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  1. What is Live True Storytelling?

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    Storytelling is ingrained in human nature. It’s how we connect with one another, share ideas and express emotions. Most of us tell stories every day, even if we’re not aware we are doing it. But many people are not familiar with live, on-stage true storytelling and have questions about how it works and what to expect. Sometimes it’s easiest to begin by explaining what true storytelling is not

    It’s Not Stand-Up Comedy

    Sometimes our storytellers are funny. Deeply personal and honest stories are often humorous – we recognise ourselves in the storytellers, and feel their shock, disbelief or embarrassment as they relay their experiences. Many professional comedians use storytelling as way to engage with their audiences. But true storytelling is not the same as stand-up. Your story does not have to be funny. It can be sad, serious, regretful, challenging, contemplative. We ask that our storytellers speak from the heart. We’re not looking for punchlines or callbacks. It is never your job to make the audience laugh. That said, we have worked with some great comedians in the past, and we welcome funny stories – so long as they are true!

    It’s Not Spoken Word or Poetry

    When possible, we ask our audience members to speak without notes or a script. It can be helpful to think about the structure of your story in advance and jot down a few talking points, but many of the best stories we hear are totally off-the-cuff. Tell your story as if you were talking to a close friend over a cup of tea on the sofa, or a pint at the pub. This is where it’s helpful to ensure your story is as close to the truth as possible – even if you lose your train of thought, you’ll be able to find your way back.

    It’s Not ‘Acting’

    You do not have to have a background in performance art – or indeed any on-stage experience – to take part at a Spark True Stories night. There are no auditions. If you’re naturally shy or feeling a little nervous, come and speak to one of the Spark team before the event starts and we’ll put your mind at ease. We welcome people from all walks of life at our live nights, so don’t worry about whether or not you come across as confident, charismatic or convincing. If your story means something to you, then your honesty will resonate with our audience.

    So, What is a Spark Story?

    At Spark, we have only three rules: your story must be true, it must have happened to you (not someone else) and it must be up to five minutes in length. Don’t worry too much about that last point – we’ll give you a subtle notification when you’re four minutes into your story so you have a chance to work towards the conclusion. The best stories centre around a specific event or experience. For example, if the theme is ‘Power’, tell us about a time in your life when you felt powerful or powerless, rather than simply sharing your general musings on the theme.

    If You Still Have Questions…

    Drop one of our team members an email. You can find us at sparktruestories@gmail.com. We’ll do what we can to help!

  2. Spark True Stories: Some FAQs

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    Whether you’re new to the world of true storytelling, or simply want to know a little more about who we are and what we do, here are some answers to our most frequently asked questions.

    Do I have to tell a story?

    Not at all! On average, only a quarter of our audience will share a story each night. So, if you’d rather grab a drink, relax and listen, you’ll be in very good company.

    I want to share a story. How quickly do the slots book up?

    Storytellers sign up on the night, and it’s rare for slots to book up before the first interval. To guarantee a spot, aim to show up when doors open. Or, if you’re really eager, drop us a message on social media and we’ll do what we can!

    What are the rules?

    It’s very simple. Your story just has to be true, it has to be something that happened to you and all stories must be up to five minutes in length.

    Can I come to Spark by myself?

    Yes. We pride ourselves on creating a friendly, inclusive environment. It’s normal for our storytellers to get chatting to one another in the intervals and the Spark team are always happy to say hi to newcomers.

    I’m worried my story is rubbish. Does that matter?

    While some of our storytellers are professional performers and writers, most of them aren’t. At every open-mic event, we have a mix of first-time storytellers and regular contributors. Your story does not have to be clever, funny or scripted – it just has to be honest. Some of our very best stories come from people who don’t consider themselves natural performers.

    Is your audience all young, arty types?

    We can honestly say there is no one “type” of Spark audience member. Our events attract everyone from students to those in their sixties, seventies and above, and people from all backgrounds. However, no nights are the same… if you’ve seen one Spark event, you’ve just seen one Spark event.

