A Space for Storytelling

Sez Me: The Columbia Story Hour (and a Half) brings a Chicago sensibility to the new live storytelling series on campus.

Multi-Disciplinary Storytelling
“On some level, we are all storytellers. Whether it’s fine arts, performing arts, or media arts, all of us tell stories through our creative disciplines,” says Norman Alexandroff, Library communications coordinator. “Ultimately it is storytelling that unites us as a creative community.” This fall, Alexandroff, along with English and Creative Writing Chair Ken Daley, Cinema and Television Arts Chair Eric Scholl, English and Creative Writing Associate Professor Patricia McNair, Communication Associate Professor George Zarr, Communication Assistant Professor Matt Cunningham, Theatre Assistant Professor Richard Walker, and others began Sez Me: The Columbia Story Hour (and a Half). Sez Me is a new, multi-disciplinary storytelling series for all Columbia students, staff, faculty, and alumni that provides a space for storytelling outside of traditional writing disciplines. During the first event, held on October 15 in the Library’s Reading Room, performances ranged from personal essays, a band performance, stand-up comedy, and poetry exploring the evening's chosen theme of “Identity.”
Caption“Ultimately it is storytelling the unites us as a creative community,” says Alexandroff, who led the effort to start the series with faculty and staff members across the college. Photo: Phil Dembinski ’08.

Storytelling Chicago Style
With bookstore open mics, bar story hours, and comedy showcases, live storytelling is alive in well in Chicago. With Sez Me, Columbia enters the scene with an on-campus event that revitalizes former storytelling program Silver Tongue, which ended seven years ago. That event, along with the popular national storytelling series The Moth, inspired Alexandroff to gather a group to create Sez Me. The distinction between the two programs and Sez Me is its embrace and inclusivity of other artistic mediums. The title of the event is a reference to Chicagoese, a distinctive Midwestern dialect that calls back to the city’s unique brand of storytelling.

Caption“Identity and story are inevitably intertwined,” says English and Creative Writing MFA candidate Rebecca Khera, who read from her essay. Photo: Phil Dembinski ’08.

Identity and Empathy
For the first Sez Me event, the crowd sat in the half circle of chairs surrounded by guitars, monitors, and familiar faces. English and Creative Writing MFA candidate Rebecca Khera began the evening with her essay, Gas Station Wedding. “The essay is about family, pain, fear, abandonment, and race. All of these things shaped my identity growing up. Identity and story are intertwined,” she says. The theme of identity allows performers and audiences to relate to the similarities and empathize in the differences with each other.
Students Stories
Alexandroff believes that live storytelling is especially beneficial for emerging student artists because it’s not competition-based, which provides an inviting and inclusive atmosphere. “The ability to present a story before a live audience is a culmination of a student’s educational journey. It's one thing to be able to write a good story, [it’s another] to go out and present that story before a live audience,” says Alexandroff. “We want them to have creative agency and the ability to share their stories with people in whatever professional field that they go into.” As the series gains momentum, Alexandroff hopes that it will become a student-led program.
“Telling stories in person, out loud, forces the audience to grapple with these things,” says Khera. “It gives the audience a more active role in story. It begs the audience to question their own identity, their own story.”
Additonal Information
Performances will be rebroadcasted on WCRX RadioFrequency TV, and will be made available as a podcast. Next month's theme will be “Good Versus Evil” and will take place Monday, November 12 from 5-7 p.m. The series invites all faculty, staff, alumni, and students to share their stories. Submissions for performing can be sent to nalexandroff@colum.edu