From the stage to the screen, this Tuesday will mark the second month in a row that D.C.’s Story District will depart from its usual production style in favor of a virtual setting. After last month’s debut performance via streaming, the organization is brining back its wildly successful Funnier than Fiction show this week, which debuted at the Kennedy Center in February.
“We’re just trying to do what we do best,” says Amy Saidman, artistic executive director. “We’ve been doing the 2nd Tuesday every month for 22 years, that’s a crazy streak and such a cool thing to maintain. It’s our flagship if you will, so in large part we’re trying to keep doing what we do best.”
Funnier than Fiction begins at 7:30 p.m. via YouTube Live Stream on May 12. Tickets to join the stream are pay-what-you-can. The lineup features Sherwet Witherington, Yasmin Elhady, Cody Pomeranz, Ijeoma Njaka, Carol Moore and Shawn Banks.
Doing what they do best usually involves a venue such as the aforementioned Kennedy Center or the Black Cat on 14th Street, but with all forms of live entertainment constricted to digital platforms, Story District has adapted like other contemporaries in the performing arts. After last month’s 2ndTuesday virtual debut on April 13 went off without a hitch, Saidman says the next steps are adapting the style further while maintaining a unique live experience.
“For our first show, we just wanted to make sure the tech works and make sure people were comfortable enough to make it from start to finish,” says Ilana Nevins, communications and marketing manager.
“Our first phase of programming is to replicate what we do best,” Saidman continues. “Phase two is adapting. We have other ideas to explore, and it takes a little longer to figure them out, whether it be more in-depth courses, watch parties, a new season for our podcast; there’s a bunch of things we have on deck, and a lot to do for the short-turnaround time. We wanted the first round to be ‘let’s just get stuff up and running, we’re here for our community, let’s do stuff.'”
For the Story District team, reprising Funnier than Fiction was a no-brainer given the short turnaround times and logistical changes. Its two live shows from February both sold out and were critically successful, so this virtual rendition allows for new audiences to experience what they missed.
“We felt really proud of that show, I’ll say that,” Nevins says. “It was a super diverse cast, really good storytellers and it sold out so only the people who got tickets could see it. This is a good opportunity for more people to enjoy that experience. We’re trying to give what we can to our community, and that was a relatively low lift for coaching as the [performers have] already gone though that.”
Each Story District performer normally is required to attend in-person storytelling coaching sessions with the rest of that night’s bill, but because of Covid-19, this has also pivoted to digital. Despite not getting the feel of people viewing you in person or the action of practicing on a stage, Saidman says her team hasn’t had to adapt much from the teaching perspective.
“We’ve done Zoom coaching in the past,” she says. “It’s one of the things you love. You bond with your other cast-mates, you see the stories together and you give each other input. You can kind of do that online. Thankfully, the digital doesn’t interfere with making your story better.”
“The biggest challenge is audience reaction,” Nevins adds. “They don’t get the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ as much.”
With classes and performances successfully being shifted to its online platform, Story District is happy to provide its services despite the remoteness. Whether you attend this Tuesday’s show or pitch them a story of your own, the group is excited to remain a source for creativity and inspiration.
“Right now with everyone so physically disconnected from one another, it’s one of the most important and best ways for us to not feel alone,” Nevins says. “The way Story District takes care of its story tellers and makes sure it’s a polished, and full show, [it’s] a good experience for storytellers and the audience.”
For more information about Funnier than Fiction or Story District’s other programming, visit here.
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