First Person Live bringing storytelling shows to suburbs

For a new series of storytelling events, this is the beginning.

A crowded bar at Two-Nine Martini Lounge in downtown Naperville. One hundred or so listeners, ears trained to the sound of several five-minute stories. Ten performers telling — not reading or reciting — true stories from their lives. One website, already selling tickets to next month's event.

The scene is the first performance of First Person Live, a new business bringing the Chicago popularity of “Live Lit,” or “Storytelling Slams,” to the suburbs. In downtown Naperville, a location chosen to be convenient to residents across the West and Northwest suburbs, co-producer and director Diane Kastiel of Arlington Heights says audience members won't have to deal with city-bound traffic, pricey parking and even steeper ticket charges.

“We decided to take this fabulous form of entertainment,” Kastiel says, “and bring it to people who we think are interested in new and different.”

Every monthly show will be something different, based around a theme sometimes set to match the season. The January show opened with a “Personal Best” theme, maybe as inspiration for New Year's resolutioners, while next month's show on Feb. 16 takes on a Valentine's theme of “In the Name of Love.”

Kastiel, a writer by trade who has been participating in The Moth Story SLAMs in Chicago for the past five years, will tell one story each night along with nine other featured performers. But they don't take the stage until after an open mic period for aspiring storytellers from the audience to spin tales from their own experiences on any topic.

“These are real people telling true stories from their lives,” Kastiel said. “They don't have special training or a lot of experience. You get up there and you tell a story from the heart, and that's a very unusual thing to encounter.”

The honesty and intimacy of live storytelling is fueling its popularity, Kastiel said.

“These days, people are talking more than listening to each other,” she said. But not during storytelling events. “It's an opportunity to share and listen. That creates understanding and compassion. That's what is resonating with people.”

Kastiel and her business partners — two Indian women and two British women who are all West suburban residents — want their storytelling nights to be as diverse as they are, and easy to attend.

So they chose a location where downtown parking is free, traffic isn't perfect, but fighting Naperville's north-south slog beats heading to Chicago during rush-hour, and tickets will cost $10.

No props or scripts are allowed to keep the storytelling natural. And to avoid speeches or standup comedy routines, Kastiel encourages speakers to judge their stories by this simple criteria: “Does it have a beginning, a middle and an end? If it does, then it's probably a story.”

While First Person Live establishes its regular story slams, to take place at 7:30 p.m. the third Thursday of each month, Rachna Prasad of Naperville, co-producer and director of community outreach, is working to organize future shows that will support nonprofit organizations or bring stories to residents of nursing homes.

“People love listening and sharing,” Kastiel said. “This builds community.”

It was a packed house at Two-Nine Martini Lounge in downtown Naperville as First Person Live hosted its first storytelling show. The events will take place monthly with open mic time and 10 featured storytellers sharing real tales from their lives with a five-minute limit and no props or scripts. Courtesy of Kat Gilbert

If you go

What: First Person Live storytelling show

When: Doors open at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 16; open mic at 7:30 p.m.; show starts at 8 p.m.

Where: Two-Nine Martini Lounge, 29 W. Jefferson Ave., Naperville

Cost: $10 in advance or $12 at the door

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