As a child, my fondest memories of learning came from the stories my teachers told. I loved fables the most, there was always a common sense lesson to be had. I remember sitting on the edge of my seat, listening to their stories. All these years later, I remember those stories. They stayed with me, but more importantly, the lessons stuck. To this day, I love to listen to a good story.
John Ferreira says, “storytelling is what connects us to our humanity. It is what links us to our past, and provides a glimpse into our future.”
I recently had the pleasure of attending an evening of storytelling hosted by Tracey Segarra. Tracey is a storyteller, a Speaker and a Consultant. After listening to the Moth podcast. Tracey became interested in storytelling. She entered the Moth storytelling slam in 2016 and won. She’s been telling stories ever since.
Photo: Jason Falchook
Tracey feels passionate that stories make us laugh, make us cry and move us. Tracey has brought storytelling to Long Island. Like the Bards and Grios of old, telling stories to the community in order to entertain, educate and remind us of how we are connected.
During the evening of stories, I was moved and engaged. It was a delight to unplug, sit amongst a diverse group and listen to the personal stories of others. The entire room was still, silent and enraptured by each storyteller at the mic. The audience was getting what we all crave, a high touch, intimate experience, shared amongst a group. These types of experiences are few and far between, especially as we allow technology to invade our personal space and relationships and define how we communicate with each other.
A few days later, I sat down with Tracey to understand her passion for storytelling.
How did you get introduced to storytelling?
Well, it was actually my husband, he had been listening to the Moth radio hour on NPR. He turned me on to it. The Moth has people telling true stories about their lives. Some are funny, some are tragic, but they are all compelling because they are about important moments in peoples lives. Moments that changed them somehow, and so once I started listening to it I was instantly hooked. I am a former reporter and writer. So I used to write personal essays. Plus when I was younger I was an actress. I had dreams about being an actress. So when I heard this on the radio it married two things that I love, getting up in front of people and personal stories. So I thought OMG, I have to do this and I love this!
The Moth has these story competitions called story slams in the city.
And so I went with my niece to one of them just to check it out. People put their names in a hat and they pick 10 names randomly. They have a theme, everybody tells one five minute story on that theme. I went to one just to listen. I was hooked. The next time one came up with a theme where I thought I had a story for it, I put my name in the hat, I got picked and I won that night. I was like ok, this is a message. I had no training, no nothing, I just told a story.
When they have ten people who have won story slams, they have a grand slam. In front of 500 people at the music hall in Brooklyn, the winners have to come up with a new story. You compete against nine other story slam winners. I told a story, I won that night. Now, I am like ok, ok, I am meant to do this. I can’t remember exactly how old I was at the time, 52 or 53, but I felt like I had finally found what I am meant to do with my life. This is it, this feels so right.
I am in marketing during the day. I put my marketing hat on and I thought, there is nothing like this on Long Island, why don’t I create this. That becomes my next thing. There is a huge storytelling scene in Manhattan. Any night of the week you can go to a storytelling. I knew we needed this on Long Island.
I have never heard of this.
I know its amazing how it’s such a well-kept secret, not that anyone wants to keep it a secret
I started my show out here at a small local bookstore in Rockville Centre and within a year, I outgrew the store. The store could only hold 50 people, and I outgrew the venue. I started booking bigger venues as more and more people started coming. Then Newsday did a story on me, The Long Island Business News and then the local Herald.
People then started asking me to teach storytelling. I started doing workshops and its grown from there.
Why do you think this is becoming popular, what is energizing this?
One thing, we have become a society of people constantly looking down at their phones every two seconds, however, as you saw last night when someone is telling a compelling, true story, they have your attention; and so as human beings, we crave the connections. It forms a real connection. This is not like stand up comedy, where we are like ok, make me laugh. You know this is like wow, let me in, let me feel what you are feeling. There is something very powerful in that. As society becomes more electronic and distant, we crave the connection. We are still human beings, we still need to connect with people. Storytelling fills that need.
