REVIEW: 35th Annual Storytelling Festival

I highly recommend attending this event at some point in your life. It’ll be a chance to reflect on the media exposure you are getting and appreciate the art of language.

The event took place in the ark, in front of a stage with blue curtains. Two microphones were there; one for the MC, and one for the teller. The audience was seated surrounding the stage and the tellers exchanged the ‘shower caps’ of microphones every time they took the stage. The room was dimly lit with warm, orange lights. It was a perfect atmosphere to hear a good story-minimal visual distraction so that we could let our imagination run wild and focus on the vibration of air that hit our ears. At this stage, 6 tellers told one story each, the type of stories varied from a revision of an old folk tale (I recalled hearing a story in a similar twist in the Talmud), some point in the border between a joke and real life, and humorous reminiscence of moments just a few days ago or a few decades ago. In all, the tone of stories had humor and drama to them, the two great components that captures our attention. It was a combination, a tasting menu of stories to give the audience a taste of the art of storytelling.

I loved the atmosphere of the event – It was like Youtube, but without any visuals and distractions. I realized that I forgot what it was like to listen to a good story. When you hear a good story from a storyteller, you enter this state of trance where you are running a mental film inside of your head guided by the story you are hearing. This lone light of guidance in the vast night of possibilities is a feeble but powerful one: the teller’s voice and rhythm of speech shape the story yet lead enough room for imagination to fill the gaps. As I listened to the tellers, I realized how distracted I was when I was hearing a story with so many ‘visual aids’ and ‘recommended videos’ in a queue. Words from a life story made the audience focus on every word because we could not go back a few seconds to catch what they missed.

With those chaotic distractions eliminated, finally, the pauses, the tone of voice, speed, and rhythm of speech got the attention it deserved. The language was once again more than just the meaning of the text it conveys, the wisdom we forget so easily in modern life. 90 minutes was enough to provoke all those musings and re-appreciation of language. Curious about the event? You’re in luck: the recording of the event is uploaded in youtube. Also, this is an annual event with a long history! So next winter, when you’re stacking your hot cocoa for the winter, look up the news of this event as well-it’ll make you feel cozy on a winter night, maybe even better than hot chocolate.

REVIEW: The Ark’s 32nd Annual Storytelling Festival

In The Ark’s 32nd year of its storytelling festival, we were graced with a mix of personal and traditional tales from three wonderful performers. Each storyteller had their own style of storytelling, all of which were appealing and intriguing and full of lessons to be learned.

Ivory Williams of Detroit started the night off with his stories that very much involved the audience. He started with a story about God’s creation and dispersal of people, putting the best people in Ann Arbor obviously. His story about a monster blocking the bridge highlighted the meaning behind obstacles, which you don’t always have to fight with force, since they are meant to be embraced. The young girl of the story, who embraced the monster and become successful in life, did the two most important things a successful person must do: she returned to her village to share what she learned, and she told stories. The morals of kindness and love guided Williams’s stories, and his use of repetition tied the story nicely together, making it twice as nice and twice as powerful.

Next was Edgar Oliver, who had a very timid yet enthralling voice, as he performed for us snippets of his shows and some pieces of poetry as well. His vivid imagery and meticulous details of his stories set the stage for some absurd twist in the story that he delivered with such deadpan emotion, the audience loved it. From the albino watermelons trapped under a swimming pool to the trash can goddess and his love for red wine to the trampling pig, Oliver regaled us with his very distinct storytelling. He took us all over the world, telling us stories about his hometown of Savannah, Georgia, his time spent in France, and his life in New York City. His stories were sprinkled with entertaining comedy, though there was a hint of sadness and regret in the last snippet from a show he’s still writing; however, through his words and stories, Victor lives on in his memories and in ours.

Finally, Laura Simms finished the night with her love stories, which took on a variety of forms. She told us about the fairy she met on the New York City subway, and the time she saw Nina Simone perform, which was the first time she fell in love with the world. Then, she told a long and humorous story about a prince’s long and desperate journey looking for true love, emphasizing the importance of true companionship. She ended with the story of her mother’s seal skin coat and the powers it had in transferring good to the world.

Williams, Oliver, and Simms all captivated the audience with their engaging words and stories. Their stories taught us to think about the good in ourselves and in others, and to look for true love in every moment of our lives. This wonderful tradition at The Ark gives the people of Ann Arbor a night of entertainment filled with kindness and love through the simple power of words. As Williams repeated throughout the night, stories must be told.

PREVIEW: The Ark’s 32nd Annual Storytelling Festival

As a beautiful Ark tradition, The Ark’s Storytelling Festival brings together some of the greatest storytellers for an evening of humor and wit with a touch of heartfelt emotions. This year, the 23rd Annual Storytelling Festival features Laura Simms, Edgar Oliver, and Ivory D. Williams.  Come out to the newly renovated Ark on February 23 at 7:30 PM for some engaging and entertaining stories. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at MUTO in the League Underground.

REVIEW: The Moth GrandSLAM Championship

We all experience pain in our lives, and The Moth GrandSLAM transformed The Ark into an incredible stage where ten StorySLAM champions were able to tell the true stories of their Growing Pains live.

