Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Final Potluck Performance!

On April 3rd, 2010 in the beautiful loft of the Vernon Community School's Carriage House the first official test of the Social Potluck project came to end. It was an evening filled with food, stories, and a real sense of community.

I admit that I have a considerable bias as I was the one who organized this crazy project but judging by the feedback I feel I can stand by my comments with confidence. From my perspective as performer/host I could not have been happier. Despite my considerable nerves as I madly tried to get everything ready in time I was able to forget that feeling as soon as the guests arrived. Luckily, considering I gave people only two weeks notice as to the date, almost everyone who attended the small dinners were able to attend the final event. As soon as people started arriving I stopped feeling like I was putting on a show and started feeling like I had arranged a huge family gathering as there were hugs, gossip, recipe exchanges and addendums to stories we told two months earlier. These weren't participants in a show or project, they were my friends. I can't explain how moving those first ten minutes were to me, and this was before I started performing.

I won't dwell on the performance too much but I did try out a few different approaches to storytelling for the first time. I wanted to present a variety of story techniques to help tell as many stories in as many different ways as possible so I strayed into new areas and techniques for myself such as having hidden pieces of gossip, having the guests silently reading a story, creating appetizer story surprises, improvising a soup and story at the same time and trading desserts all while having people eating and sometimes talking. I was happy with the variety but I do look forward to the opportunity to try these techniques again knowing they do work to see how I can improve the performance and the experience.

I enjoyed the performance, actually, to be totally honest I was relieved to start the performance as I knew the material was great. If my techniques didn't work I knew I could just stand there and tell these amazing stories and everyone would be happy because they not only are great stories but they are stories about and by people who are in the room.

There were a few wonderful unplanned moments. There were great moments when someone gave away that the story I was telling was theirs. Suddenly that story was even more interesting as people started to watch this person's reactions to their own story. Sometimes the guests saved my skin. The most memorable instance was the lady who pulled a twelve foot three prong extension cord out of her purse so I could plug in my electric burner (I had brought a two prong cord and never checked). It was a team effort. I was just there to let others shine.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the food. Oh my, was there ever a lot of food. Next time I need more tables and plugs. Not only was there a lot of food brought but there was a lot of food consumed. There were only scraps left by the end of the evening but I can assure you nobody left hungry. I should add that I gave no direction as to what kind of food to bring just like I gave no direction as to what kind of story to tell and once again the participants delivered with an amazing variety of food. There was enough mains and dessert. Because the food was so great and because I heard people asking about recipes I have added a recipe/story exchange to the webpage so people can share their recipes.

Looking through the questionnaire responses I noticed many people remarked on the sense of community that was created through this project and I am beside myself happy that they felt that way. When I had initially conceiving of this idea I debated if a final performance was necessary. The small dinners were fantastic and so intimate and moving. I knew I could not recreate that in performance but simply by having a performance it allowed people an opportunity to gather again and be reunited. It also allowed for a glimpse of what kind of stories other dinners told. These guests all shared a similar experience even if they were at another dinner. A community was born based on shared experience. Judging by how much conversation there was in the lulls, the breaks and afterwords I think most people would agree with me.

My performance was intended to be a celebration of people who came to the table. I still wish I could have told or acknowledged more stories. As it was, only about thirty percent of the stories told at the small dinners made it to the final performance. This was not an issue of merit as every story could have been its own show. My goal for further editions is to increase the representation in the performance without increasing the length of the event. Two hours, including eating, is perfect, especially since I want to allow people the opportunity to stay after the show to eat and talk more.

It is over a week since this event took place and I am still amazed at the good will exhibited by the participants. There were so many generous, kind and interesting people involved that I feel truly blessed to have been able to meet everyone of them. While I have created this project to bring people together to celebrate the role of the table and stories in our community and our lives I feel that it is I who is benefiting the most. For that, all I can say is "thank you."

1 comment:

  1. Thank YOU for a great experience...both evenings were so enjoyable and yes....a sense of community and family was definately achieved. Because of your evenings new friendships were made and old ones rekindled. Very positive, well thought out, creative, and a testiment to the wonderful stories we all share...may the telling of stories over a shared meal never end!