If you go

What: Truth Be Told story slam

When: 7 p.m. Sunday

Where: Shine Restaurant & Gathering Place, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder

Cost: $15-$25

Tickets: bit.ly/2oGESCx

FUTURE SLAMS:

June 18 at Dairy Arts Center ("Game" theme)

Sept. 10 at Shine ("Fall" theme)

Oct. 29 at Dairy Arts Center ("Trick or Treat" theme)

Dec. 17 at Shine ("Nemesis" theme)

Info: storyslamboulder.com

Stage fright. Performance anxiety. Cold feet.

Whatever it's called, it sucks. But it's very common.

Fleetwood Mack's Stevie Nicks said in a 2001 interview with VH1, "I get very bad stage fright. I get terrible butterflies and it's not pleasant. It has always happened to me."

Even the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson is known to have crippling stage fright, calling it an "absolute living hell."

Singer Adele has told Rolling Stone that she's "scared of audiences" and actress Helen Mirren once said that she sometimes gets "sick with fear" from stage fright.

So if anxiety runs high on stage, remember that musician Ozzy Osbourne (who once reportedly bit off a bat's head on stage) has said: "To say that I suffer from pre-show nerves is like saying that when you get hit by an atom bomb it hurts a bit."


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You're not alone.

But Johanna Walker, co-founder Truth Be Told story slam, had some simple advice: "Put your name in the hat and see what happens. Our audience is a very forgiving audience. On our stage, we're on your side."

Jason Berkowitz at the mic, with Johanna Walker, left, and Nina Rolle in the background, during the Truth Be Told Grand Slam Championship in February at
Jason Berkowitz at the mic, with Johanna Walker, left, and Nina Rolle in the background, during the Truth Be Told Grand Slam Championship in February at the Dairy Arts Center in Boulder. (Katie Day Weisberger / Courtesy photo)

Boulder's Truth Be Told is kicking off its fifth season at 7 p.m. Sunday, at Shine Restaurant & Gathering Place, and will feature live music interludes coordinated by Walker's creative partner and host of the show, Nina Rolle, as well as a featured storyteller and about 10 open slots for volunteers who will put their names in a hat and wait to be called (or not called).

Truth Be Told always has a theme, and Sunday's theme is "Trip."

"We try to pick a theme you can take in a number of different ways," said Rolle. "Maybe it's a trip down the stairs, a trip on acid, or a trip around the world."

The slams, which began in 2013, give storytellers the spotlight, five minutes and a microphone in front of a couple hundred people. Don't sweat, members of the audience usually like to watch, Walker said. And at the end of the show, the audience votes on who told the best story.

Rolle, a voiceover artist who performs on stage regularly in Boulder with the samba group Chegando Lá, said even she gets stage fright.

"It usually hits about a week before the performance where I think, 'What am I doing? Why do I do this to myself? This is stupid. This is going to suck.' I should've been an accountant," Rolle said, laughing.

But acting as host and band-wrangler for Truth Be Told, Rolle said she reminds herself to breathe and relax.

"My main job is to help people remain comfortable and make it a party-like atmosphere," Rolle said. "I like to try and add some creative heart and soul to the evening, like a grown-up Doctor Seuss."

This story slam is not like stand-up comedy. And it's not off-the-cuff rambling. It's structured storytelling, and usually the participants have prepared and practiced tales for days.

"We get a big mix of everything," Rolle said. "Some people are natural wordsmiths, so it's wonderful and delightful. Some people have perfect comedic timing and some are just weirdly awesome. And when somebody brings you to the poignant side, that's really wonderful. When it goes to that emotional terrain that's really genuine, it's really a special bond with the audience."

'Remember to be yourself'

Sunday's featured storyteller is John Jurcheck, an artistic company member at Curious Theatre Company in Denver. Jurcheck said he's never done a story slam before, but it's "one of those fears I need to face — I'm excited, but terrified." Jurcheck will talk about an entirely different kind of trip on Sunday with his "1.8 Miles to Fatherhood."

"Having our first child was really an adventure with unexpected twists and turns," Jurcheck said. He now has two children — Oliver is 5 years old and Luca is almost 2.

Jurcheck, who has been involved in various productions in Denver and spent several seasons acting with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, said regardless of experience, being in the spotlight can always prove to be intimidating.

"I've been pretending to be other people for 20 years on stage, but now I'll be on stage as myself," Jurcheck said. "The story slam is a little more intimate, and a little bit intimidating. After all these years in theater, I still constantly have to remind myself to breathe."

Which is the exact advice he said newbies should take to heart.

"Remember to be yourself," said Jurcheck. "Give yourself permission to take a second to breathe, that really helps with stage fright. One of the things that can disconnect an audience is when you get too caught up within yourself amid a rush. You have to step back for a moment and just breathe."

The art of storytelling

Aside from a great opening hook and genuine sincerity from the storyteller, Walker said the best way to tell a story is to prepare the story and to practice, practice, practice. No notes are allowed.

"What makes for a good story is one that keeps us on the edge of our seats," Walker said. "Most of the stories include a personal problem and how it resolves itself."

Walker, who lacks stage fright, is a public speaking coach and teaches workshops specific to Truth Be Told storytelling. (Rolle said of Walker: "Johanna is a masterful storyteller. She could talk for five minutes about pouring a glass of seltzer water and you'd be spellbound.") Walker said participants should try to think about the slam as sitting around a campfire and sharing stories with friends.

"The nature of storytelling can create an intimacy among the audience," Walker said.

Jurcheck said personal stories are a good way to hook listeners.

"When people are vulnerable and allow themselves to open up, I think that can really engage an audience," he said. "Where people are being themselves, they can paint a picture that we can look at and possibly relate to."

Rolle agreed, saying that it's important for the storyteller to relax and engage the audience.

"The more genuine and straight-up a person can be, the better the story," said Rolle. "Just think about it as if you were sitting down with a group of friends having coffee or a bottle of wine, you speak with natural cadence. Try to tell your story like that."

Walker, who usually tells a story at each event, said she loves taking a mind trip into other people's worlds.

"This story that they're telling has happened in the storyteller's past, but I get to live the story in the present as it's being told," said Walker. "The people on stage are so invested in conveying how much their story matters and I get to live it with them. I feel connected to them. At a story slam, everybody is connected in a way that really doesn't happen in a any other form. It's a kind of magic."

Bigger slam, better stories

Rolle and Walker said the slams often sell out and have picked up so much steam over the past five years that at each event, nearly half of the audience are newcomers. Truth Be Told's success even garnered the eye of a Nashville event producer, who reached out to Rolle and Walker to help put together an upcoming storytelling festival in Avon in August.

Along with the event's growth over the past five years, Walker and Rolle said a really neat thing they've got to observe is the higher quality of storytelling.

"The caliber of storytelling over time has really improved with form," said Rolle. "It's wonderful to see. It's been really fascinating to me, as a multi-disciplinary performing artist, to hear a good story well-told, versus a monologue, versus stand up comedy and anecdotes. We've got great momentum going for us."

Christy Fantz: 303-473-1107, fantz@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/fantzypants