Ohio Theatre to host Spoken: An Evening of Toledo Stories tonightWritten by Staff Reports | | email@example.com
By Ross Lockhart, Toledo Free Press Staff Writer
The Ohio Theatre is hosting tonight Spoken: An Evening of Toledo Stories, an event allowing people to congregate and connect by sharing their unique stories and experiences.
“This program is based on strengthening relationships within the Toledo community,” said Ryan Bunch, co-organizer of the event and coordinator of performing and literary arts at The Arts Commission. “Neighborhood theaters like the Ohio Theatre were built as community gathering places for people to come mingle and get the news, but this doesn’t exist anymore. People don’t need to come see film reels to see what’s going on in the world, so we started thinking, ‘How do we revitalize this theater to serve the purpose it was intended?’”
Attendees can volunteer to share their story by dropping their name into a hat at the door. These names will then be chosen at random throughout the evening, lending the program an unpredictable atmosphere. Bunch said this element will keep things fun and bring the audience together.
“It should be an interesting mix because everybody in Toledo has different circumstances and a story to tell,” he said. “This whole thing is people-powered. We want to help them engage with each other on a personal level.”
“Spoken” will also feature four guest storytellers, each sharing a narrative within the loose theme of ‘beginnings and endings.’ Among these special guests is Leonard Kress, a Toledo-area poet and professor at Owens Community College.
“Storytelling is central to what it is to be human,” Kress said. “Understanding the world through narrative is a way to re-live and re-evaluate past experiences and telling stories allows us to share those experiences. I hope this event creates a larger interest in storytelling in a public space. The goal is to emphasize how important sharing stories is.”
Also scheduled to appear is Rhonda Sewell, media relations coordinator for the Toledo-Lucas County Library and longtime active member of the Toledo poetry scene.
“When Ryan [Bunch] invited me to be one of the featured speakers, I dropped everything,” Sewell said. “That’s how important the storytelling tradition is to me. It’s who I am. It’s in my DNA.”
Sewell will be sharing a story based on her experiences growing up in the 1970s, one she hopes will connect with people on an emotional level.
“I definitely want to make them laugh, but to bring tears to their eyes as well,” she said. “I want to remind them of their humanity.”
Sewell predicts Spoken will become an exciting creative outlet for people in the community.
“People are hungry for these types of experiences,” she said. “We will all grow as individuals by hearing other people’s stories. That’s the thing about a story — it’s a gift. You grow from it.”
Guisselle Mendoza, executive director of Adelante Latino community resource center, will be recounting her experiences of coming to the United States as an immigrant from Nicaragua.
“I like stories that inspire,” she said. “My grandmother always said, ‘We’re here to give back.’ She used to tell us stories about walking miles just to give food to someone who didn’t have anything. Those stories always stuck with me and my family.”
Mendoza said stories like hers can show others how obstacles in life are overcome.
“Once upon a time someone saw potential in me, and I want to offer that to the community,” she said. “We all have potential, no matter our struggles and barriers. My hope is that people find inspiration in my stories. They identify who we are and we won’t lose that.”
Erin Keaton, a writer, poet and Toledo area native, will also be sharing a story from her life, one that she considers intensely personal.
“I kept trying to come up with something light and funny, but those stories take a few minutes and then there’s a punchline,” she said. “It’s quite a heavy story, but for me personally it will be cathartic and maybe people can identify with it.”
Keaton said passing stories onto others is a necessary tradition and programs like Spoken are crucial to upholding it.
“You feel like an active participant in a story when you’re experiencing it with so many people,” she said. “That’s why it’s important to keep it alive. It builds a community around itself.”
Bunch said he hopes the event will allow the huge variety of personalities in the community to collaborate, share and learn. He hopes it will develop into a quarterly event, building and incorporating ideas from anyone who wishes to be involved.
“We want to make it bigger, better and bolder,” he said. “This is all about actual human experiences. When you get to see someone sharing a real story, that’s the absolute heart of creativity.”
Spoken begins at 6:30 p.m. March 12. Admission is $5, with all proceeds going toward Ohio Theatre programming.