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Boulder’s Story Slam goes virtual to help ‘crack the isolation’

As part of Free Range Dairy, the show will be featured on Zoom Sunday

On stage, Hal Walker and his sister, Johanna Walker host a Boulder Story Slam in February 2020. On Sunday, at 6 p.m., the second Virtual Story Slam will take place on the platform Zoom. (Michael Ensminger/ Courtesy photo)
On stage, Hal Walker and his sister, Johanna Walker host a Boulder Story Slam in February 2020. On Sunday, at 6 p.m., the second Virtual Story Slam will take place on the platform Zoom. (Michael Ensminger/ Courtesy photo)

Boulder’s Story Slams are known for the freewheeling intimacy they foster. After all, standing up in front of an audience and relaying a deeply personal account — whether it evokes laughter, empathy or further reflection — is a pretty powerful act.

With the Dairy Arts Center, Story Slam’s home base, being temporarily shuttered, the art form has leapt off the stage and onto a cyber platform as part of Free Range Dairy — the art center’s initiative to keep creative offerings flourishing despite the order to stay at home. The next Virtual Story Slam will take place on Sunday at 6 p.m. via Zoom.

Johanna Walker and her brother Hal Walker host a Boulder Story Slam at the Dairy Arts Center in September 2019. On Sunday, the second Virtual Story Slam will take place at 6 p.m. via Zoom. The event is being offered as a part of Free Range Dairy, programming that allows folks to enjoy online entertainment during the center’s closure. (Michael Ensminger/ Courtesy photo)

“It’s definitely been an adjustment, but we were delighted by how well the April slam went,” said host and creator, Johanna Walker. “Broadcasting the slam on Zoom, with 250 in the listening audience, eight storytellers, two hosts, all in their own living rooms — there were a lot of details to think about and track. Thankfully, between the Dairy team and the Boulder’s Story Slam team, we had an awesome crew of support to help make it happen.”

While Walker misses the in-person aspect of the events, she is pleased with the fact that going virtual has expanded the number, and location, of people who can experience this valued art form.

“We’re excited to have the opportunity to share the slam with a wider audience,” Walker said. “It was great to have friends from the east and west coasts and the Midwest tune in. So, the fact that Zoom gives us a much wider reach is fantastic. That said, we’ll be eager to get back in the theater space at the Dairy, hopefully sooner rather than later.”

The theme for the slam that took place on April 5 was “Viral.” Sunday’s theme will be “Lost & Found.”

“I always say that a good story is when the protagonist wants something they may or may not get, or has something they’re at risk of losing,” Walker said.  “With some kind of loss or discovery at the heart of most stories, we thought that would be an easy doorway in to finding a story to share.”

Joining will be her brother Hal Walker, a co-host and musical guest, who will be broadcasting from Kent, Ohio.

A screenshot of Johanna Walker, host and creator of Boulder’s Story Slam, during the Virtual Story Slam that took place on April 5. The second Virtual Story Slam will take place on Sunday at 6 p.m. (Johanna Walker/ Courtesy photo)

While entry to the event is encouraged with a monetary contribution, Walker understands the financial hardships many are currently facing and is open to allowing some to join at no cost.

“This time, we’re asking for a $5-$20 sliding scale donation for tickets,” Walker said.  “But, if that’s a hardship, please reach out to us at and we’ll add you to the guest list. We want to raise money to support the Dairy and Boulder’s Story Slam so they can keep bringing us great programming, but we also won’t turn anyone away for lack of funds. We all need stories right now.”

In-person slams were scheduled for May 17 and July 12, and while Walker doesn’t expect to see one in May, she hopes to be back in the Dairy by this summer.

“The Virtual Story Slam was the very first Free Range Dairy, online live event that we produced,” said Melissa Fathman, executive director of the Dairy. “At that point, we were all still in shock at the sudden onset of our new normal. Since this was our first event we thought it would be a success if we got 50 people to sign up. We were shocked at that response and in fact I had to expand our Zoom contract to accommodate the demand. We ended up with over 400 registrations.”

Boyan Athanassov performs at Boulder’s Story Slam in September 2019. (Michael Ensminger/ Courtesy photo)

Since the start of Free Range Dairy, more organizations have created their own content, specific to their art form. From children’s opera to dance to independent films with “Zoombacks”— post-screening talkbacks  — there truly is something for everyone.

“I do believe that people were craving a sense of connection and community,” Fathman said. “Johanna and her brother put together a beautiful presentation with very talented storytellers, live music.They are both very thoughtful, caring people and you could feel the love from them emanating out into people’s homes.”

As for upcoming Free Range events folks can look forward to, Fathman is producing artist talks with both local and nationally renowned artists who have previously shown their work in the Dairy’s galleries. Next week, folks can participate in the global initiative GivingTuesday and donate to the Dairy, an establishment that has had to cancel more than 150 performances and refund nearly $70,000 in rental income.

Johanna Walker during a previous Story Slam at the Dairy in Nov. 2019. (Michael Ensminger/ Courtesy photo)

“Storytelling is always important,” Walker said. “And yes, this is true even more so during this time of social distancing. As a speaking coach for business leaders, I always encourage my clients to lean heavily on the power of stories. I often say a story is the shortest distance between two people. So whatever distance you’re aiming to shrink, stories have the power to do it. Now, with all of us staying home, telling and listening to stories is a great way to crack the isolation and get connected.”


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