Contributing Writer Wyl Villacres Reviews "2nd Story": "Epic Fail: Stories of Extraordinary Blunders"

The room explodes.
First with a cavalcade of applause, whistles, and hollers up and down the rows of tables, candles flickering, water and wine swaying back and forth in their glasses.  The story teller, a professional novelist (who, for the night, is just a single mom who went on some internet dates) walks away from the microphone and chair, the spotlight going off, beaming because she knows everyone hung on every word she said.  After the applause dies down, another explosion.  This time everyone sharing their own stories with their friends or the people at the table next to them, laughing and listening with the same intensity they had shown the performer minutes before.

Before that-

"We got our name because we tell the first story up here, and hope that you turn to a friend or a friendly stranger and tell the second story out there." The MC tells the crowd.  The night's theme was "Epic Fail: Stories of Extraordinary Blunder."  The story tellers were going to read real stories from their real lives. This was it and everyone was excited.

Cara Lockwood's story of getting back into the dating scene starts off straight forward enough. A mom wants to find her "person."  Someone to share things and go places with.  The audience nodded along, laughing their way through her unwillingness to label herself a MILF or be called a cougar.  All smiles from behind the microphone, Lockwood leads the audience through her first online meeting, a man who looked nothing like his profile picture, and (pregnant pause) was married. After bringing it home with how she grew and changed, Lockwood walked away from the stool, 2nd Story's famous stool, to that raucous applause.

This is the beginning of my favorite part.

Everyone has a story to tell, and that's why the intermissions of 2nd Story are just as wonderful as the stories themselves.  I talked to the people at my table, the table next to us, people as they walked by.  It was a community built around the idea that stories are what unite us, that our unique experiences still have universal truths.  As the audience picks at their food- skewers of seared lamb, smoky bacon wrapped dates, slow cooked stew- intimate moments are shared and laughed about.  Just as this moment seems like it is too much, that there is nothing else to do but for everyone to devolve into animated conversation, the next story teller is there to bring us back.

Ozzie Totten grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota with a special needs younger brother.  He was always protective, Totten tells us, speaking quickly and brightly, recounting a time when he gave a seven year old girl a tongue lashing for staring at his brother read while rocking back and forth.  It's a funny story, spending more time with Ozzie's other younger brother, one who wanted everything that he had, emulating him to the fullest.  On Christmas day, after the two older brothers get exactly what they both wanted, Totten's younger brother is left disappointed and not part of the group, the only one of the three who doesn't get a cell phone.  The story is raw and emotional, sweet and introspective, and as it comes to a close, as the audience wipes away the last tears, Ozzie leaves with a happy last thought and a smile.

This is the power of telling true stories.  Personal narrative that is worked and reworked and set against a backdrop of engineered sound. To take the minutia that makes up every mundane moment and reshape it to tell the story of a moment of change, 2nd Story takes on real life and evokes not just a response from their audience, but their audience's own story.  It lets strangers and friends open up, the curator and director and sound designer and story tellers all there to tell us "it's ok to feel what you're feeling.  It's ok to remember what you are remembering. It's ok to talk about it."

Larry Kerns' dogs, poodles, decided to eat horse shit and roll in coyote piss. In a piece that was entirely comedy, Kerns was able to keep the audience in stitches, making each line land better than the last.  Webster's Wine Bar is hardly the place where one would expect to hear the words "They were eating horseshit!" yelled into a PA system, with the upscale décor, wine from every corner of the globe, and a crowd dressed for a first date--- business casual but still with uncomfortable shoes.  But while Larry worried about his dogs' foul stench, it all just clicked.

Webster's offers $10 "themed" wine flights during 2nd Story.  This month’s was one white and three reds coming from Italy, Corsica, and Spain.  While the wines were all delicious and certainly paired well with the stories they accompanied (in a specific order, brought out right before each teller) I'm fairly certain they would have worked in any order: I mean, it's wine.  Wine is great no matter what is happening, as are stories.  And as the audience, slightly buzzed from drinks and entertainment started to get lost in their own, the final teller took the stool.

Cheri Pentimone was an art school student.  Like many students, Cheri had a moment where she wasn't sure if she was going to continue.  A bad teacher in a boring drawing class laden with strict rules brought Pentimone to her breaking point, and a friend in a similar position did little to help.

Cheri's piece demonstrated just how wonderful the 2nd Story process of pairing story with audio is.  While Cheri overcomes her doubt and finds a home in the lounge during a sing-along to “Wonder Wall” by Oasis, the song starts playing over the speakers, and as Cheri steps away from the microphone, the audience as a whole is transported to that moment, singing the chorus and swaying back and forth.

As the event ends, and everyone heads for the stairs, walking down and out into the night, the stories continue.

-Wyl Villacres

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