    What if my story doesn’t quite fit the night’s theme?

    Spark encourages storytellers to think about the theme before sharing their tale. But you can be playful with it. If the theme is “Family Ties” but you want to talk about a funny thing that happened on a work away-day, then perhaps your company likes to think of its employees as one big family? So long as the night’s theme is reflected somewhere in your story, we don’t mind if it requires a little bit of creative thinking.

  3. Glasgow pop-up night for Sailor Jerrys

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    Charley surveyed the crowds of waiting commuters gazing up at the Euston train station departure boards and hoped a spontaneous flashmob dance would erupt. It was too early for that. I like to think it broke out as soon as we left for our platform.

    Our team of three, Charley as host, Dave on sound and myself to mingle with the crowd and encourage people to tell stories, boarded the early train bound for Glasgow (luckily still running after the recent heavy snow), excited about the event ahead. Spark had been commissioned to host a storytelling evening in a pop-up space in the city, created to promote the Sailor Jerry brand of rum.

    Following an afternoon orientating ourselves in the city, we made our way to the venue. The entrance was a non-descript door next to a fishmonger’s depot in an unlikely part of central Glasgow. The door led up four flights of stairs to a very trendy space at the top of the building. At one end of the room was a bar serving rum and at the other a stage with drum kit, guitar amps and microphones. In between, there was a space for screen printing T-shirts for the night, some sofas and an eclectic collection of chairs. We were in for a good night.

    One thing we noticed, as pampered London dwellers, was the cold. The uninsulated roof did not protect us from the freezing northern temperatures outside and we needed to stay warm somehow. If only there had been some rum to thaw us out. But that was later…

    Now I have to tell you about the fire drill. No, really. Not just for health and safety reasons although one should always be aware of the fire exits. One of the security team took us on an epic and somewhat icy detour backstage, down endless flights of stairs to an underground car park and onto the street. Unfit as we are, and now unable to feel our feet, we were by this time too exhausted to care about a fire – apart from the possibility that it might warm us up. Safety first however.

    Once the doors opened the anticipated largely student audience arrived to order rum and be informed about the night ahead. I mingled, telling them how Spark evenings worked and encouraging them to share a story on stage under the theme “All in”. It is impossible to know what an evening of open-mic storytelling will bring, although over the years we have learnt that by creating the right atmosphere, any audience is capable of sharing the most wonderfully surprising and rewarding stories. We hoped that we would inspire more than tales about student excess or classroom experiences; these stories can be great but we did not want twelve of these in a row. However, as always seems to be the case, our audience didn’t disappoint and shared a smorgasbord of stories from trivial, to poignant, to life-enhancing.

    A stand-out story for me was told by one of the “Glasgow Girls” who, whilst still at school, started a campaign to free a friend who had been incarcerated by the Home Office prior to being deported with her family. It was a tale of a small stone creating ripples of magnitude: through their efforts, the decision to deport the family was reversed and their refugee status was reinstated. Following this, the law was changed to prevent children being held in detention for immigration purposes. It was captivating hearing the story told first-hand.

    The success of the night was made possible by fine hosting by Charley, the sound was professionally captured by Dave and I hope I was responsible for encouraging some stories and consuming some rum. Bourbon is my drink of choice and I had not encountered Sailor Jerry’s rum before but I freely confess it tasted great and thoroughly warmed my cockles. Thank you to Sailor Jerry’s for enabling us to provide such a special evening’s entertainment.

  4. “Family Ties” in Brixton

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    Our theme of “Family Ties” for December was intended to open up the possibility of some seasonal stories but it transpired that Christmas didn’t actually feature at all.

    The evening looked to be an interesting one for me, as my entire family were going to be present. I am used to my sister attending Spark and telling some very fine stories but my elderly parents, not living in London, had never been to one of our open-mic nights. As it turned out, they would not forget this night.