As I was listening last night, I was thinking about how we used to pass on our history through storytelling
Exactly, that was the first thing we did to record history we told the stories to our children and told them to tell their children
And That was a community event
Right, yes, to come together as a community to hear each other stories, that’s why I love the live shows. The energy of the people in the room changes how the storyteller tells the story, we feed off each other
When you envision this, what is your vision for storytelling on Long Island
Well, I would love to book bigger venues and have more people tell stories. Two of the people in my show last night are not storytellers, they are just people with great stories and I want to magnify their voices. I worked with them on their stories to craft them into a narrative that works. They had something important to share, and it needed to be heard. I am so excited. I want to start a podcast. I am a former newspaper reporter, so I have a knack for finding good stories. I know that I will never run out of stories on Long Island. I want to start a podcast for LI stories. There are so many stories to be heard. I also want to consult with businesses on how to tell their Story. Storytelling for business especially non-profits is a power tool for messaging. Organizations realize that in order to cut through the clutter you have to have a compelling message and story. I am going to a conference in a few weeks. I will be working with people who work in communications for non-profits. I will be talking about the power of stories in business and especially with non-profits. To be successful you need a compelling story. People connect to stories and that in itself is a powerful tool.
As I think about last night, and the theme, Through the Eyes of A Child. We had these different people, from different walks of life, some diversity in the room, but the common thread was that we have all experienced a childhood, we have all experienced pain or trauma in our lives, growing pains, personal family angst, that’s what connects us. We are much more alike then we think we are, I was really fascinated by hearing the storytellers. Taking us on a journey back to their childhoods, this was my experience and this is who I am because of it. I am sharing this with you.
Exactly, there was also a vulnerability, that the storytellers showed last night which drew the audience in.
What is the impact that you want to have?
I am still trying to figure this out. I want to continue to teach storytelling and producing shows, helping others find their voices and helping them to be heard. I love finding the storytellers and helping them craft their message and having it touch people. I would love to do that for non-profit organizations
there is a quote by a poet I like, Sahib Naiah
“You can reject peoples politics, You can reject their religion but you cannot reject their stories”
That’s why I do not get political, this is about human to human connection and what we have in common, not what tears us apart. We hear enough about what tears us apart.
We have to focus on how we are connected. Every business can leverage storytelling.
There is neuroscientist Dr. Paul Zaks. He has studied the effects of storytelling on the brain. What he found is that when someone is telling a compelling true story, showing vulnerability and authenticity, keeping you on the edge of their seats, it activates a neurochemical in the brain, oxytocin. Once this chemical is released you start to feel what the storyteller is feeling and you are more apt to take the action the storyteller wants you to take, you start to develops trust. It is often called the love hormone, the trust hormone. Storytelling does that.
What impact has this had on you?
It has given me a voice, I was a drug addict and alcoholic in my youth. I am 56 now, Up to the age 25, I made a mess of my life. It took many years to repair that. For many years I was ashamed. They teach you in the program that you are not a bad person getting good, you are a sick person getting well. For a lot of years, I was ashamed and upset at what I had done. Once I got into storytelling, I was like Oh my God these are stories I can tell these. Once I had the advantage of time I can now see how these life events have shaped me today. It helped me get over the bad feelings and guilt.
Is it cathartic?
Very cathartic, also I am a performer, so when I feel that I have the audience in my hands, and I am bringing them on a journey through my life and they can relate, it is an incredible feeling. I feel that I can take them on a journey. That is a powerful experience.
Last night when you were telling your story, about summers at your grandmothers, with all of the characters, I was transported, I could see where you were, I could feel the way the air felt, I was there with you. For me it was a simple way to relax and enjoy, just listen. That in Itself was calming.
I think anytime I tell a story about something that affected me its always something that is universal. We all had fears and insecurities and issues with our mothers every one can relate to that and eventually finding a safe haven.
What I have I know, especially after attending the evening of storytelling, is that stories connect us, like a spun thread weaving between us all.
Tracey Segarra is a Storyteller, a Speaker and a Consultant. For information about Tracey’s upcoming storytelling events or seminars, go to traceysegarra.com.