Meet Hillary Rea, Founder of Tell Me A Story

Photo by  Joanna Nowak

Photo by Joanna Nowak


Nine years ago, I made a declaration: “I want to do stand-up comedy.” And so I did. A few friends of mine had just started a monthly comedy show at Space 1026 art gallery and each month there was a new theme and a new type of comedy. For my very first performance, I brought my own laugh track. I gave it to my friend Thom and told him to hit it every time I needed laughs, or when the audience wasn’t with me. Throughout my set, Thom’s use of the laugh track induced even more laughter and I thought, “Hey, I like this. People are laughing! Why not do more?"

From there I experimented with using props and reenacting stories from my life with my old collection of Beverly Hills 90210 dolls. I dressed up as a Tinky Winky from the Teletubbies and lip-sang to “I Am What I Am” from La Cage Aux Folles

And then I discovered the storytelling movement that was coming up in both Philadelphia and New York. This was a more traditional way of sharing story as yourself, on a stage, behind a microphone. Right before going to my first ever open mic storytelling event, I stopped at my bank and cashed in all of the change in my piggy bank to pay for my ticket. While in the bank it started to pour and I had to walk to the venue in the rain. About a block away from my final destination, a Septa bus whizzed by me and splashed a tidal wave of street puddle all over me. I showed up to the show dripping and seething, put my name into the bag for the chance to tell my story, and sat down to get a feel for what this whole night would entail. When the host came out to start the show, she drew the first name from the bag, and it was mine. No example story to come before me, I just had to get up and tell mine. My heart was beating out of my chest and I felt like I was going to vomit, but I forced myself on to the stage to do what I had set out to do. I tell my story to an audience of strangers and it changed the whole way I viewed performing and I discovered that I didn't just love making people laugh, I loved bringing people on a journey that had a beginning, middle, and end. 

From that point on I became a huge storytelling nerd. I went to all of the shows in Philadelphia, all of the shows in New York, and started to binge on podcasts like This American Life and Risk! It was this new found love that motivated me to produce my own storytelling events. When I met Mariel Freeman, co-owner of Shot Tower Coffee and learned that she wanted to host storytelling shows at her cafe, Tell Me A Story was born. 

Through a bunch of odd circumstances and a bit of kismet, I ended up telling a story on stage at a large apparel company’s sales conference in Las Vegas. (If we ever meet in-person, ask me to tell this story and I will!) During the course of this bizarre weekend I had another light bulb moment of seeing the power of story in the workplace, and using personal experiences as a way to build trust, inspire, and help people understand each other on a deeper level. It’s amazing what a story about bra shopping can do when in front of the right audience. 

This is when I really took the steps to build Tell Me A Story as a full service business. We’ll always have the live storytelling events at the core of our work, but the art of storytelling translates beautifully as an every day communication tool. And beyond that telling our stories is a means of survival as we navigate the ever-changing cultural, political, and economical climates. 

I show people how to be the main character of their story. I do this through my own documentary work and by teaching others to document their narratives on their terms. I help the stories fly out of minds, and mouths, and invite others to engage in genuine conversation and authentic human connection. People need words. They need to hear them out loud. Spoken by real voices as intimate as an audio story, as loud as a microphone. As we digitally disconnect -- from our community and ourselves — humans sharing stories, with and about other humans, is our lifeline. Thanks for listening.


Here are some more fun facts about me:

1. I hold a certificate in audio documentary from Duke University's Center of Documentary Studies. I am also the producer and host of Rashomon, a narrative storytelling podcast where one family shares every side of the same story. 

2. I am a graduate of New York University's Steinhardt School with a Bachelor's of Music in Vocal Performance. I was raised just a few blocks from Philadelphia's City Hall and a proud alumna of Central High School (259). I lived and worked in Japan through the JET Programme, teaching English in the very snowy Sorachi District on the island of Hokkaido. When I flew home to Philadelphia, I brought my Japanese cat, Natto, with me. 

3. I won a NYC Moth StorySlam on April Fools' Day and it was the first time my name was ever picked out of the bag at a Moth show. This was after months of taking the Megabus to New York City, waiting in line for hours to get in to the show, and putting my name in the hat without ever getting picked to tell me story. Here's my story from the Grand Slam that followed:

4. I write a series of newsletters each month featuring tools and techniques for communicating with honesty and sincerity and finding your authentic voice through storytelling. Want to get these in your inbox? Sign-up here.

Speaking Engagements

Hillary is a keynote speaker and runs conference breakout sessions on Storytelling as Leadership, Origin Stories, The Business of Storytelling, and Crafting an Elevator Pitch that Actually Works. Past speaking engagements include: Pennsylvania Conference for Women, The Bullish Conference, Ela Conf, North Carolina Chamber of Commerce's Women's Conference, and Philanthropy Network Greater Philadelphia's Annual Conference.

For speaking engagement availability and rates, get in touch