    The room filled up and our regular host Charley started proceedings with her usual charm and wit before launching into a very heartfelt story. I followed with one of those endearing family tales that had my parents in tears as they realised their only son could not only stand upright but talk at the same time. If you can’t make your parents weep while sharing family stories in front of strangers, you are doing something wrong.

    My sister told a story in the second act and took excessive pleasure in making fun of me repeatedly through the course of her recollections of a disastrous family holiday. Note to self – always tell a story after my sister, so I can make fun of her without the possibility of a comeback. And I had been so lovely to her; I guess that is families for you.

    I have seen many nights at Brixton and enjoyed all of them but there are some that stand out. This was one of those events when every story felt fresh and different and there was a perfect mix of moving and funny tales from both first timers and more familiar faces. Everyone I spoke to had enjoyed the night and the Spark team was agreed that this was a top evening.

    My parents were very happy to finally see what all the fuss was about and I was delighted I had been able to share a Spark evening with them. We went back home on the tube and it seemed all the excitement was over.

    At 6:40 the next morning however, I had a call from my mother as I was getting ready to head out to catch a train. She does not normally call at this hour. I am then told that my father had extreme chest pains at three in the morning and they called an ambulance which took ages to arrive and they kept calling and checking and…. hang on, she had not told me if Dad was alive, as all I was hearing was a detailed account of waiting for an ambulance. She was telling this story very badly. What she should have started with was “Your Dad’s OK but we are in A&E”. It must have been the Spark storytelling influence – she was building the tension too expertly.

    Anyway, after scans and fine work from the staff at Homerton Hospital, we discovered it was a broken rib and nothing life threatening. It is possible that he laughed so much at some of the more entertaining stories that he fractured a rib. I should point out this is not a usual outcome after attending a Spark night. Most people leave the room without broken bones. It was likely my sister’s story that tipped his rib cage over the edge. She should never have mocked me and will have to live with this guilt.

    This night was made possible by our excellent team: host Charley, Dave on sound, with Banke and Tanya working the ticket desk. Also thanks to the excellent staff at the Ritzy. Scarlett brought her mother to add to the family theme (for a less eventful night than mine) and it was good to see Andy.

    Ian B

  5. “Bad Timing” in Brixton

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    It had been a strange day in London. Like most of the country we had been affected by hurricane Orphelia as it swept in from the South-West. instead of high winds we were bathed in a peculiar soft orange light, as sand swept up from the Spanish peninsula put a filter over the sun. It reminded me of the partial eclipse some years ago when bright daytime sunlight was replaced with a disturbing dusky light. Disquieted birds fell silent and the media was awash with portents of doom.

    Luckily Brixton Spark was not silent. Undeterred by the unsettling conditions, the room filled with story-hungry punters eager to hear tales of “Bad Timing”. Little did they know about the technical difficulties we had when setting up the night.

    For some reason the sound faded in and out when we tested the microphone which perplexed the two experienced sound professionals in our team. Microphones and leads were replaced, connections were checked, fists were pounded on tables and expletives were silently uttered in dark corners. All to no effect. Finally, the problem seemed to have been banished and the stories began.

    Our excellent host Charley warmed up the room and then gave an explanation of the rules – no notes, no poems, nobody else’s story and no jokes – before launching into a story from her youth. Two more stories followed and then a break.

    And then the microphone played up again. This never happens. PANIC.

    However, everyone voted to carry on, with performers recounting their stories into the unamplified ether.

    So we continued with wonderful brave tellers standing on stage, projecting their stories to an attentive and silent audience. It was like re-enacting a moment from our ancestral past, when people gathered around campfires and shared stories. But we did not have the wood smoke, poor sanitary conditions or trepanning masquerading as healthcare. Times have moved on. Trepanning during a storytelling evening is generally frowned upon now.

    One of the Brixton staff spent the next break playing with an over-complicated mixer and managed to resolve the problem and we were back on for a final chapter of amplified stories.

