David Jang/Mustang News

SLOlio, a monthly storytelling event held at Linnaea’s Cafe, focuses on real tales from the narrators’ lives.

Kelly Trom
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If you associate the words “story time” with your mom tucking you into bed with a warm glass of milk and reading “Goodnight Moon,” then Linnaea’s Cafe monthly SLOlio storytelling event might blow your mind. It’s a whole new experience that relates to a sense of community, honesty and universal experience.

Linnaea’s co-owner, David Arndt, asked Kirk Henning if he had any storytelling events he wanted to host at the cafe. Henning, a storyteller of 20 years, had an idea right away. He had been involved with and organized various storytelling events throughout the county relating to myth and folklore, including a weekly summer event in Cayucos called “Stories around the Fire.”

However, his inspiration for SLOlio was the Moth podcast.

The Moth podcast, launched in 1997, only had a few guidelines: a true story about your life told without any notes and around a pre-determined theme. Henning took these same rules and moved the venue to a more local, intimate setting at Linnaea’s Cafe. These true stories, where the narrator is the main character, were very different from the folklore heard at most storytelling events.

“With these true stories, there is some built-in vulnerability there,” Henning said. “It takes on a whole different dynamic. It is interesting to see how far people will go as far as revealing their vulnerabilities, foibles and tender spots.”

The title “SLOlio” originated from a mash-up of “San Luis Obispo” and the word “olio,” which is a miscellaneous collection of literary or musical selections.

The stories are told by a mix of different individuals in different stages of their lives. SLOlio is one of Arndt’s favorite nights at Linnaea’s.

“You get to hear people’s experiences and how these experiences affected or related to them,” he said. “Because you are hearing it on such a personal level, it often resonates with my own experience or people that I know.”

The stories told by individuals are tied together by the theme of the night. Participants interpret the theme and how it uniquely applies to their life. Some themes from the past include “The First Time,” “Rite of Passage” and “Now or Never.”

“They can even take a piece of the theme; like ‘The Cat Out of the Bag,’ someone can tell a story about cats or they can tell a story about what that phrase means,” Henning said. “Oftentimes, someone can prepare a story which could have been used for multiple themes.”

Regular attendee and participant, San Luis Obispo resident Jean Moelter believes the theme is what helps the audience apply the story from someone else’s life to their own.

“The themes bring out important stories from people’s lives,” Moelter said. “Universal experiences of trial, heartbreak or loss, humiliation, celebration, joy, love. When someone is talking, you really feel connected and I guess I think that is what life is all about.”

This new kind of open mic that has been going on for two years fits into the unique atmosphere of entertainment Linnaea’s already offers.

“We tend to have a reputation for being very eclectic anyways and doing things that are not very mainstream,” Arndt said. “This fits in very well with that. It’s just another wonderful addition to the mix of eclectic entertainment that we offer.”

The audience is a mixed between regulars and people who just happened to stop by and don’t know what’s going on. It ranges from college-aged people to retirees. SLOlio is not for children, since there is no restriction on content or language. Some of the themes dealt with are sophisticated and for a more mature audience.

Whether or not it’s your first time, you can find a sense of community when a storyteller honestly shares something deep or vulnerable.

“I guess my favorite moments tend to be when everyone in the room is enthralled — whether I am the storyteller or I am one of the listeners — where we are all together on a ride, and we have gone up and down with the storyteller, and we are in a state of suspense,” Moelter said.

Those considering participating in the event can look on the SLOlio website for tips.

The first thing a participant should do is look at the theme to see what it calls up, Moelter said.

“Dwell on the theme and see if anything comes up for you in your own life and then practice at home out loud so that you feel more comfortable up there,” Moelter said.

Make sure the story isn’t just an anecdote and don’t ramble pointlessly. Know the definition of a story and stick to it, Moelter said.

“A story is different from a therapy session or a political rant or a sermon,” Moelter said. “A story has a character, usually it’s the storyteller going through something. The story has a beginning, middle and end. It is not an opinion, it’s something happened to this person.”

One of the most important things to keep in mind when forming your story is thinking about your last line, because it’s what the audience will remember once you’ve stopped speaking.

“The last line is kind of relaying the effect the story had on you, or how your life changed, or how your perspective has changed, or something like that,” Henning said. “If you have that, then it can be easier to form the story, aiming towards what that last line is going to be.”

The next SLOlio is this Wednesday at 7 p.m. with the theme of “Call in the Troops.”

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