp. These stories touch us because they are told by the person they happened to – and to some degree, we can all relate. My current favorite stories are Frida’s story about finding treasure in the trash and Tracy’s story about communication with her cat.