Since the earliest cave drawings discovered in the PyreneesMountains of southern France, to One Thousand and One Nights – a story so good it is fabled to have seduced the King and saved the famous storyteller Scheherazade’s life, to more recently Steve Jobs delivering persuasive keynotes, the ability to tell a good story is what has bound and divided humanity. The medium is now through Hollywood movies, snapchat stories, WeChat, and creative commercials but the intrinsic desire to understand the world through stories remains the same.
Clara Davis, an American expat and storytelling enthusiast, is trying to remind Shanghai of this innate human trait. Earlier this year she created, Unravel, a live storytelling platform where individuals share their memories and experiences based on a given theme. Live storytelling means there is no hiding behind Instagram filters, prepared statements, or edits, it’s just the person and their story laid bare to the public. The platform is gaining traction despite, or perhaps because of, the raw and vulnerable nature of live storytelling.
Clara Davis, creator of Unravel
The first event was held this February 2017 in District Bar off Wulumuqi and Yuyuan, a bar Davis opened in partnership with the Belgian brewery group Duvel Moortgat. Seven volunteers took their respective turn on the small stage to share their prepared stories to a packed crowd of expats and Shanghai locals squeezedin the bar. The theme of the first nightwas ‘Impressions’. The turnout exceeded Davis’s expectations.
Riding on the high of this success, Davis moved forward and planned the next Unravel event for the end of March. The second event was hosted at the poke cafe Little Catch. Davis says she always intended to hold the event at different venues, allowing the storytelling platform to mix and mold to the city’s different neighborhoods. She also wants to ensure the voices are coming from diverse backgrounds so she set up an email account (firstname.lastname@example.org) for storytellers to pitch their stories this way,to assure she is reaching out beyond her network.
The theme for the second event was ‘The Line: Crossing it,walking it, toeing it’. It dumped rain that night but a good crowd still filled up the brightly lit second story poke café. This time six storytellers took the microphone and revealed a little bit about themselves to the interested attendees. There was plentiful seating and better sound this time, but the ability to captivate an audience is more than just having a perfect set up oreven an interesting story to share.
Photo credit: Keith Esposito
A central component of any good story is the individual’sability to craft the tale. “If you don’t take into account story telling techniques” Davis explains “you can lose the value of the story”. A narrative needs to have a natural flow, a clear beginning, middle and end. People should certainly tell stories that are meaningful to them but also understand how to cater thecontent to the particular audience. Davis hopes in the future there could be the opportunity for more experienced storytellers to share their expertise with novices interested in getting up onthe stage.
The interaction between the storytellers and audience isalso a component that intrigues Davis about live storytelling events. Unlike watching a movie or listening to a podcast, the listener is an active participant in the story. Davis commented, she enjoys watching the audiences’ reaction to the storyteller – how the audience laughs with, smirks,or cringes as the storytellers “give a piece of themselves”. The purpose of the events are in some way as much about creating a space for people to share their stories, as they are also about people coming together for a brief moment to form a whole new story.
Photo credit: Keith Esposito
The third event is already planned for April 27th at recent Shanghai transplant TRIBE. The theme of the stories will be centered around ‘Chance’. Davis is already going through pitches to select the next round of storytellers. In some ways this topic is the most fitting to describe her own story. Landing in Chengdu, China to teach English, the culture and energy of China rolled her one year into five going on six years. Now, equipped with a masters’ degree and a few more years of China experience, she has launched one of the most popular storytelling platform in Shanghai to date. Admittedly, she chuckles there was also a bit of good luck and chance that brought her to this point.
Like Davis continuing to weave her own narrative, the Unravel storytelling platform is in its formative stages. From all perspectives though, storytellers and listeners, it is certainly a story worth taking part in.