Story Club, a nonfiction read-aloud, began in a Wrigleyville bar as a way to combine disparate forms: the freshness of the amateur and the consistency of the professional, the personal prose of the stand-up and the eloquent emotion of the slam poet. After about five years, founder Dana Norris decided it was time to branch out into the South Side, and chose Chicago actor Andrew Marikis for the job. At the South Side Story Club in Bridgeport’s Co-Prosperity Sphere, each storyteller has eight minutes to create a world for a rapt audience. Last week, a year after this new branch of Story Club began meeting monthly, Marikis, host and co-producer (along with Will Hindmarch), spoke with the Weekly about the art of the story, community building, and the value of ambitious failure.
What distinguishes Story Club as an organization? How does it fit into the larger Chicago live lit scene?
There’s no hard line between audience and performer, which I love…I think a lot of other shows tend to be either all performer or all open-mic. And I think that’s one thing that makes Story Club unique that I really dig…It was six years ago that Dana [Norris] decided, to start Story Club, because she kept getting rejected from a bunch of open-mics, and she would tell a story, and they’d be like “We do poetry and music, and that’s it”—they’d all look at her funny, like “What are you doing? This is stand-up. I don’t know what you’re doing.” She was like, “Forget it, I’ll start my own,” and she did. At the same time, a bunch of other people had the same idea, and since then, it’s like, there’s second- and third generation storytelling events. People would go to these and say, “Oh, that’s cool, I want to start my own that does this thing, and that thing.”
How does the South Side Story Club differ from the other Story Clubs?
So, on the North Side, they ask for a theme, and they’ll just put a word out there—it may inspire some stories, or it may link stories that are already kind of together that people are interested in telling…On the South Side, a lot of times—we’ll do that, on occasion, like this month, we’re doing “Foolery,” whoops—but we also like to do what I call “formal” challenges, so “challenge the form.” So we’ve done “duet,” two-person stories. We’ve done what we call “catch your own tale,” which was [when participants] began and ended [their] story with the same sentence. We’ve done—the one I’m really fond of, and I think we’re going to bring back sometime—“someone else’s story.” So I’m an actor, and I know a lot of actor people, so what we did—and Will’s a writer—we talked to people who maybe don’t perform their stories very often, or had some written down that they didn’t want to perform; we took those stories, we removed the name, and we gave them to actors. We let the actors treat it like a monologue, and they came in, they did the story, and it was really interesting. We crossed gender lines and race lines and age, and we had a lovely black actress do something that was obviously from a gay man’s perspective. It was just really fun, and it was a fun night, and at the end, the actors acknowledged the writers, whatever they wanted to say if they wanted to say something. We like to mess around. I tend to think an ambitious failure is better than an easy success. I like ambitious failures.
Where do you think South Side Story Club hopes to go from here? Do you have concrete plans for the next six months, the next few years? You know, you’re coming up on one year!
We regularly get audiences between thirty-five and sixty. I would love to have that number be a solid sixty to seventy or eighty—every month. And I’d like almost all of them to be from the South Side. That’s what I want. I want to start a scene. [laughs] And it’s so arrogant, it’s so arrogant to say, but it’s totally what I want to do. I want to see a scene pop up. I want to see a unique storytelling scene that comes from the life of the people on the South Side, that is native to them, that makes sense to their backgrounds and what storytelling is to them. It may not be like stand-up or like slam poetry. It may be a totally different art, and I want to see what that is, and I would love it if there were a bunch of splintered storytelling groups that came from this, and there was a whole South Side scene that’s different from the North Side scene. I’d think that’d be awesome.