As host Amir Baghdadchi put it, The Moth GrandSLAM is the closest public radio gets to American Ninja Warrior. The Moth is magical. It creates a temple for regular human beings and the tales they have to tell. And, on September 26, 2018, The Ark became that temple.

Amir started us off with some amusing stories of his adventures through 5th grade and the wisdom of plagiarizing in someone’s authentic voice, passing on the message that the most important moral pains have to deal with one’s moral character. As we got ready for a night of storytelling, Violinist Natalie Frakes was the timekeeper, providing a friendly reminder with a graceful violin note when the five minute mark came around.

Growing pains deal with people; as a result, there were many stories about relationships, and specifically, with fathers. Jill Chenault told a heartwarming story about her will to be strong and independent and how her changing relationship with her father, who now has Alzheimer’s, has given her the opportunity to now support him. Jim Pinion also talked about his father, and how they built their relationship through building his first car together.

We also heard from the perspective of fathers. Maxie Jones provided a new take on fatherhood as he shared his struggles in leaving bachelorhood behind, but confirmed that he wouldn’t trade fatherhood for anything. Eddie Hejka, who has been the father of 18 kids through adoption and foster care, shared the time his black son was ticketed for curfew violation in Detroit. He noted that many people were caught in the court system, questioning whether the court was truly a system for justice and pointing out that it was time for the courts to go through some growing pains.

Romantic relationships are also a classic example of growing pains, whether that is internally or externally. Matthew Mansour charmingly details his struggle in accepting his sexuality and the threats he faced when he came out. Susan Ciotti bared her soul about her abusive and cheating husband and her ability to fight for herself and feel complete.

There were also personal stories told. Joanna Courteau narrated an amusing story about how she never grew up. With the existence of false cognates (which is kind of like fake news, Joanna says), she amused the audience with her take on the growing pains that never go away. Stephanie Holloway talked about the of financial freedom and the all-too-relatable pains of financial responsibility. Paul Walters recounted the time he wanted to save the day when cycling, as nothing is more characteristic of growing pains than being a Sufferlandrian. And Rob Osterman explained why the first song in Frozen makes him cry — it’s a blatant reminder of mortality.

In between storytellers, Amir read the stories of the audience through prompts on papers they filled out. From little tales of when people had to make headway the hard way, or when they took a rivalry too far, it was a night filled with personal anecdotes from everyone that connected everyone in the room through these stories.

Three teams of judges scored the storytellers. Susan left the night as a Moth GrandSLAM champion, but all ten storytellers were champions in their vulnerability and excellent storytelling. There was pure laughter and heartfelt silence and emotional tears as these stories were told.

Our stories are the “honest truths that make up who we are,” and at The Ark that night, we got to hear those honest truths in their full glory.

PREVIEW: The Moth GrandSLAM Championship

One of the most original forms of art, storytelling is a tradition that never dies. The spoken word can express sorrow, hardships, humor, and triumph. There is nothing more raw than an individual standing on a stage, crafting words in a way that transforms their past into the present. The Moth Podcasts never fail to entertain me and touch my soul, and now, I finally get to experience these performances live.

The Moth GrandSLAM is taking place on September 26 at 8pm. It is the final culmination of the best of the best stories in Ann Arbor as stories come alive at The Ark. Join me at the intimate local venue where we will be taken on many different and wonderful journeys in one single night.

Review: Moth Night at Circus Bar

Think of the phrase “hot mess.” Now think of time when your life has been a hot mess, or when you have listened–dutifully–as a friend told you about their hot mess. This was The Moth in a nutshell.


Although over three hundred people were packed into the room, with dozens standing in the back (including me), each story felt intimate and unrehearsed.

The first story, about one man’s ex-fiance that was 90% perfect, and 10% crazy whenever she drank, warmed us up for the night. Three teams of judges gave their scores after his five minute story, and the results were tallied on a white board at the front of the room. Just like the Olympics.

Satori Shakoor was the emcee for the night. The director of Twisted Storytellers in Detroit, I probably would have paid money just to see this woman perform. Between personal anecdotes, readings of the prompt the audience filled out, and reactions to the storytellers, Satori wove the night together in a way only a superior emcee can do. I think the best part about her was that she never made the night feel awkward, even when there were several potentially awkward moments.

Which brings me back to the stories. One young man decided to go backpacking in the middle of Alaska with friends. That went about as well as you think it would have gone. Another woman–only eighteen–talked about putting two cars out of commission on the way to an appointment. A local story pitted a good Samaritan against a Hawaiian-shirted thief.


The winner, and without a doubt the best performance of the night, came from a man with a metal plate in his collar bone that had to get an MRI. Although the story itself was not the best of the night, his skill in telling it had all the right twists, a gag that was repeated without being repetitive, and a final shock that turned into a happy ending.

Each story of the night was different, and even with the theme of “hot mess,” common denominators like alcohol and drugs only made it into a few of the ten stories of the night.

I was shocked and impressed that all of the storytellers spoke clearly and concisely. Some stories were better than others, yes, but not a single one of the stories was boring or overly lengthy. In fact, I wish at least one of them had kept going.