In a cozy alcove nestled in the back of the Celtic Knot Pub, eight Northwestern students gathered to speak in front of an audience about being “Stripped.”
On Wednesday night, The Thread, a new student group that hosts storytelling sessions known as story slams, held its inaugural event, “Stripped.” The premise was simple. Students who had studied abroad came together to share short, five-minute stories about the time they spent outside of the country.
The speakers varied in age from freshmen to senior and had traveled all over the globe, from Costa Rica to India to Iraq. The stories ranged from comedic (exterminating bed bugs with knives) to romantic (a relationship that crossed language barriers) to spiritual (a man who had lost his fiancé but had faith they would reunite in the next life), but they all dealt with the novel experiences and sensations associated with traveling to a foreign land.
“Stripped can refer to a lack of clothing, obviously,” joked Weinberg senior Emily Wright, one of the founders of The Thread, at the event’s opening. “But it also refers to being stripped of your language, your friends, your dignity.”
In addition to the featured speakers’ stories, audience members were handed slips of paper that read “I knew I was stripped when _______” and were encouraged to fill in the blank with their own anecdotes. These responses were read with hilarious commentary by the evening’s emcee, Communication senior Aaron Eisenberg.
The Thread is the brainchild of four Northwestern seniors who share a common love for the “The Moth,” a podcast which also has its foundation in the art of storytelling.
“The four of us went to see ‘The Moth’ in downtown Chicago this fall,” said Sarah Thomas, who co-founded the Thread along with Wright, Rebecca Crook and Elizabeth Clark. “We loved it and started brainstorming about how to bring something like it to Northwestern.”
The women chose the topic of studying abroad because of their love for traveling and studying in foreign countries. All of them had studied abroad and blogged about their experiences on study abroad blog The195.com. They then put together the event with assistance from other campus organizations and spread the word through Facebook, fliers and listserv emails.
“The truth is, it all felt really organic,” Thomas says about the planning process. “We ended up applying for a grant and used that money to rent out space at the Celtic Knot.”
The room they secured at the Celtic Knot was perfect for an event like “Stripped.” Packed with foldout chairs and comfortable couches, the room could barely contain the eager audience, who not only filled every seat but also lined the walls.
“We weren’t sure what to expect in terms of audience turnout,” Clark says. “We knew friends of the eight speakers would come, but we didn’t know what to expect beyond that.” Clark and her co-founders estimated an attendance of over 70 people.
An event like a story slam engages the audience by providing a peek into the storyteller’s experience. Every story was personal, some so intimate that the speaker had never spoken of the events before. Weinberg senior Luke Vanderlinden prefaced his story by saying “it’s powerful, and I’m not sure how you’ll react or what you’ll do with it.” He went on to talk about a man who had lost his fiancé and decided to cope by moving to his fiancé’s hometown to grow closer to her family.
Some speakers felt more natural relaying their experiences than others, but each student grew more confident as he or she went on, feeding off of the audience’s positive reactions. Each speaker left the audience wanting more – the five minute excerpts seemed to be only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what he or she had to say about their time spent abroad.
“I feel like [the speakers] have truly lived,” says Medill sophomore Ceri Roberts, who attended the event. “I know it sounds cliché, but hearing their stories makes me love people a little bit more. I’m on a ‘people-high’ right now.”
Members of The Thread say they hope to host similar story slams throughout the remainder of the year based off the success of the evening.
“It’s amazing to me how you can make a decision, follow through with a few important steps, and all of a sudden you meet a goal,” Thomas says. “It’s crazy that the this was just an idea a couple of months ago, but tonight we actually pulled it off.”