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Tale of The Tell: Storytelling event enjoys robust success in downtown Fargo

Tale of The Tell: Storytelling event enjoys robust success in downtown Fargo

Above: Tell founder Laura Egland tells her own story on “Fear” during The Tell’s successful debut in October.

It’s one of life’s ironies that technology not only makes it so much easier to connect with others, it also isolates us.

Some have lamented that in a world consumed by digital communication, the art of face-to-face conversation is fading. Will the summer camps of the future consist of youngsters gathered ’round the bonfire with heads bowed, as they text scary stories to the people sitting next to them?

But Laura Egland insists the art of good, old-fashioned storytelling is alive and well. So much so that the lively, funny Fargoan has orchestrated a monthly downtown Fargo event called The Tell. It’s a juried story slam, open to anyone with a voice and the nerve to get up in front of a crowd and spin a yarn. The winners from each Tell go on to compete in a grand-finale Tell-All in April.
Thanks to word-of-mouth (see? People really do talk to each other!) and Egland’s own astute marketing via Facebook, the event has bloomed into a standing-room-only event. The latest Tell is tonight at 7 p.m. in Studio 222 behind Atomic Coffee. And you’ll want to show up when the doors open at 6:30; Egland says the venue is usually at capacity by 6:50.
We recently sat down with Egland, Fargo’s own Tell-ena of Troy, to hear the tale of The Tell. As expected, she was insightful, highly entertaining, and optimistic about the enduring appeal of the tale, well-told.
Laura mic laugh
So what exactly IS The Tell? Do tell!
The Tell is a juried story slam, open to storytellers (we’re pretty casual, so we just call ’em, “Tellers”) of all ages and ability. A theme for each night is identified ahead of time, and anyone wishing to have a chance to “tell” fills out a media release and puts their name in the hat. We draw 10 names, and those people get five minutes to share their true, unpublished stories relating to the theme. Our tag line is, “A community storytelling series: no props, no notes, no kiddin’.”
It’s my understanding that you got the inspiration for this from a similar event called The Moth? Why did you think something like this would be a good fit for Fargo?
It’s true, The Moth inspired me to start The Tell. I liken it to wanting a child: we all know of several different ways to acquire one, but many of us choose to make our own and raise it using our own rules. The Tell is my baby, and I wanted to be able to come at it from the vantage point of just knowing what I wanted it to look and sound like, making up the “how”as I went along.
Fargo has a great arts scene. I wanted to add to it in another way, giving the “non-artistic” among us a place to feel they could express themselves, and recognize the common thread that makes us human.
The feeling of community this has fostered for me has been phenomenal. I have a core group of volunteers who donate their time, their talents and in two instances, their technology for every single event. It’s humbling, and incredibly connecting,which gave me personally a great insight into how community works. I wanted to create it for other people, but wound up including myself. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.
Any particular reason why you wanted to hold it downtown vs., say, a strip mall in Osgood?
Yes. From the inception of the idea of creating The Tell, I knew I wanted it to start in Studio 222 on Broadway. The space is funky, fun, and very intimate. I just couldn’t imagine doing it away from downtown as we started.
Were you ever worried that Fargoans would be too stoic and Scandinavian for such a “Look at me! Look at me!” event? Has that assumption held true or not?
Are you kidding? I was terrified of that very thing. Shoot, I married a Swedish-Norwegian: I have intimate knowledge of what stoic looks like.
I had fretted, worried and wrung my hands in the weeks and days leading up to the first Tell, but there was this magical moment when the first Teller took the stage. You could see him reaching out to the audience, and you could feel the audience’s anticipation and acceptance rising to greet him. That moment still makes me teary. I remember thinking, “Oh my God, they get it. They totally get it!” The other thing I remember is that I smiled so wide that whole night, I really thought I was going to break my face.
Lawrence side gesture
Above:Lawrence Vanderbush, the very first teller in the very first Tell event.
As for the “look at me” aspect of it, sure, it exists. But not like I thought it might. I would estimate that 75 to 80 percent of our Tellers get on stage to tell a story, not to show off. Which is good. Showing off is just uncomfortable unless you’re 3, then it’s cute.
Why is the art of verbal storytelling so important in the age of technology and new media?
Ooh, good question.
