Last year, Word of Mouth became a podcast at Kenyon through WKCO. It was inspired by The Moth, a radio show and podcast that focuses on live storytelling. But its stint as a WKCO project was short lived.
“After an afternoon in the studio, it became apparent [the radio format] was a terrible idea,” Sophie Weir ’20, one of the creators of Word of Mouth, said. Before the WKCO feature even began, the Word of Mouth founders, Weir, JT Baldassarre ’20, Annie Blackman ’20 and Natalie Berger ’20, realized they were tackling this idea from the wrong angle. They decided it would work better as a live performance.
“Kenyon has all sorts of performances for almost every group, but it just didn’t have any storytelling shows,” Baldassarre said. The creators started Word of Mouth to share the experiences of students for one night twice per semester to bring together Kenyon’s community. This community has grown with increased participation, and will hold its fifth performance within the next month. “What’s so special about putting the stories onstage is that you can actually see the audience and interact with the audience,” Blackman said.
Through auditions, the creators select a small group of storytellers, either by the strength of their story or their presentation. “We see people perform and we think there is something there that they don’t even know is there,” Berger said. “We like to see the unusual … we like to find specifics in stories that are meatier,” Baldassarre added.
From there, the leaders meet with each storyteller individually, workshopping to find the right details and emotions to create the best piece. Then the storytellers meet in a rehearsal setting with two or three other performances. Immediately before the performance, the entire group meets to settle the structure of the show, determining which themes or feelings complement each other.
From the beginning, it was never just the stories on stage. Like in The Moth, music in between acts adds fluency to the show, while anonymous answers to particular questions asked at the door are read throughout the evening.
All of this is meant to provide a connection by involving both the performers — through close-knit workshopping and rehearsal — and the audience, creating a sense of intimacy and belonging.
Many of the stories shared are personal, dealing with issues ranging from the death of loved ones to heartbreaks. After sharing intimate details with an audience, it can be a relief to have an energy geared towards acceptance.
“It felt really good to share something intimate with my friends who came to support me, but also people I’m not as close with,” Baxter King-Epping ’20, a past performer, said.
This sense of community also adapts to the needs of both performer and audience. As Word of Mouth worked through meandering anecdotes and unexpected fire alarms, the project was able to learn from past difficulties in meaningful ways.