I’m a great believer in the power of story-telling. I’ve been working for some time now to help people in the public and voluntary sectors tell the stories of their work using social media, and I’m quite proud of the work David Wilcox and I have been doing with the Big Lottery Fund in this arena, which is documented at http://socialreporters.net.
So, I am always looking for new ways of encouraging people to tell stories, and outlets for hearing stories. Thus, I was intrigued when I heard about Tales of Whatever, a regular evening of story-telling which takes place in the Castle Hotel in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. My curiosity was further aroused because it appeared that this was a more free-form event than some of the others that have been gaining in popularity in recent times, such as Pecha Kucha and BettaKultcha, which, in my view, draw a lot of their strengths from testing people to make something from a tightly defined format.
So, on Wednesday this week (15th February), myself and Ivor Tymchak set off to cross the Pennines to find out what Tales of Whatever was all about. As one of the co-founders of the phenomenon that is BettaKultcha, Ivor was similarly interested to investigate this different format.
We arrived at the venue just about the time the event was due to start. Pushing our way into a crowded bar, we searched around for signs of where the event was actually taking place. After a while we found the back room of the pub, which was already over-crowded, with a queue of people trying to get in. It was evident that this is an evening which has out-grown its venue, as I witnessed a fair number of people turning away, not able to fight their way in. Ivor and I persisted however, and managed to find a place to stand at the side of the room. During the second half we ended up standing on the stage at the side. There were around 50 people in a room which would have been crowded with 30 in it.
The event itself was interesting. From my point of view the stories were a bit patchy, ranging from the rambling and repetitive to barnstorming tour-de-force from obviously polished performers. It was really the nature of the event that interested me. I am not sure if there was a time limit on stories. I didn’t hear one announced, although several speakers did ask how much time they had left; and an answer didn’t seem to be forthcoming. There were no slides, unlike at Pecha Kucha and BettaKultcha. What there was, was a very large (for the size of venue) and apparently supportive crowd.
What took place was quite like a standup comedy night. There were two “pre-booked” opening slots, followed by an open-mic slot, a break, another open-mic slot, then two more “pre-booked” slots. And there was a lot of comedy involved, lots of comedy in some of the stories, less in others. The crowd were pretty supportive to the “acts”, and, perhaps that is the key. I have witnessed, as BettaKultcha has developed as an event, that speakers seem to raise the bar every time, responding to the challenge to out-do the last batch of presenters, egged on by a passionate crowd. I got the impression that Tales of Whatever has a similar vibe developing. Although I reckon the over-crowding needs to be dealt with. Tales of Whatever is currently a free event. I don’t know if charging for admission would be against the organisers’ principles.
As we left the Castle Hotel, Ivor was muttering about it being “an interesting venue”. I wonder what the implications of that thought might be…..