When you hear someone tell a live story, you form a personal connection with them.
Fort Wayne’s Ben Larson says, “you get an understanding of people that is rare these days, with everybody being so attached to social media. You just get a small glimpse of a person [on social media] and we’re so quick to make snap judgments without getting to know someone, where they’ve been, what’s in their mind. Storytelling helps alleviate that; people are now craving that instead of micro-doses of humanity. We’re 3D people with our own lives, our own back-stories.”
Larson was an English major in college, and he’s always loved a good story. He became interested in storytelling as theatre after discovering podcasts like “The Moth,” “Risk” and “Snap Judgment.”
In 2015, he decided to bring the idea to life in Fort Wayne with The Trap Door. It began with a one-off show, but then the concept was shelved for about a year. In the late summer/early fall of 2016, Larson decided to revive the project. When John Cheesebrew and Becca Bell came on board, the project really began to take off.
These three have known each other for years. Larson had worked creatively with Cheesebrew before – they used to play together in the black metal band Fodalla.
“John is a good sounding board, he’s brutally honest and he has great ideas,” said Larson. “Becca has been a writer forever and she has a stronger organizational aspect than John or [me]. Also, I knew she could contribute to the creative side. So we all had different sets of skills and they combined well.”
The Trap Door does two different types of shows, alternating each month. There are story slams and showcase shows. The story slam is a contest. Anyone interested in sharing a story will put their name into a hat. Names are draw and each storyteller tells a five to ten minute story. There are two winners: one chosen by the audience, one by the judges.
“We’ve been fortunate in that we haven’t had to worry about filling up time. Sometimes ten minutes before the show we’ll only have two names, but by the time the show starts we’ve gotten 15,” said Larson.
In contrast, showcase shows are planned out ahead of time. The team will accept pitches in the form of a 100-word synopsis, and then they’ll choose the storytellers. They occasionally reach out to specific people, but that varies depending on the month.
Storytellers will prep their stories ahead of time, working with Larson, Bell and Cheesebrew before the show. Then they decide on an order for the show that flows, makes sense, and is engaging. Larson compared the process to making a mix tape.
“You don’t want to start off a show with some sort of emotional bummer of a story because then the audience will be sad. You want to save that kind of thing for last or right before intermission. The best first stories are usually funnier,” said Larson. “You don’t want to start with a trigger. It’s better to use something more entertaining. For example, we had one story about little girl’s grandma intentionally putting her in harms way because they were at a convention with MacGyver and she wanted him to step in.”
The Trap Door has an anything-goes attitude, but that’s served them well.
“I can’t say nobody has ever been offended,” Larson admitted. “We’ve had some crazy stories, from drunk-fueled orgies, to drugs, to stories from midwives. There was one night when I was looking in the back of the room and there were a couple of octogenarians. So it can sometimes get squirmy. But thankfully we haven’t had any racist or sexist triads. Those type of people aren’t even aware we exist, and if there were I don’t think they’d be interested.”
In August, The Trap Door found a home in The Tiger Room at Calhoun Street Soups, Salads, & Spirits (CS3).
“Donna the owner has always been really good to us. Ben and I have been playing here for years, and Ryan of Let’s Comedy is a good friend,” said Larson. “We’re really happy to be at CS3. It meets all of our needs better than any other place in town, and it’s much more inviting than other venues we’ve tried.”
For The Trap Door’s anniversary show on Thursday, October 19 from 8:00 pm to 10:00 pm at the Tiger Room , they’ll be rejoined by a few storytellers they’ve featured this past year.
“Shannon Cason is coming back! He’s from Detroit and he’s fantastic. He has his own podcast, ‘Homemade Stories.’ NPR – WBEZ Chicago, and ‘The Moth’ podcast have featured him,” said Larson. “We’re also bringing back Lily Be from Chicago. She doesn’t take crap from anybody and will tell you exactly what’s on her mind.”
While most of the spotlight will be on the the speakers during the anniversary show, there will be a few local performances.
Larson says The Trap door is looking for stories from everyone, as long as you’re over 18. “We try to be as inclusive as possible – I think it’s important to be. It goes with the spirit of why I like story telling. You hear from everybody and you get to appreciate lives and situations that are unfamiliar.”
“Every month after a show we’re always so excited! I keep waiting for people to stop coming. We never know if anyone is going to show up, so it’s almost like starting over again every time,” said Larson.
Still, a year later, The Trap Door is well attended and it seems to be gaining interest.
For more information on The Trap Door, visit their Facebook page.