StoryOly Seeks Icebreaking Storytellers

by Christian Carvajal for OLY ARTS

StoryOly bills itself as Olympia’s premier storytelling event. On the third Tuesday evening of each month since November 2015, amateur storytellers have braved the stage to regale full houses at Rhythm & Rye with meaningful anecdotes from their own lives. Tales range from movingly confessional to outrageously frank. Each month has a theme, so July’s audience heard vignettes from “The Dark Side.” To ease audience members into the proceedings and help anxious speakers over their stage fright, each month’s open-mic session is preceded by an “icebreaker” story as delivered by an experienced teller. That way, says StoryOly co-founder, “None of our slam contestants have to go first.”

Past speakers include Shephard herself, Tush! Burlesque co-founder Mileen Anika, filmmaker Jeff Barehand, Alec Clayton and Ned Hayes of OLY ARTS, comedian Sam Miller, the multitalented Lauren O’Neill, Ted Ryle of Olympia Family Theater and StoryOly co-founder and regular host, actor and raconteur Elizabeth Lord. Generally, the icebreaker is also one of three judges who get to decide which amateur teller moves on to StoryOly’s annual “grand slam” championship event.

Lord and Shephard are currently seeking new icebreaker speakers for future StoryOly installments. “The speech has to be anywhere from eight to 15 minutes,” Shephard explains. Storytellers can be competitors in the same yearlong season, but not at the same slam for which they’re icebreaking. Themes for the rest of calendar year 2017 are “Witness” on August 15, “Bitter” October 17, “Reunion” November 21 and “Confused” December 19, with the grand slam held September 16.

We asked Shephard what types of narratives fare best at StoryOly. “Stories that are planned out,” she replied. “You can’t just get up there and wing it. You need to make sure your story has a beginning, middle and end and that it’s within the theme. Storytelling is a total art form.” So what can’t tellers do? “We prefer not to have notes up there,” she said. “Really, the best stories are the ones where the icebreakers or any storytellers are just themselves. They tell the story truly and accurately and are relaxed and comfortable. … The only thing that’s really verboten is hate speech (or) political rants and raves … Telling a story is a moment to engage. It’s not a moment to put out propaganda (or) get revenge on your ex. It’s a moment of connection. If you say anything other than that, I think you’re doing it wrong.”

Said Shephard, “StoryOly’s doing great. The audiences have been good, the feedback has been good (and) people love it. It seems like it’s a beloved part of our community every month.” To be a featured part of that community, email Shephard at For story-slam rules or advice on how to construct and tell a story, visit the event website at

What: StoryOly

Where: Rhythm & Rye,
311 Capitol Way N, Olympia

When: 6 p.m. every third Tuesday

How much: $5-$10 suggested donation

Learn more: 360-918-4500 | StoryOly

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