Noe Valley Voice March 1999

It's Story Time for Grownups

By Rayne Wolfe

Too shy for open mikes? Not tough enough for poetry slams? Laura McHale Holland has just the thing for you literary-minded but knock-kneed lovers of a good yarn--the Sanchez Street Story Swap.

The third Sunday of the month, local storytellers, along with folks who just love listening to well-told stories, gather in the sunny storefront of the Sanchez Street Studio to--are you sitting down?-- hear stories. The two-hour event is led by an experienced storyteller, who mesmerizes listeners for the first half-hour. Then the floor is open to other storytellers, until all the 10-minute slots are filled. Dress comfy -- you'll be asked to leave your shoes at the door.

Holland, an experienced storyteller herself (who'll be spinning one of her tales this month), had a dream when she started the group last fall. She dreamt of an easy-to-get-to, quiet, Noe Valley location where storytellers could practice their craft.

She admits that she had her eye on the Sanchez Street Studio, which opened a year and a half ago on Sanchez near 29th. "It's such a perfect room. The windows let in warm sunshine. The floors are polished wood. And the acoustics are perfect for the spoken word."

It took her about three months to work up the nerve to run her idea past Joe Cunningham and Carol LeMaitre, who offer yoga classes at the Sx3. "They thought it was a great idea," and agreed to block out studio time for Story Swap.

That was Holland running through the neighborhood, optimistically putting up fliers last November and each month since. Maybe you were one of 10 visionaries at that first event. Well, don't count on that much leg room now. Faster than you can say "Once upon a time," word of mouth has made this a popular literary happening. It's low cost, too. The organizers ask only a small donation, to cover postage and studio rental.

What topics are appropriate for this venue? Just about anything. That's why Holland has only one caveat: "We suggest that children under nine skip our event -- just because sometimes the stories can be too serious or scary for a small child."

Besides, this is storytelling for adults. This isn't holding a book in your lap and turning pages to show the pictures. This is the more classic interpretation of storytelling that touches upon the roots of oral history. There are stories about human nature, stories that teach about life-- everything from folk tales to fireside rambles. The yarns aren't memorized word for word and recounted the same way every time. These stories are told from the heart.

The storytellers themselves exhibit a wide range of experience. Some are confident captains, skillfully leading their listeners through mazes of metaphors, labyrinths of layered themes, and puzzles of personalities. At the February Swap, featured raconteur David Ponkey enthralled the crowd with a tale about his work with special needs kids.

Other storytellers have been known to wave and shout, to clarify the plot. No matter. Whether the presentation is theatrical or simply heartfelt, the audience accepts all offerings, cordially. To sound out an idea, give Holland a call, 647-7455.

You say you're no Shakespeare. You don't have a myth, story, urban legend, memoir, parable, mini-mystery, or flight of fancy to share?

Well, you have ears, don't you? You're needed to laugh, frown, and sigh in all the appropriate places.

So see you at the next Sanchez Street Story Swap, Sunday, March 21, from 2:30 to 4:30. Fuzzy socks, optional.

Rayne Wolfe writes a column for the San Francisco Examiner and teaches writing classes at Book Passage in Corte Madera. Contact her at

Sanchez Street Story Swap

This spring's featured storytellers:

Laura McHale Holland, March 21

Sandra Niman, April 18

Greg Begin, May 16

2:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the

Sanchez Street Studio

1589 Sanchez St. near 29th

Questions? Call Laura at 647-7455