    We closed with some truly captivating stories that will hopefully find their way to our podcast. Then, we did a thing that makes Spark nights so enjoyable – some of the storytellers, members of the audience and the Spark team stayed on, sat down and talked together. Sharing personal stories that connect with the lives of listeners can open up conversations that bring people together in a way that does not happen at other events.

    Thanks go to Charley for hosting, Dave for recording and handling audio, Elle for assisting Dave and to Banka and Ashley for helping to manage the ticket desk. Also thanks to the Brixton Picturehouse staff who do a great job and are always happy to help us out to make the nights better.

    Ian

  6. A Brixton Night

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    I love Spark nights in the “Upstairs” venue at Brixton Ritzy. There is something about the room. The audience sits in a curve round the stage creating an intimate yet charged atmosphere as if in a mini amphitheatre. Each storyteller is greeted with encouragement and excited expectation and, after navigating through the applauding listeners to take their place at the microphone, they are comfortable enough to share anything from their lives.

    Our regular host Charley was back after an August break, and she set the tone to make everyone feel welcome with her usual energy and charisma, undoubtedly enhanced by our new Spark banner that stood proudly behind her. Dave handled the sound and audio recording for our podcast and Scarlett and myself welcomed people as they arrived.

    Monday, like so many Spark nights, contained an unorchestrated mix of compelling and entertaining stories that captivated those present. Any speaker arriving at the microphone is an unknown quantity whose narrative can develop in any direction, and on Monday we heard a wide variety of life experiences around the theme of “Miscommunication”. As always, the theme is just a guide but both our experienced and first-time storytellers ran with ideas generated from the title and we had tales of wedding memes, sending texts to the wrong people, opening the wrong Christmas present, communicating clear consent and more.

    There was a powerful story from someone new to Spark about living with impaired hearing which had been augmented with hearing aids worn from an early age. Her engaging story of what it was like to experience life through artificial sound amplification was conveyed with humour and insight, and ended on a moving note when her new teaching job saw her connect with a pupil who had similar hearing aids. Maybe not everyone was tearful but I am sure many besides us on the Spark table were welling up.

    The power of these stories comes not from any perfectly rehearsed set of constructed phrases but from people relating parts of their lives in a natural voice that imparts a deeper truth and immediacy of the experience. Some of the best stories come from audience members who have no intention of speaking in front of strangers when they arrive but feel they can share something after witnessing the warm and non-judgemental atmosphere Spark prides itself on creating.

    We were also visited by a journalist, Per Christian, from the largest Norwegian newspaper “Aftenposten” who was keen to see what a storytelling night in London was like. We suggested that the only way to write about the full Spark experience was to tell a story but he gracefully declined. However, we look forward to an article from his evening with us and maybe an increased interest from his readers.

    Ian Sept 2017

  7. A first date at Spark Brixton: What happened next?

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    I arrived at Spark with excited anticipation (only partly due to the fact that this was a date) and was greeted by the ever charming Charley. I listened to stories that made me laugh, wonder, think and feel, and after some confidence boosting a la red wine and persuasion a la Charley, I agreed to put my name down to tell a story. The theme was ‘oh!’, and I spoke, nervously, about the time I popped the tire of a stranger’s car at the ripe age of seven to a room of listening ears and warm faces. I left that night walking on air, blown away by the vulnerability and authenticity of the storytellers, the exhilaration of sharing, and how much you can learn about others, humanity, and yourself, in listening.

    I proceeded to consume all of the Spark podcasts over the next few weeks and the following month found myself back at The Ritzy, alone this time, and thrilled to see Charley as I walked in. I told her about my love for Spark and my excitement to be there, and I learned that her upcoming holiday in NY would correspond with my move back to NYC. She discovered I had never attended the Moth, and we exchanged contact details and agreed to meet up in New York.

