By UPMA KAPOOR
Every second Saturday of the month at 8 p.m., six or more Fredericksburg residents gather at Read All Over Bookstore downtown to share their most personal stories before a stage of strangers.
Every second Saturday of the month at 8 p.m., Fredericksburg Tell meets, and Saturday, Feb. 9, was no different.
A tradition begun in 2010 by founder and University of Mary Washington alumna Maura Schneider, Tell creates a warm, intimate atmosphere in Read All Over. The bookstore is transformed into an oral storytelling haven.
The floor holds about 20 chairs for both the audience and storytellers. The elevated platform has a spotlight, a microphone, a chair, and a stool; each object ultimately creating the storyteller’s stage. The room is usually empty until 10 minutes before the show starts, when participants and visitors pour into the tiny room to hear the theme for the evening.
Each Tell event is structured around a theme to ensure a common subject matter among the various stories. The most recent one was, “Fish Out of Water: Stories about Stepping Out of Comfort Zones.” While the theme is open to further interpretation by tellers, each one must abide by a set of rules for each event.
The most important, highly-enforced rule is that each story should be eight minutes or less. The monitor, who typically is Fredericksburg resident and co-founder of Tell, Schneider, holds a paddle and timer, emphasizing that she “will cut you off” if you go above both the eight minute mark and a two minute grace period.
The next couple of rules are that stories should be relevant to the show’s theme and must be true.
Creative nonfiction, as a genre, may be in flux, but Tell is an opportunity for participants to create their own personal narratives and offer audience members an opportunity to be engaged in the aged, rich tradition of oral storytelling that Tell started with and has maintained for years.
The last Tell event on Feb. 9 had one of the largest crowds yet, with audience members squeezing tightly next to one another on the sides of the bookstore for space. The theme brought in returning Tellers, such as Fredericksburg residents Seth Casana and Jay Anderson, and an opening tale by host Schneider.
Schneider’s own story was an account of her time as a tourist in Ireland, with her significant other at the time, remembering how she was desperately trying to dodge the American tourist stereotype by not making conversation with the cashier. Schneider ended her story with the fact that, later on in life, she learned to embrace the tourist personality in order to openly enjoy a foreign country.
The story that stood out most that evening was by regular Casana, who did not opt to tell an all-personal Tell, but instead shared a story about how a squirrel stuck in his chimney during his adolescence was really “the fish out of water” amongst humans. With a fair amount of quirky voices and movement throughout his story, Casana’s Tell made out to be one of the most memorable of the evening.
Tell is just another local event in Fredericksburg that few UMW students seem to know about. It is free and open to the public every second Saturday of the month throughout the year.
Junior English major Julie Randall heard about the event from a friend and said, “I loved it! I would go back!”