There has been a notable upswing in storytelling events in Austin. And while many of these events are formal, paid affairs, there’s a movement to make them accessible to the average Austinite.
Backyard Story Night is part of this movement. The goal is simple: gather friends – and friends of friends – in a backyard to share real, unrehearsed stories.
So whether you’re a storyteller or love to hear a good story, here’s the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How of Backyard Story Night in Austin.
WHO Is Responsible for Backyard Story Night?
Backyard Story Night is the brainchild of John Brewster and Meg Mattingly. While they have separate interests and influences, they share a love for the art of storytelling.
John, influenced by programs like The Moth and motivated by a friend visiting from out of town, approached Meg with the initial idea two years ago. Meg, who had been mulling over the idea of holding a story night for a year and had a great backyard, agreed to host the initial story party.
58 people RSVPed for that first story night. And it was magical. John recalls the positive energy in the air as things fell into place. After the first Backyard Story Night, people immediately asked about the next. It clearly wasn’t going to be a one-time affair.
WHAT Is Backyard Story Night?
Fast forward two years and this (mostly) monthly event has grown exponentially. Backyard Story Night’s most recent event in May 2015 boasted over 700 RSVPs!
So what is it? What makes it so special?
Well, it’s as simple as its name. Think campfires and ghost stories. Or imagine your favorite radio series like The Moth, This American Life or the recent hit Serial. Now take that, add in a couple hundred strangers who have no formal training in storytelling and you have Backyard Story Night.
Let me set the stage for you. Everyone brings snacks to share with the group – a snack-luck as they call it. And everyone brings a blanket or chair. People are scattered around talking to each other and their neighbors. It’s as if they’re all close friends, yet most of them are complete strangers. Strings of globe lights stretch across the yard, illuminating the night.
Then the stories start. The format is informal. Stories last about an hour with roughly 10 people speaking for five minutes each. John and Meg never know the stories prior. Yet somehow, it always seems to magically work. Because by the end of the night, there’s an hum of chatter as people talk about the stories that resonated with them most.
It’s the simple action of opening your soul and giving a piece of yourself to strangers that makes these story nights special. It’s then that you realize we’re all the same. We all have similar struggles and insecurities. We all want to be heard. We’re all curious. Yes, some of us might be stronger listeners, be more curious or have more struggles. But when it comes down to it, we’re in the same boat.
And perhaps that’s why this trend is growing so quickly.
WHEN and WHERE to Find Backyard Story Night
Backyard Story Night is held monthly with some breaks over the summer. If you join their Facebook group you’ll never miss an event. And the where is obvious: Meg’s backyard.
But seriously. With over 700 people RSVPed to the last event, there is a fear they will outgrow their backyard and have to turn away people. So the group is on the lookout for alternative spaces for the fall that keep the intimate feeling alive and have more bathrooms.
WHY Tell Stories?
Telling stories is in our blood. We were born to be storytellers. Even before people could write, traditions were passed from generation to generation orally. And we all have stories to tell. If we didn’t, we’d just sit around the dinner table staring at each other. It’s in our blood to share and connect with one another.
Yet the more we use social media, the more “anti-social” we feel. There’s a real hunger for connection and community in the air. That’s where storytelling fits in. It’s a way to connect with complete strangers. To laugh, or cry, with our fellow human beings.
HOW to Organize Your Own Story Night
Backyard Story Night is just the tip of the Austin storytelling iceberg. There are already a handful of backyard spinoffs such as Hyde Park Storytelling. One of the organizers, Matthew Stoner, also a huge fan of The Moth and Radiolab, was inspired by John and Meg. Selfishly, he says, he just wanted to hear more stories in the comfort of his own backyard.
Matthew is just one example of how easy it is to start your own Brothers Grimm-inspired backyard. It really doesn’t have to be complicated – or open to the entire city of Austin. Just grab a few friends, sit around and tell stories!
It’s my hope that neighborhoods all over Austin will create their own story nights. A Tarrytown Story Night, a SoCo Story Night. Places where you can get to know your neighbor.
If you’re looking for something more formal, there are several fabulous “professional” storytelling events, as well. Mortified, Austin Bat Cave’s Story Department and The Tellers hosted by LIVESTRONG are three curated, paid events worth your visit.
@jpino9 wants to know:
What story would you tell at Backyard Story Night?