By Samuel J. Cox
Let’s be honest, Emily Ratajkowski won 2013. But Barefaced Stories came a close second. In their massive third year, the Perth storytelling institution continued to share Yeezy’s vision of spreading ‘truth…information [and]… awesomeness.’
Co-created in 2010 by local performers and producers Andrea Gibbs and Kerry O’Sullivan, the last Tuesday of each month sees The Bird reach capacity as an enraptured crowd crams in to hang upon the every word of storytellers with skillz.
Their workshops continue to mass-produce A-class raconteurs, and this Fringe season they are presenting Emmy nominated writer Brian Finkelstein and hosting two special Barefaced Stories performances: the Gala and Fresh Faces editions.
1. Can you explain how the name ‘Barefaced Stories’ came about?
Over many beers (laughs)! We had the idea for the show for a while, but we wanted to come up with a really, really good name for it. We created a long list, kind of like how I imagine some bands try and come up with their band name. There was a lot of ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘I like that’, ‘I hate that.’ But when I said ‘barefaced’ we were like ‘yep! That’s it!’ It fitted well because our people get up on stage and bare their all.
[It also matched the artwork designed by Wisconsin artist Matty Cipov that they had decided would be the event’s mascot: Brutally Frank].
2. Why is it so important that the stories that people share are true? Is there less value in fictional stories?
No, there is not less value in fictional stories. It’s just that we wanted to be all about the truth and sharing our sense of humanity. We feel it makes things more relatable when people have experienced the stories in reality.
3. What do you think the power of storytelling is over other mediums of expression, like dance or music?
We feel like we are stripping things back. We don’t allow any notes on stage, or anything like that, so it’s just a real life person telling a real story. We don’t expect everyone to be performers, just ‘regular joes’ that get up there and tell a tale. It’s kind of like taking the stories you’d hear a friend tell you over a glass of wine and putting it on stage.
4. What does a Barefaced Stories workshop entail?
It’s about generating story ideas. Everyone has had a lot of things happen to them, but quite often you can’t remember those stories. When you’re sitting down having a conversation with someone, and they start talking about an experience they’ve had, it often reminds you of an experience you’ve had. We help people find the theme of their story and stick to it rather than going off on any tangents. Finally, it’s about learning how to present it in a way that is entertaining to the audience and keeping it truthful at the same time.
5. So it is more about shaping the stories than teaching someone to be artistic or creative? Isn’t that something you either inherently have, or you don’t?
It is all about shaping the story. We want people to get up there and be themselves, and we’re not asking them to create a monologue and act that out in any way. We want them to tell it from their point of view and be themselves on stage.
6. Is there one key message you try and impart to would-be storytellers?
Keep it real, and no bullshit (laughs)! People can see through stuff that’s been really well rehearsed. One of the things that is really nice about Barefaced Stories is that people just get up there and talk the truth. There is no bullshit to get in the way. Audiences aren’t stupid; they want to see something that is honest and real.
7. How do you feel when you see people share the stories you helped shape and develop?
I love it (laughs)! There are people who haven’t had the chance to be in front of people in a performance capacity, so it’s really nice to see them get up on stage and enjoy that. Also, it’s nice to see performers out of their comfort zone. A lot of the actors and comedians we’ve had tell stories have packed their dacks because they have to drop the fourth wall, and they have to be themselves for their story to work. That may be completely out of their comfort zone and I really enjoy watching that happen.
8. Does it surprise you how many people have a story to tell?
Oh Yeah! Everybody has a story. The strangers we walk past on the street have more stories than we can even understand. When the workshops begin, you’re meeting strangers for the first time, but by the end of it you know them so well. We’re all such colourful and full people, it’s amazing!
9. What sort of quality control is put in place to ensure that only the best stories are shared?
In our main monthly program, we have an idea about what the stories are about. We ensure that they are not offensive and we keep them on a time limit, we don’t just let them ramble on! For the Fringe World Gala Edition, we put a lot of trust in our experienced performers and comedians. We just find out what their story is about so we can program the line-up accordingly. We don’t want all the sad stories in the first half! It needs to be light and shade. That’s the extent of our control over it. It’s up to them to come up with a story that they think is really entertaining.
