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Speak the Spark nights showcase diverse range of Island stories

Story nights filled with humour, suspense, and emotion
Speak the Spark creators (L-R) Dominique Lando, Chela Davison, & Cat Main (Sarah-Jane Curry was away) introduce the theme for the night’s talks at a storytelling gathering.

A new storytelling group is sparking conversation and togetherness in the community.

Speak the Spark, an evening of story sharing by local residents, now has a few sessions in the books after launching last year. Chela Davison, Cat Main, Sarah-Jane Curry, and Dominique Lando are the team behind the idea, which came from a motivation to better get to know their friends and neighbours here on the island.

“We’d each had a different pull and desire for community engagement, but - noticing the amount of digital connectivity and the kinds of engagement that happens in online spaces - a desire and need for empathy and connection,” says Davison of the in-person gatherings.

The group’s first evening took place at Tuscany restaurant in the Cove, but it didn’t take long to find themselves at capacity. This led to experimenting with Evergreen Hall in Deep Bay, a venue which worked well for the last evening and will once again play host to Speak the Spark this month. The group notes that the hall itself sparks fond memories, with many people recalling the dances they used to attend there back in the day.

Evenings typically consist of about six storytellers who each recount a 10-minute long experience from their life – which has to be true. Admission is by donation with funds going toward different Indigenous organizations in the area, “… which is part of our acknowledgement and wrestling with being settlers on this land,” says Davison.

Each night has a theme which influences the types of stories being told. These are chosen in different ways, sometimes looking to previous topics at similar storytelling events, and sometimes letting the fates decide with the drawing of Oracle cards. Prior themes have included ‘Taking Off’, ‘Something New,’ and now coming up, ‘Chemistry’.

“It’s like you’re going to a show, but it’s more intimate and you’re hanging out with your friends,” says Davison. “Some of the feedback we’ve heard after people leave is they feel more connected to themselves or connected to each other. There’s this sense of courage and bravery that you’re hearing a personal story from your neighbour that you may not have ever heard about them.”

“You get to see a different side of people… We might have an idea of folks, but what’s behind the surface?” says fellow organizer Main, adding it’s “an opportunity to get to know people in a new light.”

“We’re trying to create a container where we get to be with each other’s humanity. It’s entertaining, it’s really fun. It’s not like it’s a serious night of therapy,” says Main.

Over time the group is hoping to build a wide range of stories and people who tell them. To do this, they’re aiming to show that volunteering to talk in front of a crowd is not as scary as it first sounds.

“What I’ve noticed in talking to different people in the community about it is there are a lot of people who are intrigued who also say, I’d love to listen but I could never tell one. And then the longer you talk, you start to see they’d really love to be able to, but between that impulse and feeling ready there’s a gap,” says Davison. “So we’ve got this curiosity about how could we foster more confidence and bravery and readiness to be able to tell stories.”

Main says she thinks the crowd support can help with bringing people across the line from audience member to storyteller. “Yes, it’s scary to get up in front of people. But we tell stories all the time. We would sit down here just as folks and tell stories about our weekend… It’s actually a very soft landing. People are coming with a really generous ability to listen… That’s actually been really inspiring so far to see how warm the audience is.”

“I think because it’s such a brave thing to do maybe that’s what also cultivates the warmth. We sort of sense that we need to support the person… We can’t check out because they’re going to feel that,” says Main.

The diversity of stories has also helped drive audience engagement. “One of the things that makes it so rich is that some stories are really funny, others are really touching, others are what’s going to happen next?” explains Davison.

“Some people have experience as storytellers or performers, but most don’t and that’s kind of the point. So you really get a sense of authenticity and connection and a window into people’s lives and who they are,” she adds.

To make the evening more inclusive, notes are allowed up on-stage. And for any audience members nervous about showing up, not to worry – there’s no chance of being selected at random to get up and talk. But, the group hopes that after seeing how warm and welcoming the environment is, that people will be inspired to share their stories in the future.

The next Speak the Spark is Tuesday, April 16 at Evergreen Hall, located at 464 Melmore Road. The night starts at 7 pm and usually wraps up by 9. Bringing snacks or drinks is also encouraged. Speakers who will be sharing tales at the next outing include Davison, Lando, Lorraine Ashdown, Andrew Leonard, Gail Lotenberg, and Simon Daniel James.