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Story Collector Presents: A Live Lit Showdown

By Allison Kelley in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 24, 2014 3:25PM

(Don Hall gives a victory speech for his team of story "tellers," Lily Be, James Morgan, Stephanie Douglass, and Andrew Marikis)

Ten of the city’s biggest live lit heavy hitters came out Monday night to compete in Story Collector Presents: Live Lit Showdown. The one night only show pitted veteran story readers against tellers. Though it was clarified that all performers are skilled in both story styles, for this evening the teams were split and forced to fight to the death for literary greatness. Their fate would be decided by the applause of a rabid audience, hungry for authenticity, humor and heart. Host Janna Sobel, along with Chicago’s most famous puppet, Chad The Bird, brought each pair to the stage and got the audience to “lose their minds” come clapping/voting time.

The first round belonged to reader JH Palmer and teller Andrew Marikis. Palmer, who co-hosts That’s All She Wrote, and Marikis, who hosts Story Club Southside, were worthy opponents telling tales on the theme of “Luck.” Marikis’ frenetic pace suited his high-stress story of juggling both the arrival of his clueless houseguest “Tony from the Philippines,” while racing to catch his Megabus home for his grandmother's funeral. Ultimately the audience sided with Palmer. Her story about her husband’s ancestors immigrating to America on a boat that almost killed him, coming in on the Chicago river not far from where we sat at Haymarket Pub & Brewery, reminded everyone of the tenuousness of life.

Next up was Gwynn Fulcher going up against James Morgan. Both told stories of young love. In one of the most tense and unexpected moments in live lit shows we’ve seen, Fulcher pulled out a letter she had written to her future husband when she was 16. The letter was sealed and Fulcher had not read it since she was a teen in the Mormon Church. Artfully anticipating the Mormon “buzz words” she knew 16-year-old her would use, Fulcher wrote a companion piece to the letter that acted as a series of hilarious footnotes.

Not to be outdone, James Morgan told a story about growing up as a nerd and the unrequited love he had for the most popular girl in school. After making a surprising game winning play, Morgan was certain he had clinched a date with his love. But after his “Do you like me? Circle Y or N,” letter was returned to him with the "N" circled, he broke down crying outside of school. “But at least you got out there and tried,” Morgan’s dad said picking him up from school. The audience was filled with people clutching their broken hearts and dabbing at their eyes. Morgan’s story won the round.

In the third round, Josh Zagoren, reader and puppeteer behind Chad The Bird, expounded on the weighty topics of fear and doubt and the absurd lies the airline industry feeds people to get them on a plane. Teller Stephanie Douglass took us to Miami, where her ailing and ornery grandparents gave her grown mother marching orders. The story built to a horrifically funny, slapstick scene between Douglass’s mother and an accidental tug of war with her grandfather’s balls. Douglas took the cake in that round.

In the fourth round, reader Ian Belknap shared a story of pride. Belknap, founder, host and “overlord” at Write Club, brought the audience through a series of gleeful life moments: dominating a bully at summer camp, catching a fly ball, hitting the mark with a BB gun. But the quiet moments, reading to his unborn child in his wife’s pregnant stomach, were what blew the others away. Teller Don Hall provided a mini lesson in the 1980s Chicago jazz scene. Arriving to the city, feeling at first like a big fish in a little pond coming from Arkansas, Hall quickly became humbled by the scores of great of jazz musicians in Chicago. Though he botched his big set at The Green Mill, he later returned and won the respect of the old guard. Reader Belknap won the round to tie the reader/teller score at 2-2.

Shutting the place down with their stories of “respect” were reader Samantha Irby and teller Lily Be. Irby’s workplace story of revenge set inside of a veterinary clinic was mean, nasty and extremely funny. Irby’s “no apologies” style of storytelling gave the audience permission to silently admit they’ve done some shit too. Lily Be closed out the night with a heavy but hopeful story about being a teen mom. She told the audience she was afraid to tell her grandmother because she feared her. Only after the truth came out, did Be’s grandmother point out that she too was a teen mom and understood intimately what she was going through. Be won the round, tipping the tellers to a one point victory over the readers.

Story Collector Presents is an outreach using personal narratives to connect people through live storytelling events and an upcoming public media podcast produced by Ray Teresi. Check the Story Collector Presents Facebook page for upcoming events and ways to get involved.