Life in Portland

Gift For Gab—Getting to Know Portland’s Storytelling Scene

Performer on Stage at Backfence PDX

Performer on Stage at Backfence PDX

Is It the Cold Weather or the Coffee?

There is something amazing about a live storytelling show, where the intimacy between the storyteller and the audience can be almost palpable at times. Whether it’s the nature of the story being told, the artistry of the teller, or just something about hearing a true story told live from a first-hand witness is practically irrelevant.

What matters, for the devoted audience members attending contemporary storytelling shows in a city like PDX, is that they connect on a real emotional level. They laugh along, cry along, and leave the venue feeling that their lives are somehow transformed, expanded through the experience that we all share. It just pays to be reminded of how similar we all are sometimes.

And though it may seem like the local storytelling scene has had its day in the sun already, with Awkward Phase going to a podcast-only format, and Testify and Curious Comedy Theater’s Campfire Stories having both halted programming in the last two or years, but Portland’s storytelling community of shows is still alive and turning out fantastic, real, honest, touching and funny entertainment multiple nights out of any given month.

Here’s a look at the five shows (six if you count both versions of Back Fence) still alive and kicking in the Rose City.

1 – Back Fence PDX: Mainstage & Back Fence PDX: Russian Roulette

This is the big one (or two). Back Fence PDX has been entertaining storytelling fans since its coffee shop beginnings back in 2008. In the years since, it has spawned two spinoff series, the ever-popular ongoing Back Fence PDX: Russian Roulette show and the now defunct Back Fence PDX: Reel Stories series, which highlighted local storytellers relating the inner workings of the film industry.

The Alberta Rose Theater

The Alberta Rose Theater

The two remaining shows bring in storytelling talent from around the country. Mainstage is held every other month at the Alberta Rose Theater in North East Portland. Russian Roulette is held bimonthly at Disjecta in North Portland, and features seasoned storytellers telling true stories from the hip based on subject areas chosen live and at random.

2 – The Moth Story Slam

A satellite incarnation of the New York storytelling show that may or may not have started it all, the Portland version of The Moth Story Slam takes place every two weeks at Holocene in South East Portland. Storytellers tell five minute themed stories, competing against each other for a chance to advance in a tournament that may eventually land them on the stage of the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall with the traveling version of The Moth comes to town.

3 – YARN

The Clinton St. Theater

The Clinton St. Theater

A relative newcomer to the Portland storytelling scene, YARN takes place every other month at the Clinton Street Theater in South East Portland. Storytellers tell ten minute stories on a theme, and hosts banter between themselves, the crowd, and a live band in between stories.

4 – The Mystery Box Show

A sex-themed storytelling show that has been entertaining audiences for years, The Mystery Box Show takes place every other month at the Alberta Rose Theater in North East Portland. Host Eric Scheur brings as many as eight storytellers from all walks of life (including the sex industry itself) onstage to tell true, personal sex, and sex-themed stories.

Matt Fraction on Stage at the Mystery Box Show

Matt Fraction on Stage at the Mystery Box Show

5 – Mortified

Another storytelling show that began elsewhere and has seen chapters sprout up throughout the country, Mortified brings storytellers onstage to reveal some of their most embarrassing memories by sharing the artifacts of their youth.

This one presents stories, diary entries and poems that reveal the truth of childhood on stage for all to see, laugh at, and completely relate to. The Portland installment of Mortified is held every other month at the Alberta Rose Theater.

Storytelling Is Definitely a Portland Thing

It may be our highly literate culture. It may be the fact that there are many months out of the year when we need indoor activities to keep us happy and sane. Whatever the reason, storytelling shows are arguably more popular and better supported in the Portland area than they are anywhere else in the country. If you haven’t been to one of these wonderful events, they all have shows coming up soon.

[Images courtesy of their respective shows or commons]