10. Name one reason why people should check out your shows.
Our Gala edition will be a fantastic opportunity for fans of Fringe World to check out a whole bunch of different acts. We are one of the few shows that have a really good cross section of Fringe artists. There aren’t a lot of other line-ups in the Fringe World that will have such a variety. We’re really proud of bringing together some of the best international acts that are in town, as well as some of the Eastern States acts that are coming over.
11. What steps have you taken to cultivate the reputation of Barefaced Stories?
It was really important to us to have good branding from the beginning. We’d seen a lot of live performance nights start up and then fold, and we definitely didn’t want that to happen to Barefaced. We concentrated a lot of energy into creating a quality night, because there is nothing more powerful than ‘Word of Mouth’. We make sure that every show we put together is of the highest quality we can possibly produce. Our first year was pretty hard, but 2013 was our third year, and we put on shows at The Bird without having to do any advertising. It’s a really different night. Each month we have a whole bunch of newcomers who are first time ‘Barefacers’ and it’s really exciting. It’ll be onwards and upwards this year.
12. What sort of impact do you think Barefaced Stories has had on Perth?
It has given so many people the opportunity to get on stage and perform. It’s something that I’m really proud of. The workshops that we’ve done have led to hundreds of local acts getting up and telling stories. People love it so much they come back for more. We opened it up not just to the arts community but also to the general public.
I’ve been doing workshops with the mental health commission, teaching people how to tell stories about their mental illness to reduce the stigma. We’re taking that out to regional centres as well over the next two years. If we can get those stories up on stage, then it will bring us all closer together. As cheeky as it sounds, it’s so easy for us to think that we are networking through social media, and that we’ve never been more connected, but Barefaced is stripping everything back, so it’s just the performer and the audience with no bullshit in between. There’s something really, really nice about that.
13. Do you remember the first time you performed?
I was terrified. You have to be so vulnerable, and put so much faith in the audience that they will come with you on this journey. There’s something really cathartic about it as well. The best thing is when someone comes up to you after the show and says ‘that happened to me! I’ve had that experience as well!’ It’s fun, but I’m petrified, just like every performer is when they get on stage for Barefaced and have to be totally real.
14. Do you have expansion plans, or are you happy with the current format?
We’re taking Brian Finkelstein’s show and ours over to Wellington for the New Zealand Fringe Festival. We’ve had heaps of interest from over East for Barefaced to do workshops and hold monthly shows over in Sydney and Melbourne. It’s really important to us to create a quality show, so we won’t be doing that without the proper support. There are other story telling nights over East, but we’re the longest running one in Australia that sticks to the format used by The Moth [the American not-for-profit organisation dedicated to storytelling]. We hope to do bigger things in the future, but we’re proud of being from Perth and the format we’ve created.
15. Do you have plans to initiate any other creative endeavours independent of Barefaced Stories?
I’ve recently been cast in a co-production between the Perth Theatre Company and Griffin Theatre Company, so I’m going over to Sydney for three months this year to work on that show, which is called ‘Eight Gigabytes of Hardcore Pornography’. My Mum and Dad are very proud (laughs)! I’m really excited about that project because a guy called Declan Greene, who is one of the best up-and-coming writers in Australia, has written it. While I’m in Sydney I’ll be putting my feelers out to see about getting Barefaced happening over there. I’m also supporting Puppetry of the Penis while they’re here, with my stand-up.
Barefaced Stories: Fringe Gala Edition runs February 6 – 8 @ The Blue Room Theatre through Fringe World.
Barefaced Stories – Fresh Faces Edition runs from February 11 – 14 @ The Blue Room Theatre through Fringe World.
Barefaced Stories takes place on the last Tuesday of each month, resuming again in March.