While only in her first year of university, Toby Ewert is already making an impression at the University of Saskatchewan by creating a space for students to share personal stories with their peers.
Ewert, who is going into social work, is passionate about storytelling and noticed that there was no outlet for storytellers on campus, so she took the initiative to create a group called USaskStorytelling. On Dec. 1, the group’s debut show featured five students presenting genuine narratives about meaningful beginnings in their lives.
Ewert is an avid listener of storytelling podcasts, which she says inspired her to bring this performance-based group to campus. She explains that, even without knowing someone, listening to their narrative can still evoke emotions.
“I find that [storytelling] seemed to be something that people can connect over really easily, without having a lot of [knowledge of their] personal background,” Ewert said. “I’ve had people’s stories — [people] I don’t know and will never know — affect my life, and I thought that was really important.”
Ewert approached USask Improv, an improvisational-theatre student group on campus, in October with the idea for students to share their narratives, and with USask Improv’s support, USaskStorytelling came to fruition. At the first event, the stories varied from lighthearted topics, like flying in an airplane for the first time, to more serious topics, such as living with schizophrenia.
Bjorn Haave, a third-year computer science student and the president of USask Improv, says the improv group supports its members in pursuing new performance-art activities. Although storytelling and improvisational theatre may seem unrelated, Haave notes the similarities between the art forms.
“USask Improv has been around a few years now, and it is our third year, officially, as a group on campus. We’ve always been talking about [doing a] sketch or a podcast. We thought about open arts for everyone at the university,” Haave said. “It seems like the perfect intersection of being artistic [and] also being personal and vulnerable.”
Lachlan Logue, a first-year drama student and one of the five storytellers at the event, chose to share his story of beginning a life without his father, whom he has not seen for 10 months.
Logue discusses his appreciation of the other storytellers at the event, noting that there is more than one way to share a story. While he focused specifically on the audience’s experience during his performance, Logue says that he was surprised at the cathartic experience of sharing his narrative.
“It was a lot of thinking about ‘If I were a person in the audience — which I was for the rest of the show — what stories I would want to hear?’” Logue said. “Everyone [had] really cool, diverse, different ways of storytelling. I feel like that was [the] coolest thing about it. Everyone had a unique take on storytelling.”
No plans are set for the next storytelling show, but Ewert encourages any interested students to reach out to USaskStorytelling by Facebook or email.
Just as the style of storytelling changed from performer to performer, so too did the mood of each story. Ewert explains that she let each individual student choose the direction of their story, with the only guideline being that the overall theme should focus on beginnings.
“Some of the stories that I have are pretty serious, but some of them are just pure happy, [and] it will be a contrast, and that’s kind of a thing that’s cool about storytelling,” Ewert said. “You can kind of control the emotions of a room that way, and when people are really mesmerized, you can often just feel it in a room.”
Nykole King / News Editor
Graphic: Yau Hoong Tang / Flickr