Friday, January 28, 2011

First Dinner

On January 23rd, 2011 Social Potluck conducted its first dinner. It was a pre-test test with colleagues and friends; a dress rehearsal of sorts. The objective was to try out cooking in a new location, test the receptiveness of the food and to see if the format of the evening works for both myself and the guests. While there are things I will change as far as how the evening runs (like finish cooking before the guests arrive) the overall conclusion is that these dinners are a wonderful, entertaining and enlightening way to spend an evening.

I almost, almost, felt guilty doing these dinners as part of my thesis project because I enjoyed myself so much. While I was admittedly a little unorganized and distracted since it is hard to cook, serve and run the evening I couldn't help but notice how natural the gathering felt. At first the guests were a little nervous but that was quickly overcome once the first brave soul said, "I'll start because I'm nervous and I'll only feel more nervous if I have to wait to tell me story." After that first story the group felt like a bunch of old friends that were genuinely curious about each other. I am always amazed what can happen when someone puts themselves out there and takes a risk.

The stories that were told were incredibly varied; there were near death experiences, stories of coincidence, ineptitude, awakening and brushes with fame. Afterwards, I had to wonder if they were all true because they were all so… incredible and different, I guess, than my own experience even though I could see myself in most of those stories.

The most frequent question I get with this project is, "What kind of story do you want?" After this first dinner I'm realizing that the answer has always been, "What kind of story do you want to tell?" because I am not looking for a particular story. I have other projects in mind where I want to explore one idea or topic but for this project I am wondering what kind of story will people tell when they can decide the topic. Usually, when I am creating a project I will interview people looking for a particular story. Essentially, I am asking for people to "tell me the story I want to hear."This is quite typical as it is how our news, entertainment and anthropology functions. Rarely is the the question asked of the interviewee, "What story do you want to tell?"

On January 29th I will host the first official dinner. I am very excited to hear the stories that people want to tell.



Thursday, January 13, 2011

So, you want to be part of a social potluck?

Hello and welcome to the Social Potluck blog. I'm guessing you have heard about this project and either want to join up or would like some more information before signing up. That is completely understandable. If you want to sign up simply send me an email at stating that you would like to add your name to the list of possible participants. On Friday January 21st I will put all the names in a hat and draw out the guest lists for the dinners. If your name has been selected I will contact you with the date and location for the dinner. I will also then send you a consent form so you are up to speed on what will happen. If you aren't selected don't worry as I will be doing the project again later in the spring so there will be another chance.

If you want more information the following blog posts will give a pretty thorough description of the project up to this point. I'd recommend starting from the oldest and working backwards.

If you don't want the in-depth description here is the Coles notes version of the project and what it means to you.


Gabriel Newman is a storyteller, actor, director and writer who lives in Vernon British Columbia. He has created numerous storytelling events in Vernon such as Ghost Tours of Vernon and Farm Tales, Tall Tales and Other Yarns as well as theatrical events such as Rumours of a House which took place at and about Vernon's Caetani House. He is currently completing his MFA in performance at UBC. Social Potluck is his thesis project.


The philosophy of Social Potluck is that the dinner table is the most important performance venue we have as a society and that everyone has something to bring to the table. So in order to explore that I will be conducting a Social Potluck project which will combine local food and stories into a theatrical production.

On the evenings of January 29th and 30th as well as February 4th, 5th and 6th at 6:30 pm I will be hosting dinners for 5-10 people (this is where you come in). The dinner doesn't cost anything but participants must be prepared to share a story (preferably a story you tell often, if you can't think of what that is just ask your family, they'll know. If you are still stuck don't worry something will come to you while you listen to others) with the rest of the diners. Before the meal starts we will take turns sharing our stories (which I will record as my memory isn't very good). Afterward we will eat and talk. No pressure.

After all the dinners are completed I will take all those stories as well as whatever occurred while we ate (what I can remember) and I will try to create a theatrical performance which will be performed in late March/early April. If you took part in a dinner then you are welcome to attend free of charge but you must bring some food to share as well will have a big potluck at the end of the performance.

So there you have it. It is free, it is fun, it will be tasty, local and about you. Well, to be completely honest I can't guarantee what I land up using for the final performance as there will be around 25-50 stories told, not to mention everything that is discussed after the meals are over. I may not tell your story, or I may combine it with other stories or I may change it. I don't know so you need to be willing to have your story be used as inspiration for artistic creativity.


Aha! The dinners will be in a secret location which will be disclosed when your name is selected. The dinners will be held in a non traditional space but don't worry it will be homey and comfortable.


Dinners are held on the evenings of January 29th and 30th as well as February 4th, 5th and 6th at 6:30. The final performance will be held late March/early April at a yet undisclosed location (let me know if you know of one I can have for free).


Because it will be a chance to eat good local food while talking to interesting strangers who live in your home town all while contributing to a theatrical performance. You may never think of dinner parties the same way.

How much?

Free, this project is based on barter. You are paying me for the meal with your story because your story has value to me. Later when I perform for you, you will pay me by bringing food for everyone to share. I think it is a fair trade and I hope you do to.

To Sign Up?

Send an email to to sign up or if you have further questions.

Frequently Asked Questions

If these do not answer your questions please send me an email.

Is it really free? Is this some kind of sales seminar or other recruitment? Yes, it is free, no, it is not a sales pitch. The only message is that I hope by the end participants appreciate how important the dinner table is to our culture, identity and health. This is taught not by lecture but by participating.

I can't make a few of the dates, will this rule me out? No, but it reduces your chances of being picked. Let me know in your email what dates you can or cannot make.

Are children welcome to participate? Yes, as long as they are accompanied by an adult. I will hold one or two dinners where kids are welcome depending on how many are interested. If you would like to attend with a minor please indicate in your email.

Can I bring a friend/spouse with me? Sorry, these dinners are small and I want to increase the chance of participants being strangers so we spend time with people we don't usually spend time with. With only 5-10 people at the table two couples would completely change the dynamics. The exception being minors. Your spouse or friend can sign up separately however. Maybe they'll be at the same meal, maybe they won't. That would be fun, to compare the dinner experiences.

Can I host a social potluck dinner of my own? Absolutely!

I can't think of a story to tell, should I not sign up? By all means SIGN UP! Nobody can think of a story when asked point blank. Ask the people you know if there are certain stories you tell a lot, or find touching. Ask your friends what they would tell, that might give you ideas. Think of scary or beautiful moments in your life. If you still can't think of any and you are signed up come anyway. I guarantee that after listening to other people tell their stories that it will remind you of a story (I've been to lots of storytelling circles and it is always the people who say they don't have any stories who come up with the best material). Also, you can tell any kind of story. If you have completely drawn a blank, tell Little Red Riding Hood. It doesn't matter.

I'm not a good storyteller but I want to come anyway. Can I? This isn't a competition, you are not being judged on content or performance. Leave that for "Are You a Storyteller?" Everyone is in the same boat.

Who is catering the dinner? I am. I'm cooking everything for the meal from scratch. It is my way of thanking you for taking the time to participate.

Are you a trained chef? No, cooking is not my profession though it seems like I spend most of my time in the kitchen. I love cooking, it is my hobby and what I have been doing for my family for the past fourteen years. While not trained officially my mother is a trained chef and I have worked in numerous professional kitchens. I do have my Food Safe certificate so you are safe with me. Dinner will be good home cooking with a few fancy touches but nothing crazy.

I have food allergies or foods I cannot eat. How flexible is the menu? Please let me know immediately in your email if there are food concerns as I can't do last minute changes but I can prepare ahead of time. I know how serious allergies can be. There will be options for vegetarians and omnivores but remember that I am cooking as though you are coming to my house so a little flexibility might be needed.