Suburban storytelling show growing, moving to bigger venue in Lisle

Living in the suburbs doesn't mean a life as a plain, vanilla person, devoid of all entertainment and culture.

Living in the suburbs means a life of stories - funny, heartwarming, suspenseful, delightful, unusual stories - all of which take center stage each month during a growing entertainment series that's expanding to a new space in Lisle.

First Person Live opened in January at a small bar in downtown Naperville where maybe 100 people could squeeze in to hear everyday West suburban residents - none of them full-time speakers or improv artists - tell short stories from their experiences.

Founder Diane Kastiel of Arlington Heights said the monthly storytelling gatherings were so popular they'd sell out two weeks in advance, and she cringed at having to turn people away. Her goal is to bring the storytelling phenomenon of the city to the suburbs and open people's minds.

"This is something highly unusual for the suburbs," she said. "This is an experience where you watch 10 regular people, not professionals, get up on stage and tell stories about their lives. ... People wind up sharing really deeply."

  BaseCamp pub in the Four Lakes complex in Lisle seats at least 300 people - far more than were able to fit in the previous downtown Naperville venue used by First Person Live, a storytelling series that begins it second season Aug. 3 at the Lisle bar and entertainment venue. Marie Wilson/

Now the sharing will be taking place in a larger space, BaseCamp Pub at 5750 Lakeside Drive in Lisle, which seats at least 300.

"It's got the perfect vibe for storytelling," Kastiel said. "It's a little hidden gem."

BaseCamp truly is hidden. Tucked among the trees, ponds, ski hill and apartment buildings of the Four Lakes complex in Lisle, the bar often hosts gigs by local bands and is made to entertain.

"Anywhere you sit is a good seat," Kastiel said about the "cool, funky place."

Tickets will cost $12 in advance at or $15 at the door for the second season of shows, which begins Aug. 3 and continues the first Thursday of each month.

Each event starts with an open mic at 7:30 p.m. for aspiring tellers to test tales from their lives on a crowd and then progresses to 10-minute performances by 10 featured storytellers at 8 p.m.

Since First Person Live launched, tellers have touched on themes of immigration, racism, the refugee experience, homophobia, raising a child with autism, dealing with cerebral palsy, forming dreams as a student and falling in love. Featured performers, who are paid a small stipend for their skills, have ranged from a 15-year-old guy in high school to a woman in her 70s.

What they share isn't memorized, but it's outlined, practiced and curated by Kastiel to ensure it's art - not politics, a business pitch, an angry rant or a pity party.

Diane Kastiel, co-producer and director of First Person Live, tells a story during the first storytelling show at Two-Nine Martini Lounge in downtown Naperville. Kastiel, of Arlington Heights, has been performing at storytelling slams in Chicago for five years and said she wanted to bring the art to the suburbs. Courtesy of Kat Gilbert

Performers so far have come from Downers Grove, Lisle, Naperville, Warrenville, Wheaton, Winfield, Chicago and Australia.

"It's now an honorary Western suburb," Kastiel said about the land Down Under, which was the unlikely home of one featured storyteller who performed while in town to visit a friend.

Performers have made livings as a farmer, engineer, software developer, teacher, lawyer, construction supervisor, cabdriver, stay-at-home dad and corporate executive. Sneakily, the nights of stories-as-entertainment allow suburbanites to learn from the diversity around them, Kastiel said.

"While you're laughing, you're also relating," she said.

Storytelling also can help ease the "keep up with the Jonses" culture of the suburbs, said Arthur Zards, who founded and curates the annual TEDx Naperville speakers conference and advised Kastiel as she started First Person Live.

By giving people permission to discuss their bad days, their children's struggles, their imperfections, these storytelling sessions chip away at the image of enforced excellence that some in the suburbs are beginning to question.

"When you can be vulnerable and share these things in front of people," Zards said, "you're creating a crack in that fake facade."

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