Review of Synergy Story Slam

From a near-missed border crossing in Turkey (the country, not the food), to a cycling trip across America and a spring break flash-people-when-driving-on-the-Parkway venture gone wrong, Synergy Story Slam offers live, often hilarious, stories by anyone brave enough take the stage. Held on the first and third Monday of each month at The Magnetic Field’s intimate black box theatre, Synergy is a community based open mic and storytelling open to anyone and everyone. And, as stated on the group’s Facebook page, “poets, storytellers, comedians, teachers, bus drivers, artists, parents, coffee-drinkers…anybody, anybody” is welcome to put their name in a hat and, if picked, are invited to share a story.

Host S. Fynn Crooks
Photo by Ethan Burns

As S. Fynn Crooks, the confident witty host and founder of Synergy, proclaimed that the most recent slam held on Monday, Feb. 7, the mission of the slam is to “open mouths and minds at the same time.” The theme of the night was “On The Road” and at the beginning of the event, Crooks laid out the guidelines: Storytellers are not allowed to use notes, stories must connect with the evening’s theme, if you’re drunk you’re not allowed to tell a story and, lastly, stories are limited to 10 minutes in length (after 10 minutes, Crooks playfully threatens to drag tellers off the stage with a cane). Seven names were then pulled from a hat and three members of the audience were asked to volunteer to be the judges — no light duty as judges “have the final say” in picking an evening’s winning storyteller and runner-up. It’s also worth noting that a fourth of the proceeds raised at the door are donated to a local nonprofit organization. Monday’s slam raised $71 for The Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP) (the rest of the proceeds are divided equally between the winning storyteller, The Magnetic Field Theatre and Synergy Story Slam). 

What made Synergy so exciting was the element of spontaneity created by on-the-spot, live storytelling. Each storyteller had a unique way communicating, and their emotions, their nervousness and excitement, were absolutely contagious for audience members, who gasped, laughed and cheered along throughout the performance. It takes a whole lot of courage to climb on stage a share a story, and Monday night’s audience came prepared to encourage each and every performer. It’s a lively, engaging scene, and, in the end, an incredibly diverse array of stories immerged from the evening’s theme.

Grayson, the winning storyteller
Photo by Ethan Burns

Grayson, the evening’s winning reader, delivered a side-splittingly funny story about a spring-break fiasco that took place while driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Boone. Grayson, shortly after getting her drivers license, and a group of girlfriends decided to flash oncoming drivers. Passengers hung out of the window, topless and waving frantically, while Grayson, the driver, slammed on the horn to get the complete attention of oncoming traffic. Unfortunately, they caught the complete attention of a state trooper, who pulled them over, but let them off with a warning. Grayson’ was completely engrossed in her story, making exaggerated faces and gestures that left the crowd in a fit of snorting laughter. She certainly earned her winning role at the slam.

For Connie Regan-Blake, “On The Road” inspired a memory of traveling through Istanbul in 1970. Regan-Blake told the crowd about experiencing culture shock – where women in dresses are perceived a “fair game” for taunting and where buses are so packed that “you get a real feel for the country”— about picking up a hitchhiker, ditching a hitchhiker and, amazingly, crossing the border into Greece moments before Turkey closed its borders. 

Ben Shirley (the evening’s runner-up) took the stage next and shared a story about cycling across the country with his friend. Eating sandwiches outside of a grocery story in Walla Walla Washington, a gaggle of young Latino boys asked the dirt-covered riders, “Have you been chased by any tigers?” The boys then decided that they wanted to tag along, and, with no helmets, no water and only two bikes between them, they piled on their bikes and peddled as fast as they could, chasing Shirley and his companion as far as their legs could carry them.

Cathy Jo Janssen, a Michigan transplant, told a story about “failing to fit in Appalachian Mountains.”  Tom Downing began his performance with a disclaimer that his story was “episodic, rather than having a point. ” On a road trip to Brunswick Maine with a friend, Downing learned, after spending a frustrating Easter morning searching for a church shrouded in fog, that “the best we can do,” is all we can expect from others and from ourselves. 

For Della McGuire the evening’s theme sparked memories of a dear friend who had never been anywhere until taking a road trip to New York City with McGuire. They ended up working at a restaurant across from the United Nations office where Kurt Vonnegut, who looked like cross between “Yosemite Sam and a Beat Poet,” told McGuire that red-headed girls like her make more money in brothels. True story.

Deborah Gurriere closed the slam with a story from her childhood, about the day that she (her father’s appointed navigator) forgot to remind her dad to put water in the radiator before driving through a dessert in the Southwest. The car overheated and everyone jumped out. Frantic, Gurriere’s mother decided to throw sand on the smoke.  Along with the sand, however, she also scooped up a hill of fire ants, which ran across her body. Gurriere’s mother shouted, “I’m on F-I-R-E” and proceeded to strip down to nothing, running in circles around the fuming car.

Though most stories shared were lighthearted and comedic, valuable insights were shared at Synergy’s “On The Road” performance, which, in this viewer’s opinion, was a wild success. And, the beauty of Synergy is that no two performance will ever be the same, so catch them live while you can!

Come and see what’s in store at the next slam, slated for Monday, Feb. 21 on the theme “The ‘L’ Word: Love, Lust and Everything In Between.” Those interested in sharing are asked to arrive at 7 p.m. For everyone else, the slam starts at 7:30 p.m. $5-$10 suggested donation at the door.

The Magnetic Field is located at 372 Depot St. in the River Arts District:

About Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt
Aiyanna grew up on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. She was educated at The Cambridge School of Weston, Sarah Lawrence College, and Oxford University. Aiyanna lives in Asheville, North Carolina where she proudly works for Mountain Xpress, the city’s independent local newspaper.

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