First Night

by Christine Mounts ~ August 20, 2023

“What is going on here?”- a question posed by an upstairs neighbor to some of our guests who had spilled out the front door of “First Night”, the grand opening of the American School of Storytelling on Friday August 18, 2023.

The official answer is “storytelling” or more accurately “nothing new” since storytelling is an ancient artform, indeed the Mother Art. But perhaps it’s new to our neighbors or at least “something different”- an intimate performance venue dedicated to the oral narrative arts of storytelling, poetry, and singer-songwriters.

Not theater because there is no fourth wall separating us from the audience. Not a poetry open mic at the bar on Wednesday to draw in patrons. Not the storytelling slam model that The Moth Radio Hour is renowned for. Not a writing program, not a marketing buzzword, or a gathering of liars, unless you believe fiction to be a lie despite its ability to tell the truth, often better than facts.

As Wikipedia defines it: “Storytelling is the social and cultural activity of sharing stories, sometimes with improvisation, theatrics or embellishment. Every culture has its own stories or narratives, which are shared as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation or instilling moral values. Crucial elements of stories and storytelling include plot, characters and narrative point of view.”

But what is going on here? What is this ‘American School of Storytelling’?

The conversations between Loren Niemi and Christine Mounts about founding a storytelling school started in fall of 2019. It was a notion Loren had been knocking around since 2016 but never acted on. With the pandemic of 2020 canceling all of his scheduled work for the foreseeable future, there was time to consider how we might turn this notion into a real thing.

In 2021, we began offering storytelling workshops online. In 2022, our dear friends of The Briar, 1231 Washington St NE, Minneapolis, MN, provided us with an artist residency in their newly opened bistro. Art-A-Whirl, May 19, 2023, was the final performance of that residency, and on June 1, 2023, we signed the lease for our first brick and mortar location at 1762 Hennepin Ave S, Minneapolis, MN.

Now we’re getting serious.

June was spent trying to get our arms around logistics, finding a stage builder, and affordable sturdy chairs (many thanks to the UMN Reuse Center). Loren was teaching a series of online classes on the ‘Uses of Storytelling in Community Building’. The Christine was off to the ‘Minnesota Northwoods Writers Conference’ in Bemidji to study memoir writing.

July was spent actually building the stage and setting up the space. Loren was teaching ‘Storytelling Summer Camp’ and was off to NYC to perform and provide storytelling coaching services. The Christine cycled RAGBRAI for the third time in the 113-degree Iowa heat index and didn’t die.

August had a thin time window between the Minnesota Fringe and the Minnesota State Fair. So, on Friday August 18, 2023, with no time to spare to get the snacks out on the table, we both pulled down the brown paper sheet that covered the window and unlocked the front door.

The headcount was 36, including us, our fabulous performers, and an array of folks from our combined communities: old friends, new acquaintances, co-workers, poets, playwrights, and storytellers. We showcased what we are in the business of teaching and promoting, with the help of Storytellers Laura Packer & Jim Stowell, Poets Clarence White & Sarah Degner Riveros, and singer-songwriter Monica Cortes. We had charcuterie and cake and a little toast of champagne. Special thanks to Jen Haehnel for preparing the food and all the volunteers who helped clean up afterward, so we didn’t have to.

But what is going on here in the future?

Performances by local and out-of-town performers. Classes on personal storytelling, traditional storytelling, braided storytelling, business and organizational storytelling, and the craft of storytelling. Storytelling and poetry open mics. Featured poet events. Classes on poetry performance. Special event showcases. Support and promotion of other performing arts events and organizations. And one or two more things up our sleeve…

We are not a non-profit (not yet anyway). Loren and The Christine are bootstrapping the school. The proof of its viability, the survival of this venture, depends on your financial support through ticket sales, book and merchandise sales, and tips offered for the services the school provides. All proceeds are directly reinvested in our programming and our performance venue.

So come to a class or a show and have some fun! Let’s build something great together.

Let’s make what is very old, new again!

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