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The Ring-tum Phi

“Untold” draws community’s stories out of the woodwork

Monthly live storytelling event encourages students to open up and entertain

Hannah Falchuk

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A microphone, an audience and a setting in which to tell a tale–these are the tools available to each participant at Untold, a monthly campus storytelling event. Any story can be told at this gathering, with two key caveats: it must be true, and it must be recited from memory.

Untold began last November when Business Professor Jeff Schatten shared with students the idea of providing a live storytelling platform on campus. Schatten had been involved in the storytelling scene in Atlanta and said colleges are a great place for this event to thrive.

“In college, the student voices often become very similar,” Schatten said, noting that schools and students routinely develop their own culture. “There’s an idea that there’s not this underlying variation between people,” he said.

He believes that a good storytelling event can prove that that is not true.

At the school year’s first Untold on Sept. 21, students regaled their peers with stories about summer internships and faraway travel, with experiences ranging from copier jam nightmares at an internship to sign-language conversations with a Lyft driver.

The settings of the stories told by students, a professor and a com

munity member ranged from rural Madagascar to the nearby Chessie Trail. The stories were short – tellers are typically limited to five minutes – and covered a range of emotions from humor, to shock, to hope.

Schatten said that the ambience of the setting can encourage people to talk.

“It’s amazing how much people will share at a live storytelling event that they would never otherwise share,” he said.

Participating in Untold does not require that a person be a good public speaker or a confident comedian.

“This is the perfect place for shy people who want to tell stories,” co-host Dannick Kenon, ‘19, said.

Part of the event is the atmosphere, created by the informal setting in front of the Commons Living Room fireplace and the pizza or snacks available for listeners.

“It’s a warm and welcoming environment,” said MK Moran, ‘19, who listened to the stories shared on Thursday.

The event is meant to encourage the telling of stories that might be personally impactful or compelling, and not all of the stories told at this opening event had what could be considered ‘happy endings.’

“Sometimes there are experiences we wish we never had,” Kenon said. “And it’s good to understand the negativity and the positivity.”

Sometimes these are the stories that prove most compelling for members of the audience. Schattner noted that power of storytelling may derive from its ancient role as a cultural force and art.

“There’s something very pure and historic about storytelling,” Schatten said.

So what makes for a “good” story?

“It has to have some kind of conflict,” said Schatten, “some kind of unexpected turn, where you can’t predict where it’s going from what you heard at the beginning.”

He said there is no pressure, though, to tell a “good” story, and that the most important part of recounting a personal anecdote is to be oneself.

“The upside opportunity is really amazing,” Schatten said. “You connect with people from the university who you would have otherwise not connected with.”

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The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University
“Untold” draws community’s stories out of the woodwork