If You Go

What: Truth Be Told's Grand Slam Story Slam

When: 7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 16

Where: Shine Restaurant & Gathering Place, 2027 13th St., Boulder

Tickets: $12

Info: storyslamboulder.com

Once upon a time in Boulder, 10 people got up in front of 100-or-so strangers and told stories. They told their stories every other month in the back room at Shine Restaurant & Gathering Place. Each story lasted five minutes or less. Some were delivered off the cuff, some were polished, some were funny, others were revealing.

And all of them were true.

Nina Rolle and Johanna Walker came up with the idea to produce a bimonthly story slam in Boulder, when both the Boulder performers/writers were looking for a way to work together. They hatched Truth Be Told a year ago, and Sunday, the duo will co-host 10 storytellers in TBT's inaugural Grand Slam Story Slam. A new series of slams is scheduled to begin in April.

Sunday's slam is the culmination of a year's worth of storytelling competitions — each of Sunday's storytellers won a Truth Be Told slam in 2013.

In December, Sharon Glassman wasn't exactly sure what she was getting into when she told a humorous tale about the time, as a journalism student in New York City, she tried — and failed — to interview boxer Michael Spinks for a story.

Glassman, a writer and musician who lives in Longmont, hadn't told that story publicly before. Her effort earned her a spot in Sunday's Grand Slam.

Glassman said the story slam experience was both "exciting and terrifying." And well worth it.

"You're part of a community that's being created in that moment," she said. "I hadn't met the other storytellers before, and they were awesome."

Emily Harrison uses her five minutes to share a story during the December "Truth Be Told."
Emily Harrison uses her five minutes to share a story during the December "Truth Be Told." (Cliff Grassmick / Daily Camera)

Rolle and Walker are both fans of The Moth, the New York-based storytelling organization that produces live story slams, as well as podcasts and stories on public radio. When they decided to launch a Boulder slam series, they reached out to other slam organizers around the country for tips about how to create one in Colorado. They discovered story slams are popular around the country — San Francisco, Chicago, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Scranton, Pa., and Key West, Fla., are among the cities that currently host them.

Boulder's version invites two or three guest storytellers to each event. The other slots are filled by people who show up and volunteer to share a story that night. The mix has worked well, Walker said.

"We want to make it a place where people can take risks — come in at the last minute and tell a story — but we also really want to have high-quality storytellers," she said. "So having the featured storytellers helps that."

Audiences are given a scorecard, and storytellers are judged in a handful of categories during each slam, leading to winners.

The Truth Be Told organizers weren't sure how popular their series would be when they hosted the first one at Shine in February 2013. They were pleasantly surprised.

"I was going to be happy if 30 people came in the door," Rolle said.

A capacity crowd of 100 showed up for the first slam, and Truth Be Told has drawn standing-room-only audience numbers for most of the slams since, Rolle said.

John Shapiro tries to share his Truth Be Told story before his five minutes his up.
John Shapiro tries to share his Truth Be Told story before his five minutes his up. (Cliff Grassmick / Daily Camera)

Rolle and Walker serve as emcees for each slam, and the pair perform stories and songs they've created for the event, keeping things lively and often lighthearted throughout the evening.

Each slam has its own theme. December's was "naughty or nice," while Sunday's theme is simply "hand." Of course, that's open to many different interpretations, Walker said. The event's web site suggests "hand in glove," "sleight of hand and several more.

"To see how people relate to the theme makes for a fun evening," Walker said. "It can be very literal, and sometimes it can be kind of in through the back door. But the theme is what ties everything together."

Johanna Walker, left, and Nina Rolle are hosts of Truth Be Told.
Johanna Walker, left, and Nina Rolle are hosts of Truth Be Told. (Cliff Grassmick / Daily Camera)

Part of Rolle and Walker's onstage instructions before each slam is to clarify what a story slam is not. "This is not a poetry slam, this is not ranting, this is not stand-up comedy, this is not therapy," they remind.

So what makes for a good story?

"A killer opening sentence is a really good thing," Rolle said. "You've got to have a good 'once upon a time.' "

"A good story includes a clear beginning, middle and end," Walker added.

"There's a conflict and a resolution," she said. "There's some tension that's created where we don't know what's going to happen."

Finding some humor always helps, Rolle said.

"And I always like a funny story," she added. "If you can make me laugh and make me go 'aw,' then that's a really good story."

Mostly, a good story connects the storyteller and her audience.

"It think it's taking what sounds like a first-person story and turning it into a 'we' story ... that's what marks a successful live story," Glassman said. "When the audience, at some point, says, 'Oh, I feel that, too.' "