April 27, 2014 by Paula Reed Nancarrow
Heather won last month’s Story SlamMN! at Kieran’s Irish Pub. The theme was “Courageous.” Without further ado, here are her answers to my questions.
For those who were not at StorySlamMN!, please give a quick summary of what your story was about. What connected it to the theme “courageous”?
My story was about a true incident that happened to me in June of 2001, when I was on a vacation in Bermuda with my parents, my brother, and my sister-in-law. On our second night there, a man somehow entered my room while I was asleep and tried to attack me. I managed to fend him off, something that I didn’t know until that moment that I had the courage to do. It was the scariest moment of my life. I told my family what had happened and we reported it to the local police, but the guy was never caught, as far as I know. Hopefully he realized the error of his ways and never tried to assault anyone else ever again.
How did the idea for your story come to you? Did you create this story specifically for the slam, or did you use a story you have told in another context because it fit the theme?
It is something that has always been in the back of my mind, never really going away. I thought the story fit perfectly for the theme of this particular Slam, but I had come up with it previously. I first performed it at a Word Ninjas Open Mic back in the fall of 2010, and again during Story Arts of Minnesota’s Tellabration Story Slam at Open Book in, I think, November of 2011. The first version was a bit longer, including more elements of other aspects of my trip, such as flight cancellations, luggage SNAFUs, and the police investigation of the incident (which ultimately didn’t result in anything). There were a lot of good parts of the vacation too, but unfortunately, they are more difficult for me to remember. I wasn’t necessarily planning in advance to perform that night, but because the audience size and the number of performers was relatively small, I figured, “What the hell, why not? I’ll give it a shot.”
Is there a particular practice or process you find helpful in shaping your story to fit within the theme and time limitations of a slam?
My typical MO these days is to mull over the theme for a few weeks, and try to come up with an idea that fits. Sometimes I can’t think of anything good, or I’m too busy to adequately prepare, and I’ll chicken out, but often I’ll formulate a concrete idea on the day of the Slam. I got into the storytelling scene fairly recently, within the last four years or so. Allison Broeren and Phillip Low were particularly encouraging and supportive of me, and I participated in my first Word Ninjas in September of 2010. I can’t remember exactly when I started competing in the Story Slams, probably early in 2011. Earlier on, I would write down my stories and read the print-out, but I later discovered that my performances tended to feel more natural when I performed without any notes, just me and the microphone.
What do you think is the most difficult thing about telling a story on stage? What is the most rewarding?
Public speaking and performing in front of an audience is not something that comes naturally to me. I have terrible stage fright, and although I had done some acting when I was a kid, I later realized that I was more comfortable as a “behind-the-scenes” person (I do a lot of freelance and volunteer work as a stage manager, set designer, set painter, etc.). The only public speaking I had ever done as an adult, prior to my first Word Ninjas experience, was at my grandmother’s memorial service in 2000. She was an amazing woman, and I wanted to share some of my memories about her with the family members and friends in attendance.
Over the years, I have gotten a bit more comfortable with standing in front of a mike and talking to a crowd of people, but I still do get nervous. I sometimes mumble or talk too fast, and I’m working hard on improving that. But it makes me feel really good when someone comes up to me after I perform to tell me how much they liked my story, or how much it affected them. It makes me feel like I’m making a small difference in the lives of others, and that’s a wonderful thing for an artist (of any discipline) to be able to do.
Heather Baldwin is a native of Bethesda, MD who has been living in the Twin Cities for pretty much all of her adult life. She earned her BA from Macalester College in 1999, double-majoring in Studio Art and Physics, and she pursued non-degree graduate studies in Theatre Arts at the University of Minnesota. She currently works in the box office for both the Children’s Theatre Company and the Jungle Theater, and she is also a freelance stage manager and set designer and a frequent volunteer with several local theatre companies. She has performed as a storyteller on a semi-regular basis since 2010, at the SlamMN StorySlams, Word Ninjas, Hot Dish, the Tellabration Story Slam, and the CTC Cabaret Night (her employer’s annual talent show). She is an avid fan and supporter of theatre, storytelling, improv, and the arts in general.
Want to go deeper?
If you like these occasional interviews of story slam winners, and you’d like to go deeper into what makes a storyteller or poetry slam winner tick, Word Sprout has recently commenced a blogging residency on its site. Three posts a week are planned for Monday, Wednesday and Friday: one introducing the performer and why they do what they do, a second letting that performer discuss their “tricks of the trade” and a third talking about an upcoming project that performer is excited about (whether or not they’re in it).
You can check out the first three posts, by slam poet Thadra Sheridan, below: