Tales and Ales – The Art of Storytelling

Tales and Ales – How a little idea backed by a generous community sparked an Art of Storytelling movement near Washington, DC

I’ve always loved the The Art of Storytelling, and tales and ales. Years before I was writing stories, I was listening to them.

My parents would often have friends over for dinner and, long after the dishes had been cleared and the other kids had dispersed, I could still be found sitting there—listening. It could be some wild story about a family friend’s standoff with a buffalo. Ya see, I grew up in South Dakota. Or just some too-good-to-walk-away-from church gossip. No matter, I listened.

And I’ve been listening ever since.

I don’t think I’m alone in this love of stories. Think about how often we share stories. We meet friends for walks and bike rides, we have neighbors over for dinner, we catch up with colleagues by the water cooler, we call our mom on Sundays just like good children should. But think about what we’re really doing in these moments?

We’re sharing stories—swapping experiences. And just because it’s human nature, we’re likely sharing stories with people whose lives look similar to ours—because we’re talking with our neighbors, our coworkers, our family, our friends. But a few months ago I got to thinking, wouldn’t it be fun to hear stories that exist outside my immediate circle?

So I took to Facebook and just tossed out an idea. “Hey, would anyone be into a storytelling night?” I thought a handful of people would be up for it and at some point we’d gather in the corner of a local coffee shop. I closed my laptop and went to a meeting. When I came back, my little post had blown up, with 40 to 50 comments in just a few hours.

Chris Burns, co-founder of Old Ox Brewery in Ashburn, posted “we’d love to host” and suggested the name Tales and Ales.

Then, friends began texting me with offers to help. They were willing to lend their talents in many forms: graphic design work, marketing, sound production, and photography.

People eager to step up to the mic began sending in their stories—some funny, a couple odd, and all enlightening.

And on Friday night, minutes after a torrential downpour, we turned on the mic.

“Welcome to the very first Tales and Ales,” I heard my mousey voice say to cheers. “It’s story time.”

Every few minutes throughout the evening, the brewery staff hurried to set up another row of chairs. And before long, the chairs were all called for and people began lining up in the back.

It was warm in the brewery’s warehouse. We all gathered below whiskey barrels and sacks of hops and barley stacked high. But even those left to stand didn’t seem to mind. After all, they were consuming cold beer and great stories.

Tales and Ales puts on storytelling events in Northern Virginia and Maryland, where folks can share personal stories live on stage. The organization also teaches storytelling classes in schools and holds storytelling bootcamps. Check it out at novatalesandales.com.

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