by Jeanie Riess
When Liam Pierce decided to start a new backyard storytelling event in New Orleans two years ago, he imagined it would look something like the scene from the Raymond Carver short story “Why Don’t You Dance?”, in which a man sets up the contents of his home in his front yard. There would be no stage, just couches and lamps, and no microphones, just people leaning forward to hear. “The idea is to have a living room outside,” he says. The event was originally called BYOBS, or Bring Your Own Bug Spray, a nod to the buggy weather that infects New Orleans in April.
Now called Bring Your Own, the live storytelling series will hold its next event Dec. 5 in the courtyard of 3020 Royal St. The theme, chosen by the winner of the last BYO, is “The Passion.” Seven storytellers will have seven minutes to tell their stories, and three anonymous, randomly selected judges will choose a winning story. Winning stories are produced and aired on WWNO. Pierce and his partners, Laine Kaplan-Levenson and Nina Feldman, want to give participants as much control of the event as possible, something they say differentiates it from the national live storytelling show The Moth, which is hosted in a more traditional venue with a stage and an entrance fee. they have no hand in deciding who wins BYO, and they have no hand in selecting the nearly monthly event's theme. Volunteers, who do everything from sell beers to edit audio, help keep the event free. Food trucks are also on hand - next week expect meatballs and pies - and there will be a fire in the courtyard since the event is outside in December.
The BYO team says listeners can connect with storytellers because there’s no real platform. People aren't there to perform, they're there to tell stories. “The first time we did it at Fortier Park, a lot of people happened upon it because it was in such an open space,” says Kaplan-Levenson. “This girl came up to me during the intermission and said, ‘I cannot remember the last time I saw a group of people sitting quietly, listening to one person talk.’ … No one is on their phones. No one is even Instagraming. They’re being so quiet because you have to be quiet, or you can’t hear what the storyteller is saying.”
Bring Your Own is a group of people involved in the most quotidian of activities and the most ancient of entertainments: telling stories. Except that this particular exchange requires an open container policy.
Sign up to tell stories by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.