I believe so many of us consume social media and reality television shows ad nauseam and en masse as a way of seeking connection, a similarity to bond over. We want something to identify with, something that marks us as belonging to a tribe. Storytelling does that. When someone gets on stage in front of 70 strangers and reveals themselves in an authentic manner, that person we had moments before judged as being nothing like us suddenly could be one of our family; our tribe.
Is this strictly an event for extroverts and drama kids?
Absolutely not. I really do believe that everyone has a story. I’m serious when I say everybody has a story.
Jacinta palms up
Above: Jacinta Thieschafer won the first Tell with her story, “Slice on Slice.”
I’ve been really pleased with the age-spread we’re seeing in audience and Tellers alike: we’ve had a 14-year-old throw his name in the hat, and a 67-year-old get up and Tell. It’s the spectrum we’re looking for, because life is not limited to a demographic.
That said, even if someone isn’t prone to getting up and Telling, every Teller needs an audience who is just listening.
And there’s a grand-finale Tell-All, correct? Tell me all about that.
A finalist from each Tell goes on to The Tell Off in April. It’s the capstone of our season, and thanks to the kindness of this season’s sponsors, the winner of the night will walk away with a check! I wasn’t sure we’d be able to do that the first season, but Fargo has really come through. Pout Baby Boutique, Fargo Rocks!, Summit Chiropractic, Eco Chic Boutique, ServiceMaster (in Fargo) and Kris Kerzmann for the Arts Partnership will forever hold a special place in my heart. (We’re still looking for a sponsor for The Tell Off in April.)
What did you hope to accomplish with this event? Has it lived up to your expectations? Why or why not?
I feel like we’re well on our way to living up to our mission. That said, The Tell has far exceeded my expectations. Halfway through our first season, I feel like I can finally admit this: I didn’t realize it would be this much fun. Leading up to the launch and throughout the first few Tells, I really had my head in the planning, the work end of things, and didn’t stop to think about what the overall experience may be. I have to say,when the garbage is taken out, the lights are up and I’m locking the door, I’m always struck by how much stinkin’ fun we had. Even if The Tell weren’t my baby, I would make a point to attend every time, and it’s not a secret that I really dislike “going out.”
Do you have a favorite story that you’ve heard so far? Was it a winner? Can you divulge what it is, who “told” it and why you loved it?
Several stick in my mind as being extraordinary. Fargo’s very own self-proclaimed (and entirely accidental) “Polish terrorist” Stanley Kwiechen stands out (see Stanley’s Tell here), as well as Megan Orcholski (see Megan’s Tell here) talking about the birth of her first (honorary) grandson. Stanley’s not just because it was hilarious, but because it’s one of those stories that so easily could have happened to me, to any of us, really, and Megan’s because hers was the first one that I felt was done to perfection. She walked us through a very personal, very touching moment in her life with humor, emotion, and most importantly, vulnerability. It was extraordinary.
What sorts of “Tells”don’t you like?
Oh, can of worms, where have you been? Okay, let’s talk about that: the idea of The Tell is not to come do your schtick, act, rant, diatribe, monologue, or preachy speech. The idea is to be real: 100-percent authentic. These are real people, telling real stories. If it’s polished, or if you’re obviously over-rehearsed, you’re not going to win, and a spot for someone who would have been real will have been wasted. It’s only happened once, and I’m pretty sure that Teller froze under the pressure, reverting to high school speech team mode. Hers were the worst scores that night, and before you ask,”no, I never serve as a judge.
Since we’re looking at this piece of it, I do want to say I’ve heard a lot of people say, “but I don’t have a funny story!” Let me tell you something: Life is not exclusively sunshine, puppy kisses and unicorns. Life is gritty, sometimes horrific, and like as not, often sad. It’s that balance between good and bad that makes it beautiful, and it’s the moments of opportunity to compassionately recognize our own fears and struggles in someone else that makes storytelling so powerful. Not to mention the reason The Tell (Fargo) exists.
What are your future plans for this event?
World domination! No, I kid… sort of.
Ideally, this is what I would do all the time, all over the place. But that’s the big dream.
Interestingly enough, this is the first thing in my life I was willing to do that didn’t have a firm future. I’m OK with seeing how this season goes without making too many corrections or changes. I’d love to stay where we are space-wise, the room is so conducive to the feeling of safety and intimacy I think is necessary for this sort of thing, but I also wonder if we’re limiting exposure because of the size.
As much thought as I give to it, though, I know that given how easily everything else about The Tell came to be, the space resolution will present itself. I’m not worried. And I know it will be a good story.
 The Tell sign
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