Story SlamMN! Interview: Jenna Matthys1
May 11, 2014 by Paula Reed Nancarrow
Jenna Matthys was one of three winners for Word Sprout’s Story Slam in on the theme “Thankful.” For the first time, because of Word Sprout’s new videorecording equipment and the talents of the awesome Allison Broeren, I can actually embed a YouTube version of the story Jenna told in this post. Due to spoilers in the interview, I’m going to suggest you listen to the story first.
For those who were not at StorySlamMN!, please give a quick summary of what your story was about. What connected it to the theme “thankful”?
My story was about being a nerdy kid, observing the secret life of parents, and growing up inside a conflicted marriage, thankful to have survived the occasional wars between them.
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?
I had been thinking about the odd little blue house I grew up in on the East side of St. Paul, and about my father having secret toilet paper for a while, and every time I thought about it-it cracked me up. I started working on it a few months earlier, and dusted it off for the slam and finished it.
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?
I start out with trying to think about the theme, looking the word up in the dictionary. Now I know what the word means without looking but sometimes there’s a surprise. For instance at a recent storytelling event, the theme was Vice. Looking it up, I saw that the word “vice” comes from the Latin word vitae, meaning fault. For me, thinking about vices in terms of fault was a real jumping off point. Then I think about it, the theme, while brushing my teeth and taking a shower. all those little everyday activities. Then I start out writing and keep doing it until I have at least one page of…total crap. That first page is awful, almost always. So I rewrite it about 20 times. Vicious editing is a big part of my process. Then it’s done, I’m happy with it-it’s perfect, wouldn’t change a thing, but it’s too long. So then I really look at it, to figure what I can take out without losing the bones of the story.
What do you think is the most difficult thing about telling a story on stage? What is the most rewarding?
The most difficult part is right before you go up there-cause the butterflies in my stomach are having an old school punk rock dance party and I am trying not to throw up. I get real nervous right before. Will I mess up? Will they get me? Will my Minnesota accent be so annoying people flee the room? That’s the difficult part. The most rewarding part is when I can tell that the audience is really hearing me, relating to my story. I have also been blown away with how supportive the storytelling community has been to me; meeting so many other kind, supportive, artists has really been the best part.
Jenna Matthys is a poet and storyteller from Minneapolis, MN.
That’s all she wrote.
But I can tell you as well that she is not only a several-times winner of Story SlamMN! but she has won The Moth Story Slam at the Amsterdam Bar in St. Paul.
Because of that she will be participating in the first Moth Grand Slam at the Fitzgerald Theater on June 7th – along with myself, Annie Baxter, Ward Rubrecht, Christy Marie Kent, Taylor Arrell-Tower, Mike Fotis and a few other folks I do not know personally. You may know the Fitzgerald as the base from which Prairie Home Companion broadcasts. It seats over a thousand. Am I nervous? A little. Jenna? I doubt it.
A Post Script About Provoked
I can’t post the story I told at SlamMN this past Tuesday for “Provoked” – although it came in first. But it was not written down when I performed it. This seldom happens. In fact, where I generally fall flat is in getting off the page and onto the stage.
The story was a sensitive one for me – one that contains some difficult experiences that involve people I love. Despite numerous drafts, it was not coming together. I did not intend to perform at all, but turnout for the slam was light and there weren’t enough names in the hat.
I put together a very rough structure on the back of an envelope.
Sometimes you discover enough in the process of doing that to make a story work in performance. Which apparently I did. But in this case what was ready for the stage is not yet ready for the page.
Next month are the semifinals for Story SlamMN! and the theme is “Passionate.” There will be at least one brainstorming post for that. Meanwhile, if you’d like to read the story that qualified me for The Moth Grand Slam, it’s right here. Also, in addition to the video for Jenna, I’ve now added the story Leif Wallin told for “Thankful” to his interview. Check it out!
I did laugh at Jenna’s family arguments although I confess to ‘missing’ bits of what she says – I’m unfamiliar with her accent and it was a surprising ‘throw’ because she’s clearly an articulate woman!
Meanwhile, perhaps a voice recorder for the next impromptu performance? A shame to not capture a gem..