Congratulations to frequent TMAS workshop participant and two-time Tell Me A Story performer Cecilia Watson on her First Person Arts StorySlam win. Read on for a first hand account of how Cecilia took a story that she workshopped in class and tried it out on stage.
On Monday, June 8th, I attended the Kick Off Story Slam of First Person Arts' 15th Season. The theme was, "Karma" and the host was a very funny fellow named Alex Kacala, whom my sister and I both know from way back when.
I had attended First Person Story Slams before and enjoyed them, but I had never told a story at one. I never felt like a had a good story to fit the theme, and forcing a story to fit the theme doesn't feel right to me. Anyway, when I first heard that the theme of the show was "Karma," I thought of a story I had told once in a Tell Me a Story workshop, about the time I took my (now) ex-boyfriend's sick cat (whom I may or may not have made sick by feeding it expired cat food) to the vet, and then was sent on a wild goose chase by the Philadelphia PD when I thought my car was towed. Hillary observed that it was like a play on words, "a cat for a car." When I told it in the workshop, the story was more about the dynamic between me and my ex-boyfriend. It was also too long and unfocused. The thought of editing it down for the slam overwhelmed me, and I didn't feel like I had enough time to perfect it. I decided I would go and just listen. Again.
Alex was a very funny host as expected and before breaking for intermission, he announced there were still some open slots for story tellers in the second half. I started to think that I could tell the story, even though I hadn't "really" prepared it. I remembered that Hillary said when she tells a story, it's about 30% improvisation. The story will be what it will be in that moment when it is told. I had to let go of the idea of perfection. Alex came over to our table and I mentioned I was considering putting my name in to tell a story, and of course he encouraged me to do it. "How will you feel if you walk out of here and you don't put your name in?" he asked. I knew how it would feel, I had done it before. My sister, who never says anything unless she absolutely means it said, "Oh, go ahead and tell it." That was it. This story was the closest I'd ever gotten fitting a slam theme, and I was going for it. I filled out the waiver, folded it up, dropped it in the bucket, went to the bathroom, and started editing in my head.
I thought back to the workshop, and the feedback the story had gotten. One workshop attendee said she would pay money to hear me say, "cat cat-scan" over and over. That was going in. I was going to focus on the cat and the car, because that was where the idea of karma was. My relationship would be secondary.The Mad Max reference got updated to the more timely Fury Road instead of Thunder Dome, even though I sing, "We Don't Need Another Hero" every time I drive through that stretch of Southwest Philly. A few of the locations the Philadelphia Police department had erroneously sent us to were getting cut, so was the cab we unintentionally rode in twice on our travels that day. Those passages made the story too long, didn't add much, and I was worried about the 5 minute time limit. I was getting more confident in my choice of story because it was about me getting increasingly agitated and upset, so I could channel all my nervous energy into the story. I was incredibly nervous.
My name was called (the ninth slot!) and I got up there and I told it. I was so nervous at the beginning, I said I fed expired cat food to my boyfriend and not his cat. But once I got into the story, I was in it. The timing bell rang, and I was ok because I knew I was almost home. The judges in the audience gave me all 10s, and I suddenly found myself in a tie breaking "story off" with a great story teller who has won the slam several times before. We had a few minutes to think of a two minute story about the audience suggested theme of "travel disasters." I broke my self-imposed rule and stretched the only two minute story I could think of to fit the theme. In the end, I won. I walked out of there feeling absolutely stupid with elation.
Here is Cecilia's winning story!