    Charley and I became fast friends and together we queued for The Moth, where the theme was ‘9 to 5’. I found the storytelling to be exceptional, but I also came away with a strong conviction that Spark was distinctly different, and a nostalgia for no longer being able to attend due to my move. Spark has something special, in my opinion – a sense of inclusion, of authenticity, of warmth – and my nostalgia developed into an idea: why not bring Spark to New York!?

    This led me to meeting the lovely Joanna, and to where we stand today – excited to announce that Spark New York will be coming your way in 2017!

    Find out more about Dana: www.danapollock.com

     

    Dana. M Pollock

     

  8. Spark Preston VIII

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    We’re delighted with the success of our revived Spark event in Preston in our new venue, Ham and Jam. We had ten stories told on the theme of ‘Trouble”, and all learned much from each other’s from personal incidents around the world and in differing circumstances. Here is a rapid fire round up of the stories.

    • The dangers of catching a thrown hamster.
    • The consequences of a stolen box of Quality Street.
    • Incidents with ice ponds and chickens near Riga.
    • The difference in treatment by the INS if you’re British or Palestinian.
    • Interrupting the President of Uganda’s motorcade.
    • How to convince your colleagues you’re not the bad guy.
    • Preparing fruit salad for an audience (by twin A).
    • Stepping in for your twin at a vital moment; (by twin B).
    • Being the lookout who gets caught.
    • Juvenile culinary experiments in Mum’s kitchen.

    A varied interpretation of ‘Trouble’!

    Wonderful.

    So get your stories in mind for next month’s theme – PRIDE – and come and join us on 24 September at Ham & Jam.

  9. Innocent Unplugged 2016

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    While Mr Motivator from GMTV Breakfast, whipped the crowd into a sticky sweaty mess on the main stage, Spark was tucked away in another tent with 70 audience members. It’s 9pm on May 28th and we are at the Innocent Unplugged Festival in the Kent countryside.

    Our host was Nav who some of you may know from Exmouth Market and our theme was ‘Wide eyed and Innocent,’ which one audience member astutely whispered to a friend, ‘could be dangerous.’ People often think Spark makes perfect sense at festivals. It’s probably the connotations of campfires and the woodland setting that makes it feel like a good pairing. And it is but it’s not that easy to coax 70 odd brits who hadn’t planned to speak into a mic to open up their hearts to strangers even if they are in the middle of a wood. We are used to this and we know deep down the stories are in the room they just need coaxing out, and that’s what happened.

    We heard a total of 12 stories during the 90 minute and the theme of Innocence was rung out, turned inside out and pulled into new shapes with each of these experiences. The premise of the Unplugged Festival was to turn the phone off and just spend some time with each other, which I have to say felt really good. It also means if you missed these stories then there are no recordings so all those voices exist only in the minds of those who were there. Hopefully we will be back for more next year.

     

  10. Spark supports Refuaid

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    After reading this post, please give generously to Refuaid.

    In the five years we’ve been making the Spark – True Stories podcast, we’ve shared stories with our listeners across the world. But recently we’ve felt moved to do more than that: and so this week we’re launching a fundraising campaign for refugees fleeing war-torn countries.

    The idea came about after an open mic event we held in January. Kirby, who has been to a few of our events, had recently been to the Greek island of Leros to help receive refugees and told an amazing story (below).

    Afterwards, she asked us if we’d consider a collaboration: a night of true stories from refugees and aid workers, raising money for good causes.

    We, of course, didn’t need to consider it… and in February we took over Exmouth Market Theatre for a night, the results of which are included in the next few podcasts.

    Gigi, recently made a British citizen, hosted the night

    Gigi, recently made a British citizen, hosted the night

     

    Former Romanian refugee Julie returned to tell a jaw-dropping story about meeting Ceausescu’s wife, aid worker Anna described life in the Calais jungle… but the most resonant account came from English teacher Hassan, who escaped Syria only to find his every way out blocked by border guards and treacherous oceans.

    Please listen and donate as much as you can. Thank you.