by Emma Parry
“The Porch” is Upstate’s answer to New York storytelling behemoth “The Moth.” It’s an open source idea after all, live storytelling, and part of the pleasure of an evening at The Porch is the feeling of continuum—a Hudson Valley tradition stretching back beyond Washington Irving to our earliest beginnings.
There’s something suitably rural and deeply convivial about gathering after dark to hear good stories told. And the Porch stories are good, which is a mercy (because it’s not an unreasonable worry that an evening in the local library might be less than lively). The formula is good and distilled: currently seven or eight stories, under ten minutes long, and no intermission. The evening is curated and hosted by Joey Shavelle, and expertly emceed by John Nathan.
There’s a lightly worn excellence about this whole endeavor—a particular mix of talent and humanity—that makes attending an opportunity not to miss. The contributors are curated by Joey, and whatever his filtration process, it’s working; the material is pretty much unfailingly interesting.
If this does feel like another franchise in the making, it’s partly the feeling that Joey has hit a deep seam of stories—tapping and gathering a talented community; he’s chosen the perfect name for an out-of-town storytelling destination, branded it nicely, and executed beautifully.
Atmosphere’s a factor: depending on the weather, The Porch alternates between venues: a magical, immaculately restored barn in Red Hook and the storied Morton Library in Rhinecliff; each are strung with clear white lights and resonant with history. Shavelle delivers a seamless fix to the rare technical hitch, decent wine at $4 a glass, and—under the $10 “suggested donation” for entry—complimentary chocolate covered pretzels and M&Ms.
Nathan makes an irresistible emcee and a funny, compassionate anchor. His quick wit, wise asides, and generous attention attest to his success as the therapist he is by day, holding the night together.
February 12 saw the third event to date (the second I’ve seen), with performers including local world-class writers, brilliant musicians, academics, teachers, social workers, and assorted local characters ready to own themselves storytellers and air their artfully shaped secrets.
It is a particular form, the live performance of story, challenging for the storyteller and exacting for the audience. Not easy finding the ten minute arc, sufficient heart and drama, and not too polished a point. You don’t want your stories well worn, the wit too practiced, the length self-indulgent. Friday night’s stories conjured blood, sweat, fear and tears, dark nights survived, redeemed by music and laughter.
The Porch organizers keep a bottle of whiskey on hand should performers want a shot of courage. The evident nerves of storytellers are endearing, and encourage the audience to lean-in. Unlike the dispiriting typical experience of book readings, there is a level of engagement in this crowd that helps the teller carry each story safely home. And though there is a pleasantly competitive edge—it is a story-off, of sorts, after all—the overriding spirit is of encouragement. Every single storyteller mastered their nerves enough to deliver the audience from fear they’d seize up—and the best of them were nimble enough to riff off the emerging themes of the evening.
There’s still a pleasant feeling of discovery about The Porch, something of the speakeasy to it, with marketing solely by word of mouth and a quiet Facebook page, and yet the big barn was heaving and the library full to capacity. Judging from the evangelical spirit in people leaving, The Porch will be needing advance ticketing soon.
It’s a treat, in the streaming proliferation of content, to have an evening where you had to be there—so go, before everyone knows: facebook.com/events/1665282513736398/.