Whats the story Rockstar?

Rockstar Storytellers return for a third season at BLB

THE WEDGE — Allegra Lingo and Phillip Low are both skilled storytellers, well known for their ability to get up on stage and spin a colorful yarn.

For that reason, their recounting of the night in August 2007 when they founded their all-star performance group, Rockstar Storytellers, seemed surprisingly convoluted.

It was the week after the Minnesota Fringe Festival closed, Low recalled over a beer at the Uptown Bulldog. They were at The Leaning Tower of Pizza, just a few blocks north on Lyndale Avenue, when …

“It was actually during the Fringe,” Lingo corrected him. “It was a nightcap.”

“We were drunk,” Low continued, without objection from Lingo. “Allegra proposed, you know, ‘Let’s get a bunch of people together and make it camp all year ’round.’”

“I think it was at Town Hall,” Lingo interjected, relocating the story to the Seven Corners brewpub. “I have this memory of Town Hall that year.”

It’s an appropriately hazy origin story for a group that has made a conscious effort to dispel the latte-sipping image of storytelling, a blend of writing and performance that is growing in popularity here and in other parts of the country.

Still, it’s hard to imagine the 12 members of Rockstar Storytellers have much time for debauchery. They’re a busy cadre of improv and stand-up comedians, slam poets, actors and playwrights who, among them, had their hands in a dozen different shows in this year’s Fringe. (Lingo both performed in a solo show and fulfilled her duties as director of audience and volunteer services.)

Fringe fame is fleeting, though.

“Part of the difficulty is that we’re all people who do extremely well and get a lot of audience and make a lot of money 11 days out of the year and struggle a lot (the rest of the year),” Low said.

The idea that summer night three years ago at The Leaning Tower or Town Hall — or wherever it was — was to get themselves and the performers they loved on stage and in front of audiences the other 354 days of the year.

“I think a lot of it just boils down to the idea that if we got a bunch of people who we really liked in a room together that something productive would have to result from that,” Low said.

It did.

The first season of Rockstar Storytellers opened at Bryant Lake Bowl that December with a cast of 10 storytellers. The next fall, the Rockstars began hosting Word Ninjas, an open mic storytelling night at Kieran’s Irish Pub.

The group expanded to 12 last year with the addition of popular playwright Joseph Scrimshaw and comedian Ben San Del, the 2006 winner of Acme Comedy Club’s Funniest Person in the Twin Cities Contest. (Full disclosure: I was briefly a co-worker of San Del’s at the Mankato Free Press, before he got out of the newspaper biz and adopted a stage name.)

Rockstars also were frequent guests at the story slams hosted by Minnesota Public Radio’s “In The Loop.”

It could be argued another radio show, Chicago Public Radio’s “This American Life,” had a lot to do with the current surge in popularity of storytelling. It made famous contributors like David Sedaris and Amy Vowell, authors whose writings share many traits with storytelling.

Now, a number of literate, theatre-going cities like ours have growing storytelling scenes. And storytelling is looking more and more like a route into the entertainment big leagues.

The New York Times reported in August that story slams hosted by the Moth, a Manhattan nonprofit that is among the country’s most prominent promoters of live storytelling, had been overrun by professional writers and actors looking to score book and movie deals in front of a mover-and-shaker audience.

The goal of the Rockstar Storytellers at the outset was decidedly more modest. They hoped to rejuvenate a drowsy café scene dominated by Baby Boomers, so Low and Lingo recruited a group of (mostly) Gen Xers and staged their performances in places where audience members could get a beer.

Lingo said this year’s season at Bryant-Lake Bowl would be structured like a trip to Barnes & Noble. Each month’s storytelling topic will be based on a typical bookstore section, like horror and mystery, westerns, erotica and self-help.

The theme changes, but the goal remains the same.

“Be it in a three-minute radio spot or be it in a full-length show, or whatever, you want to invite that audience in to share something with you,” Lingo said. “I think storytelling is in essence — it’s about sharing.

“And whether that’s sharing about you, whether that’s fiction — whatever. You’re still telling a story up there.”

Go see it
"Rockstar Storytellers: The Bookshelf" is 7 p.m. Sept. 13 at Bryant-Lake Bowl, 810 W. Lake St. 825-8949. bryantlakebowl.com.

The series continues at BLB with performances on the first Sunday of each month through July.

Find out more about the Rockstars and watch videos of their performances at rockstarstorytellers.com.