BY EMMA BOWER

When Lizzy Karp moved to Vancouver from Toronto in 2009, she couldn’t quite find “her people.” So she tried drawing them out of the woodwork with the promise of good music, and a chance to hear and tell great stories.

Five years later, Vancouver’s Rain City Chronicles—a live storytelling series that meets every month or so—is regularly bringing together hundreds of Vancouverites to share personal, true stories.

“We could really tell that [first] night that this was something people really wanted,” Karp said over the phone.

Rain City Chronicles starts each night with a theme, and (cue Ira Glass’s signature sign-on) brings you different kinds of stories on that theme. Next month’s stories are all about the “Great Outdoors.” Their first show in the fall of 2009 was called “Firsts,” and they’ve since had a night of “Guilty Pleasures” and “Love Hangovers.”

People submit their ideas to Karp and co-founder Karen Pinchen, who together curate an unexpected night of stories that spark conversation.

The evenings have “the kitchen party effect,” said Karp. “It’s like when you’re sharing wine and someone tells someone about breaking their leg . . . and suddenly you’ve all gone around the room talking about breaking bones.”

It brings different people from different backgrounds together—a powerful byproduct of simply remembering that one time you broke your leg.

This is what journalists have always tried to do. How do we get people to care about the stories we tell? How do we inspire healthy debate? Well, one answer—maybe—is by getting back to the roots of storytelling.

Rain City Chronicles brings together “young people, or firemen, or film students, or baristas, or whoever” and asks them to share what it’s like to live in this city.

“It’s less about the story, and more about the teller,” said Karp.

Storytelling series put power back in the hands of the individual. Instead of having a journalist interpret a story, the teller (often without any formal training about what makes a “compelling narrative”) can stand up and make people connect with what they’re saying.

No multimedia. No data visualization. Just true stories.

It sounds simple, but with all of the intricate and expensive ways journalists are telling stories, perhaps simplicity is key. People want to hear a great story that pulls them to the edge of their seat, and spurs them to say under their breath: “And then what happened?”

Rain City Chronicles, and other series like it, are taking us back to the basics of spinning a good yarn. They’re a refreshing reminder that people have been telling true and moving stories long before journalists made it their mission to invoke the sacred power of the inverted pyramid.

“And it’s an empowering, even life-changing thing to share something true about yourself in front of a crowd of strangers,” said Karp. “I don’t think I’m a therapist for the city or anything, but there’s something very powerful about telling those stories.”

Live storytelling series are popping up all over the place. There’s Raconteurs in Toronto, and Confabulation in Montreal. Most are following in the footsteps of The Moth, which has been gathering people together to share stories since the late ’90s.

Each month, Rain City Chronicles roves the city, taking audiences to different corners of Vancouver. Each theme has something to do with a particular place. On August 9, the group will gather outside at UBC’s Botanical Gardens to talk about the Great Outdoors.

It’s about making “people curious again about the city they live in,” said Karp.

What’s refreshing and what’s drawing people to these shows (even in a place like Vancouver, which has been called “the lonely city”), is that the concept is free from the baggage of modern journalism. Sharing a story about that terrible blind date you were on is part of a natural, age-old tradition. Live storytelling nights aren’t trying anything new, and that’s the best part. 

 Image via Rain City Chronicles

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