Warm Victoria welcome for storytelling series

Culture Theatre

The Flame has been a monthly storytelling event in Vancouver since 2009. Performers must adhere to three rules: the story has to be true, it has to be about you, and it has to be told in a few. On Jan. 12, co-creator and producer Deborah Williams brought The Flame across the Georgia Strait.

With the audience of the sold-out show crammed into the lobby of the Belfry Theatre on a Monday night, white Christmas lights dappling the ceiling made for a cozy, familiar atmosphere, like gathering at an aunt’s house with 100 of your closest friends.

Even after three Victoria runs of The Flame, its producer Deborah Williams thinks audiences are hungry to hear more.  Provided (photo)
Even after three Victoria runs of The Flame, its producer Deborah Williams thinks audiences are hungry to hear more. Provided (photo)

No doubt some of the audience were Belfry regulars, but neither of the Victoria residents seated on either side of me had ever attended a show there. The reputation of The Flame preceded it, and personal connections to the local performers drew new patrons, too.

Seven storytellers graced the stage, plus comedian and actor Wes Borg, whose profane song about Edmonton opened the show and drew raucous laughter from the crowd.

The evening’s stories varied in subject matter and delivery, from childbirth to symphony-writing to contemplation of heritage and family. A highlight for me was Monique Gray Smith, who captivated the audience with two connected experiences—getting her first book published and being diagnosed with a tumour. Personal tales from Faye Mogensen, Beverly Duthie, Bruce Ruddell, Lina de Guevara, Bev Allen, and Jimmy Tait filled out the night.

Tait has never done anything like The Flame before. “I said no, and then I said, ‘I’ll try it,’” he says. His story about coming out as gay to his parents at age 38 was deadpan, hilarious, and touching.

Smith described the evening’s event as “soul-filling.” Of the stories, she says, “You don’t know what to expect.”

This potential for surprise seems to be a common sentiment, echoed by Williams. But the cheers, applause, and smiles were proof that everyone left satisfied. The sense of community in the room was palpable. During intermission, my neighbour told me a story about her daughter. Stories are everywhere, and the success of The Flame relies on that universal appeal.

This is the third time The Flame has come to Victoria, and Williams thinks audiences are hungry to hear more. Explaining that Vancouver crowds tend to be more jaded, she thinks Victorians are “respectful of the courage it takes” to get up on stage.

Perhaps the popularity of the event is because it represents something missing from the Victoria arts community. The intimate setting recalls a poetry slam or music open mic, but the content makes it more accessible than those forms. Everyone knows what a story is.

Williams plans to bring The Flame back to Victoria in May or June. Here’s hoping those plans come through. Victoria clearly wants it.

Contact the producers at joelwirk@telus.net and deborahwilliams1@me.com to pitch your own story for a future edition of The Flame.