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Q & A: Jim Breslin

Sep 02, 2013 07:12PM, Published by Kerigan Butt, Categories: Arts+Entertainment, Business

Jim Breslin of the West Chester Story Slam

(Editor's note: This article first appeared in our Fall 2013 edition)

For one evening a month at the Side Bar & Restaurant, the West Chester Story Slam has given everyday people the chance to become performers, storytellers and theatrical hams. Since it began in 2009, the Slam has delivered more than 300 stories to packed houses, by experienced writers and performers, and by people with nothing more than a lot of nerve. Inspired by NPR's "This American Life" and other similar events, The West Chester Story Slam is Jim Breslin's literary gift to the town he loves, and recently he sat down to share how this crazy journey of words and voices got started.

What is it about being told stories that appeals so much to us?

When people tell a story, whether they write or speak it in a bar, they reveal a part of their character. A good story touches a part of the humanity within all of us.

The West Chester Story Slam debuted in January 2010 at Ryan's Pub.  Can you recall some moments from that night that stick with you?

When I first started this, I wasn't sure that West Chester was big enough to support something like this. Most story slams are in big cities, like New York and Philadelphia. My feeling was that we'll see if the town can support it, and if not, I'll just walk away. The first night, we had standing room only. I walked home thinking, 'Holy cow.'  I was blown away by the audience response.

Who are your performers?  Are they professional actors and writers?

There is a certain group that comes fairly consistently, but it's amazing how many times someone shows up who is not there to tell a story. They listen to the first five stories. They've had a beer maybe, and they say, 'I've got a story,' and they get up there and just crush it. Everybody has a great story, a go-to story that they tell around the Thanksgiving dinner, one that they've told many times. The Story Slam is their chance to shine, and they deliver it, and they shine. They get into a rhythm, and you can see the audience members holding their breath, riveted.

What are the percentages of those people who come unprepared?

We have about half of our storytellers who come with a prepared script or story, but the other half are those who decide at some point in the evening to tell their own story. The rule is that you can't tell a story with a script in your hand.

For those people who are not always available to make every event, how do they keep up with the Story Slam?

We'll put most of the stories in video form up on our website, and I'll pick three stories that were fan favorites and place them on our podcast for download. Our podcasts are about 15 minutes, and they are available on iTunes.

You began Delco Story Slam in January. Tell us about that.

I had met some great folks at the Burlap and Bean Coffehouse in Newtown Square. They do great shows there. Tara Endicott was interested in doing some kind of a storytelling at the coffeehouse, so we got to talking. We tried a Best of West Chester storytelling late last year, and it was a big success, so we decided to try it again this year. I'm from Delaware County originally, so it's nice to get back home and see friends and family. It's a great venue, and we've heard some great stories there.

Have you performed at the Story Slam?

I've performed. I'll always pepare a story just in case we need to fill the space, but I'm always happy to bow out.

Each month's Story Slam is dedicated to a particular theme. How do you come up with the themes?

Last year, almost all of the themes were songs on my iPod list. I looked at songs that I thought would make great themes. I'll scan the internet for an idea of what other slams are doing. I'll write down 40 potential themes and pare it down.

In the three years of the West Chester Story Slam, have there been a few stories that have stood out above all others?

Even from the early days, there have been a few that continue to inspire me. The best stories are funny, but they're also touching and give a message. There was one story told the first year by Robert Williams, a West Chester nurse and a great storyteller. He talked about his experience as a nurse caring for an elderly woman, whom he had to bathe. He described what he did so eloquently, the way he cleaned her from head to toe. The theme for that night was "It's My Job."

Three favorite dinner guests, living or not?

Woody Allen. David Lynch. Flannery O'Connor. Raymond Carver. Grace Kelly. Bob Mould (from the band Husker Du). I'd probably have the dinner at my house.

What's your favorite spot in West Chester?

It's the West Chester Little Free Library on High Street. It looks like a bird house. There's a door with glass, and whenever I pass by, I stop by and see what's there. One day, I spotted Cormac McCarthy's "All the Pretty Horses." My wife and I will drop off books from time to time. The books change from day to day.

What kind of food is always in your refrigerator?

I've been making artisan bread, so I'm keeping my bread dough in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. There's usually a couple of bottles of Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale in there, too.

                                                                                                                -- Richard L. Gaw

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