Shaky voices and no notes: Two years of The Raven Narratives

by Patty Templeton

Everyone has at least one story inside them worth a public telling: That time the stream of sorrow was briefly dammed at your mother’s funeral when everyone realized her cat was meowing from inside the coffin; the account of being mistaken for a truck-stop prostitute and trading fisticuffs with a dude in a limo; could be about the day you admitted to yourself you have PTSD and reached out for help. We are each a collection of mundane and mighty moments encased in skin; the more we share them, the more we are kin.

Founded in October 2015 by Sarah Syverson and Tom Yoder, The Raven Narratives is a storytelling series in and around Durango that aims at connecting people through providing a warm, open space for everyday folks – not professional performers – to share their stories. DGO spoke to Syverson about authenticity, assumptions, and where The Raven Narratives is going in 2018.

The Raven Narratives is a powerful experience to see live. Why do you think that is? People telling real, true stories. We’re not looking for performers on stage, we’re looking for human beings that aren’t polished. It’s not a performance piece. We’re looking for true stories.

Some of the most powerful storytellers we’ve had have told their stories with shaking voices or lost their place for a moment. And that’s OK.

What’s an indicator to a non-performer that they should get on stage to tell a story?Generally speaking, if we name a theme, like “Cold Feet” for our upcoming story slam – if something stirs and comes bubbling to the surface for you, a story that feels like it wants to be told and you shudder at the thought of telling it, you should probably be on stage.

What’s a surprise impact you’ve experienced from hosting The Raven Narratives?It is always fresh. The last round, we listened to close to 20 storytellers. The most difficult part is to choose. At the end of the day, I feel invigorated from listening to a day of storytelling. People come in and they’re telling something that is near and dear to them, and even if it is humorous, it can still be meaningful. There’s this sense of honor in listening, to be given the opportunity to hear someone’s true story about themselves.

What is a story that you loved hearing so much you can still retell it?Everybody connects different to different stories, and all of The Raven Narratives stories are online to check out, but for me, Steve Underwood’s story “Getting Wolves Back to Yellowstone.”

I’m from Montana and Steve was a fire chief up at Mesa Verde and he was a part of the first relocation of wolves back into Yellowstone back in the ’80s. He talks about this family of wolves that they captured in Canada, put on a plane, and flew to Missoula, Montana, in the middle of the night because there was such a controversy with ranchers.

Why is story important to you? It feels like an authentic way of connecting. I think Tom (Yoder) would say that, too. What’s our intention? It’s to connect human beings to each other, whether they’re listening as an audience or talking afterwards or during intermission or on the street.

People tell stories and someone hears the story and says, “I had a similar thing happen,” and then they tell their own story. That is a reason why Tom and I do it.

What’s the future of The Raven Narratives look like? In 2018, we added two storytelling slams, one in Durango in January and one in Mancos in August … Doing the story slams is a big move for us to involve even more authenticity and to maybe get people on stage we wouldn’t otherwise see.

We’re doing a new youth event that involves both Animas High School and Southwest Open School students. We’ll have a storytelling night at the Sunflower Theatre in Cortez and at the Durango Arts Center.

We are also always looking for partnerships, people that could be part of our leadership team to help cultivate cultural diversity in The Raven Narratives.

Do you make assumptions about people before they tell their stories?I do. (Laughs) We all do. One time, I had a clear assumption that, “Oh this person is a construction worker,” and they tell this incredibly spiritual story. There was one gentleman who worked in the oil fields and was a construction worker who tells this incredible story about walking the Camino (de Santiago) in Spain. It was breathtaking.

An event like this breaks our habit of thinking we know a person is this and that.

Interview edited and condensed for clarity.— Patty Templeton


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