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'We want that voice to be heard' | Storyfest highlights voices of Memphis

Untold stories of Memphians come to life from the community itself for this special weekend in downtown Memphis.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Everyone has a story to tell, we’re just looking for an opportunity to do so. The Orpheum Storytellers are giving Memphians the chance to tell their stories and have them turned into plays during Storyfest.

"We have a voice and we want that voice to be heard," Cequita Monique told ABC24 during a rehearsal for Storyfest.

Not everyone shares their voice. That’s what the Orpheum Storytellers want to encourage.

"I think one of the coolest parts of what I do for a living is I essentially get to go and learn about other people, and I get to hear things that they don't tell everyone," said Taylor St. John, Director of Education and Engagement for The Orpheum.

For the last six months, St. John and Monique have been visiting communities and hearing their stories. They have taken the intimate interviews from Memphians and turned them into a series of five plays. 

The stories highlight the highs and lows of community members young and old, like Elaine Johnson, who's been an active member of the Bickford Community Center for four years.

"Telling parts of my story has taken away a lot of pain. It’s taken away a sense of not being accepted or belonging," Johnson said.

Storyfest partnered with the Bickford Community Center through the agency Creative Aging, students at Middle College High School, the Refugee Empowerment Program, and the Orange Mound Arts Council to collect stories of triumph, family, coming of age, and integration. 

For the participants, it’s a chance to share, but also to connect.

"I didn't know, some other people's could have been in the same predicament that I was in, and you will learn a whole lot when you can hear another story like your story," said Mary White, one of the Bickford's actresses.

"It seems that to hold the stories is one thing, but to share the stories says that people validate what my experiences have been, and that those experiences have value," said Monique.

The stories can be emotional, and St. John said often times tears are shed. After interviews are conducted, he and Monique transcribe them and create plays. The Storytellers pair the stories with movements, music, and sound effects that the community members act out.

"We spend a lot of time at the beginning of the process, just getting people comfortable, and getting people to understand some of the basics of acting, because, you know, acting and storytelling - they overlap," St. John said. "They're very related to each other and so getting people comfortable in their bodies, getting people comfortable in their voices, getting people comfortable connecting and engaging with each other, spent a lot of time doing that."

The groups will perform April 29 and 30 in the Halloran Centre at the Orpheum. Tickets are free to the public.

Here's a list of the performances:

Friday, April 29 7pm 

The Gospel According to Bickford - Created in partnership with Creative Aging and the Bickford Community Center.

  • What does it mean to put your trust and faith in God? Meet Elaine, Mary, Daisy, Flora, Lottie, Barbara, and Jean--senior citizens from the Bickford Community Center as they share their stories of loss, love, and what it means to live each day with gratitude.

Crash. Crumble. Conquer. - Created in partnership with Middle College High School

  • What happens when your life seems to hit a wall or obstacle so big that you completely crash? Do you give yourself space to crumble or do you rise to conquer the challenge? Meet Matthew, Jermani, Showen, Kelby, Mya, Phalon, Kellie, Contariyon, and Jordan – students from Middle College High School as they share true stories of life crashing down on them and how they overcame its challenges to conquer the world and succeed!

Saturday, April 30 2:30pm 

My Family Is My Heart - Created in partnership with the Refugee Empowerment Program

  • What makes a family a family? Is it blood relation? Is it culture? Is it love? Meet Radia, Aline, Abyan, Dowlai, Lorraine, Ibrahim, D’Jadda, Carine, Nyawech, Dina, Mariam, Leah, Flora, and Wailes—an intergenerational group of refugees who tell stories of how sacrifice, separation, and joy have kept them connected to their families of origin while creating newfound families here in Memphis.

Saturday, April 30 7pm 

Figuring Life Out - Created in partnership with Middle College High School

  • What does it mean to come of age? Meet Edrionna, KJ, Kaleb, Felix, Lily, Jonathan, Nigel, Olivia, Judeah, and Jasmine—students from Middle College High School as they share true stories of how they’ve navigated growing up, figuring out who they want to be, and finding peace.

My Hood/My Home/My Sacred Haven - Created in partnership with the Orange Mound Arts Council and the Center for Transforming Communities

  • What was it like to grow up in historic Black neighborhoods before integration? Meet Barbara, Hazell, Mary, Gail, Desi, Darlene, and L.H.—elders from Orange Mound and South Memphis who share stories of the sacred Black neighborhoods that brought them up and what happened when those neighborhoods were systematically torn apart.

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