Friday night at the Sunflower Theatre, eight people took the stage to share a moment of their lives in sold-out show.
The “Raven Narratives” event, which would also be held at the Durango Arts Center on Saturday night, marked the end of the second year since Mancos resident Sarah Syverson and KSJD Radio Director Tom Yoder started producing live storytelling performances featuring people from around the Four Corners. The creators said the tale has grown in the telling, as they’ve organized 16 shows in Cortez and Durango since 2015, with eight more planned for next year.
Each “Raven Narratives” event features several true stories connected by a single theme. This year, the theme was “strangers,” and the storytellers explored many of that word’s connotations, from the silly to the sinister.
Mancos resident Heather Snow gave a dramatic account of her narrow escape from a rapist while hitchhiking in 1979. Durango bluegrass musician Ellen Alterman told a story about a stranger who helped her learn to play the bass during a jam session at a music festival, only for her to learn that he was a famous banjoist who would be headlining the festival.
Each storyteller got an enthusiastic round of applause. Many people at the event were regular attendees, like Chuck McAfee, who said he goes to every Raven Narratives show.
“You just know you’re going to show up and have a good time and be touched,” he said.
Syverson said almost every Raven Narratives show has sold out since they started. The last tickets for Friday’s event had sold about 10 days earlier. Syverson said she believes people are drawn to an event that spotlights true stories from people in their community.
“I think (it’s) the desire for authenticity, for realness, in a world that has a lot of, ‘what’s real and what isn’t?’” she said.
Drew Watson, an AmeriCorps volunteer who works alongside Syverson in the Montezuma School to Farm Project, told a story about a family that helped him out of a struggle with depression while he worked on their organic farm just after college. He said he didn’t have much public speaking experience apart from his high school graduation speech, but he wanted to use the “Raven Narratives” to share what his friends had done for him.
“I’ve gotten so close with that family I was talking about, but they were strangers pretty much a year ago,” he said. “As soon as (Syverson) asked me, I had a story.”
Many of the stories focused on what the speakers shared with strangers. Kevin Anderson talked about the friends he made while on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain, and Shawn Collins told a story about meeting young fans at an amateur roller derby event just after she started playing the sport. One of the most emotional stories of the night was from Dolores resident Zoe Freedman Coleman, who spoke through tears about her encounter with an immigrant mother who had just been released by Border Patrol agents with her daughter but without her husband. Coleman’s story ended with a decision to bend the rules in order to help the mother hold onto her last memento of her husband.
“We are all human,” another storyteller, Dennis O’Brien, said during his own tale of helping strangers. “We are all the same being.”
The 2018 season of “Raven Narratives” events will begin on Jan. 13 with a “story slam” at the Durango Arts Center, featuring all-improvised performances. “Raven Narratives” shows typically have an improv section where a member of the audience can sign up to tell a story, but Syverson said this will be the first time she hosts an entirely improvised show. The first “Raven Narratives” show in Cortez next year will be a youth storytelling event on Feb. 9.