"Really, to me, the whole thing is about building a storytelling scene."
These are the words of Dan Hull, architect of the downtown Phoenix storytelling scene. After two seasons of the weekly Yarnball storytelling open mic night at Lawn Gnome Publishing, and one season of the monthly Storyline feature at Space 55, Hull has truly laid the groundwork for an entire community of up-and-coming storytellers in the Valley. This season's final Storyline show, "Bad Buddhist," represents a bridging point for the scene up into the future.
For the previous eight months, Storyline has run every third Friday as part of downtown Phoenix blackbox Space 55's "Late-Night Series," where various groups showcase variety shows, standup comedy, improv, performance art each Friday night following the theater's larger productions. But for its final edition of the season, the series moves up in the evening, and expands to two weekends -- May 13 and 20 -- for a two-person show, featuring Hull and fellow Storyline regular Rachel Sherman.
Hull explains the founding of Storyline, "I call Lawn Gnome 'storytelling anarchy.' And I say that in a real positive way. But at the end of the first season of Yarnball, it became clear to me and the producer of the show at the time, Aaron Johnson [owner of Lawn Gnome Publishing]. . . that we needed to do a show that was a little more, polished, shall we say?"
What followed was a storytelling workshop run at the beginning of Yarnball's second season, where a handful of fresh storytellers gathered to hone their practice of, well, spinning a yarn onstage. After being approached by Space 55's Shawna Franks about producing a storytelling show for the theater, Storyline was born.
According to Hull, that original crop became the core of Storyline's feature performers throughout its first season. He says, "Originally I thought it was just going to be different people every month. But it evolved into this little cooperative with a core of about six-to-eight people who cycled in and out monthly through most of the season."
This cooperative mentality in turn lent itself to the show's development and themes over successive months.
"I found that when we were workshopping the stories together, we kind of influenced each other and the stories tended to, although they were completely different, there was a meshing. . . so it almost became like a play in six acts," Hull notes of this process.
One of those regulars, Tanmaya Shekhar, saw this evolution and wanted to document it on film, giving Hull the impetus for this month's show. Everything was set for a June one-man showcase at Space 55, "and then Tanmaya moved back to New York," laments Hull.
But with the dates and plan already set, Hull simply moved forward, adding Yarnball and Storyline regular and crowd-favorite Rachel Sherman.
"Watching Rachel grow as a storyteller this season. . . has been pretty amazing," Hull says of Sherman's development.
And in preparing this current show, the two's stories once again merged.
Hull explains that, as the two worked through their performances, ". . . these for both of us are stories that we've. . . wanted to tell for a while, but haven't really told them yet. So these are, in a way, those underlying stories that have been there inside of us, that we've worked together to tell in this show. And they really couldn't have been told at Storyline."
This feature, then, becomes the perfect format for their release.
"Storyline: Bad Buddhist" runs Friday, June 13, and Friday, June 20 at Space 55 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10, and more information is available at www.space55.org.