As storytelling has grown in popularity, Speak Easy Columbus has attracted larger audiences and more performers since it began in 2010.
A woman steps up to the microphone, and a hush falls over the crowd. The prompt for the evening is Don't Tell Mom, and a hodgepodge of performers are dusting off their favorite skeletons from the closet. The woman begins her story, and soon the crowd is laughing right alongside her as she recounts a growing pain involving a cute boy, a secluded golf course and a nearly missed curfew.
Welcome to Speak Easy Columbus.
As storytelling has grown in popularity-consider the rise of "The Moth Radio Hour" podcast and true-story-rich movies like "Mortified Nation"-Speak Easy Columbus has attracted larger audiences and more performers since it began in 2010. Now, the event draws a 50-person audience to Wild Goose Creative the first Thursday of each month. At its annual culmination event, The Big Easy, held earlier this year at Strongwater, more than 300 people came to listen to stories.
Speak Easy works like this: Anyone can come, sign up to speak and, if his or her name is selected, tell a five- to seven-minute story on stage.
Co-founder Jillian Corron had little idea what the art form would come to mean to her when she first started the popular event. "I had all these words as a kid, but I had a lisp and that was hard to get past," she says. "This has become an incredible creative expression for me."
Despite its namesake, entertaining in such a way is not, in fact, easy. Corron, a 34-year-old graphic designer, still calls herself an amateur storyteller, even though she's spoken at Speak Easy nearly 25 times. Her friend and fellow storyteller Ralph Fredericks calls her the Anna Karenina of Speak Easy, a spinner of true tales of love and loss.
Fredericks, a former actor who has traveled the country performing in one-man plays, was very familiar with taking a stage alone when he started storytelling, but he says participating in Speak Easy has challenged him to write better.
"The audience is a lot of young people hungry for language," he says. "They're so generous."
The overwhelming sentiment from Speak Easy's regular performers is its atmosphere is one of magic, a place where their talkative selves are not only encouraged but embraced by fellow performers and audience members alike.
Professional writers, comedians and amateurs have all taken the Speak Easy stage. Corron recalls a woman who told a story for the first time during an event with the theme Locomotion; after she told her story about why she was going on an extended bike journey, the audience went outside and watched her set out on her trek.
"Storytelling is very accessible to people," adds Speak Easy participant Sarah Fulmer. "Speak Easy has the hardest-listening audience I have ever met."