Scranton is a town full of art, culture, and diversity, so what better way to bring the community together than a storytelling fest?
Scranton StorySlam is the product of Madeline Zoe McNichols, who started the event as a high school senior project. Inspired by what she saw after attending a storyslam in Brooklyn, N.Y., she decided to bring the event home and do it Scranton-style.
This event brings 10 of the community's finest together, challenging them to publicly tell a true story about anything, as long as it fits into the theme.
“Storytellers can take the audience in any direction. They might tell a scary story, they might tell a funny story. You never know what you're going to get,” said Pamela McNichols, Zoe's mother, in a recent interview with The Weekender.
Zoe and Pamela, who helps out with coordinating the event, try to choose participants who play an important role in society. In the past, storytellers have included school board members, authors, professors, students, comedians, actors, and more.
“We choose people who are active in the community, people who have been recommended as good storytellers, people who have rich and interesting lives – basically people that have the courage to tell a story,” McNichols explained.
“I find that writers are really good storytellers because they really know how to construct a story, so I like to look in that community.”
Each slam has a different theme. The first Scranton StorySlam was “Warning Signs” and took place last March. Since then, there have been two other themed slams: “Dirty Laundry” which took place last summer, and “Game Changers,” which was last fall.
This year, the theme will cover each part of Scranton, including North, South, West, and even the Hill Section, capturing the tales of each area.
“The main idea with this year's storyslams is to bring the community together,” McNichols said. “Maybe parts of the community that don't know each other or that don't really hang out together can kind of come together.”
The West Side StorySlam will be the first in this sequence. For this slam, the contestants chosen will tell a story that they have about growing up, living in, or just a random experience that they've had in Scranton's West Side. Displaying the diversity of Scranton's community is very important to the organizers.
“For the West Side one, we really were trying to capture the community, so we wanted some Italians, Irish, Lebanese, because they make up that community,” McNichols listed.
Along with the chosen storytellers, there are two or three participants randomly chosen from the audience for each slam. These people throw their names in a hat and are picked to compete and tell their story for the grand prize.
Since it is a competition storytelling contest, there is obviously a winner as well as judges to choose the winner. Four judges are selected prior to the event (this one includes Tom Borthwick, Alicia Grega, and Justine Johnson), and an additional judge is chosen from the audience on the day of the event. Judging is based on whether or not they thought it was a good story and if the contestant stayed within the time limit. Past winners were Mike Manzano, Andrea Talarico McGuigan, and Amye Archer.
The winner of the night receives the honorary “Slammy Award” as well as a cash prize. McNichols hopes to bring together all the winners at the end of the year to compete against each other in the Grand Slam.
The StorySlam is a rapidly growing event and the first of its kind in Northeast Penn.
“Scranton is our big city,” McNichols said. “We are into the arts scene there – the performing arts, the digital arts. We really seek growth, and we wanted to help it grow and be a part of it.”
The West Side Scranton StorySlam features:
Maureen Welby McNichols
and Tony Bartocci as the Master of Ceremonies
Find out more at scrantonstoryslam.com.