Storytelling gains a new platform: Q&A with founder of ‘The Tell’

Charly Haley, MSUM Multimedia Journalism

Laura Egland, founder of ‘The Tell,’ speaks at the first event, ‘Fear.’

FARGO, N.D. – While a project out of New York City may have sparked Laura Egland’s recent creative venture, stories and people from Fargo-Moorhead are what cultivated her inspiration.

The 39-year-old Fargo resident knows that people have stories to tell. She also knows that others will listen. A few months ago, Egland came up with a way to bring those people together and give them an outlet.

She started “The Tell,” a monthly story slam in October at Studio 222 at 222 Broadway in downtown Fargo.

The day after the November event, Egland told the story of “The Tell” to “Doing it Downtown.”

DoingitDT: Tell me about ‘The Tell,’ and how you came up with the idea.

Jacinta Thieschafer won the first ‘Tell’ with her story ‘Slice on slice.’

Egland: All right, well, do you want the long story or the short story?

Whatever you feel like.

Well, I’m feeling pretty wordy. So, about four or five years ago I got my first iPod Touch, and with that came with what I felt was a responsibility to start downloading podcasts even though I had no idea what a podcast was or what was good or even what was popular. So I cruised through the iTunes store and I found a logo that I liked and it was for “The Moth.” So I started downloading those and within, I would say, about two sessions of them I was hooked. “The Moth” is a story slam out of New York City and the sole inspiration for “The Tell.”

So, you could call it a rip-off if you want, that’s fine, but that’s exactly what I did. And I liken it to as a human being, you know, what a baby looks like, you know how to make one, just about anybody can get one by one means or another, but we all want our own, and that’s exactly how this happened. I saw “The Moth” as their baby, and I wanted to create my own. So I very purposely went about not learning anything about story slams because I wanted it to be very organic and I wanted it to come from a place of true learning, which to me involves mistakes.

Mark Anderson tells ‘Fear of public speaking.’

So the only background that I have in story slams or story competitions is listening to “The Moth.” That’s it. And I found myself so very inspired, and feeling so connected to people who, based on their names and knowing what part of the country they’re from and what sort of occupations they hold, thinking that I would have nothing in common with them to feeling this unbelievable connectivity with someone whose face I couldn’t even see. It was profound for me. So I wanted to bring that to Fargo.

We have such a great music scene. We have a great theater scene; we have a great bar scene. We have all kinds of great scenes, but we didn’t have a story scene that I knew about or that appealed to me. There are some really fantastic poetry groups in town, but that doesn’t appeal to me. Not everything is for everybody, like not everybody likes rap music, it’s that kind of idea. So to bring another way for us to connect as a community is really my sole purpose for bringing “The Tell” to Fargo.

There have been two events so far, right?

Maria Bosak tells her story, ‘Sixteen.’

There are six events in the season. The season runs from October to April, and this is the first season. We’re skipping December, and a finalist is chosen by a panel of judges from each event and all five finalists will go on to the Tell-Off in April.

How has it been going so far?

The first one was great. The second one was fan-f—ing-tastic. It was really great. For the first one, I would say 80 percent of people were my friends and people that I know on Facebook, and from last night, we did the math, and I knew 25 percent of the audience. And that’s what we want, right? I love it when my friends come to my stuff, love it. But I wanted to reach people that I otherwise would have really no knowledge of their existence. So we had a great gamut of ages; we had a great gamut of socio-economical happenings and it made me happy, happy, happy. And everybody had a good time. It was perfect.

So, the first one was ‘Fear,’ and the second one was about accidents?

Lawrence Vanderbush tells ‘Don’t believe them.’

It was “Whoops” and yes. In January it will be “First Time for Everything.” So how the night goes is, doors open at 6:30; you come in; you pay your five bucks, and there’s a cash bar for those of legal ages for wine and beer. And you stake out your seat, and if you want a chance to tell you fill out a media release, and you put it in the hat, and we pull 10 names out of the hat, one at a time, throughout the evening. And those people will get up and tell.

They have a five-minute time limit with a 60-second grace period, and as long as it fits within the theme and it’s an original story – it needs to be a first-hand, true experience – then you’re well within the rules. The panel of judges is comprised of three people, and they grade based on whether or not it’s really a story, like does it follow the arch, does it have a beginning, a middle and an end? Is it compelling? Does it engage the audience? And how was the connection? Was the connection there?

Who are the judges?

It varies. I have different ones every time. Usually my friends or just people that I know.

So I pretty much understand what ‘The Tell’ is all about, but what do you do, outside of ‘The Tell?’

Hannah Andring tells ‘Gym class.’

By day I’m an office manager for a janitorial company, and then I have my own company on the side – I do work as a psychic. The psychic medium, specifically, and I have a company called Vision Architect, where I work with companies and couples and small businesses to get their vision out on paper so that they actually have a list of their values. It’s very value-based.

Do you have anything else you’d like to add about ‘The Tell?’

BIll Lucas tells his story for ‘Fear.’

The thing about “The Tell,” and about storytelling in particular, is that people don’t want to speak in public. I hear that over and over again, ‘I’d never get up, I’d never get up.’ But so far both of our winners for each event have came in thinking they weren’t going to tell, and then halfway through were inspired to get up and tell a story that they had not prepared, and yet they won. So “The Tell” and storytelling are about inspiration. It’s about showing your own vulnerability, combined with your own greatness, and giving somebody else permission to do the same. That’s what we do.

To listen to audio from October’s Tell, “Fear,” click here.

Schedule for the rest of ‘The Tell’ season:

Jan. 9: “First Time for Everything”

Feb. 6: “Love”

March 7: “Ingenuity”

April 4: Winners compete in “The Tell-Off”

All events: 7 p.m., Studio 222 in downtown Fargo, $5

For more information: thetellfargo.blogspot.com and Facebook.com/TheTellFargo

Photos by Frozen Music Studios Photography, courtesy of Laura Egland

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