When I was little if you read me a story, I would be your best friend in the world. Afterwards, I'd follow you around, latched on your leg, badgering you until you'd sit down and read me another. As you can imagine, the discovery of story-time at the local library was particularly fortuitous for me, and the rest of my family. They would take me on Wednesday nights already dressed in my p.j.s and let the librarian's voice lull me to sleep. Sadly, once you reach a certain age it's frowned upon to show-up to such events unaccompanied by a child. So when I heard that there was a storytelling revival sweeping the country, I only wanted to know two things -- where was San Francisco's story time? And, could I bring a pillow?
As with so many things, it turns out San Francisco was at the forefront of the movement -- in fact, this past month marked the opening of the eighth season for Porchlight, the city's best-known storytelling series. Porchlight holds a story-telling event once a month, inviting a handful of people to get up and give a personal riff on the month's theme.
September's show was titled ,b>Behind The Scenes: the back-story show and featured some local celebrities -- a radio personality, an actor, a poet, one of the organizers of the San Francisco International Film Festival. Some of the stories were sentimental, some were side-splittingly hilarious, and some spilled scandalous details about celebrities (since the storyteller swore the audience to secrecy, all I'll say is: Tilda Swinton, you ought to be ashamed of yourself!).
The show has a format similar to NPR's This American Life -- but there is a striking difference between hearing a personal story on the radio and seeing the speaker in front of you on stage. Despite the fact that the Verdi Club, the retro Mission District dance hall where Porchlight is usually held, accommodates an audience a few million less than a radio show, there is a sense of raw exposure that you feel in person. Seeing an unassuming, portly older woman shuffle on stage to recount in detail the inauspicious start of her porn career, or watching a man contort his body to describe what his father looked like when he visited him at a prison camp during China's cultural revolution -- these are dimensions that can't be transmitted over the radio.
What really struck me most about the succession of performers as they took the stage was how much they looked like the people sitting next me, any given day, on Muni. It's got me looking around on my commute now, wondering about all the stories I haven't yet heard.
Porchlight's October show will be held on Monday night, October 12, 2009 at Broadway Studios in association with Litquake, the city's literary festival. This month's performance is called Journey to the End of the Bay: Punk Rockers Spill Their Guts and will feature Hank Rank and Johnny Strike of the protopunk band Crime, Rozz Rezabek, former front man of Negative Trend and Theater of Sheep, spoken-word poet Bucky Sinister, and author Oran Canfield, among many others. Check out Porchlight's website for more information.