Theater / Performance

Risk! (Underground Arts, 11Apr14)

What they say it is:

“The undisputed G-spot of the 12th annual First Person Arts Festival” (Phindie) returns! Host Kevin Allison of MTV’s The State, Reno 911, and Flight of the Concords, brings together a cast of leading storytellers to tell jaw-dropping stories they never thought they’d dare share in public on the theme “Revelation”. Check out video of past RISK shows here. And listen to the RISK podcast here. With performances by Kitty HaileyAlex Kacala, and Teresa Marquard, and Olga Schmutz.

NEW Clay Says graphic Ernie


PLEASE NOTE: This review is being published to our blog more than a year after the show itself took place.  Due to having an amazing, exciting, and constantly busy life, sometimes these things get drafted and never quite finished.  Thus, you’ll note that Tara’s entry below is very brief, but we wanted to get something ‘on paper’ for this event.  Thanks for your understanding.  After all–this IS free media. ;’]

Tara discovered this event and pitched it to me as “sort of like The Moth or a live version of This American Life”.  In other words, a storyslam featuring personal narratives and onstage storytelling along a loosely defined theme.  Sounded good, and I was all-in.  A bonus of attending this event was the venue; we’d never seen a show at Underground Arts.  We’d actually almost come a few months ago, but our visit was delayed when the promoter shafted S.T.A.R.W.O.O.D. ( )—an incredible space-invaders/psych rock band—by cutting them from a headlining bill.  Ah well.

Underground Arts lives up to it’s name—it’s a basement, albeit a very nice basement.  Regardless, we’re Philadelphians, so seeing awesome art in what would otherwise be a dusty, dark storage compartment is familiar territory.  Thankfully, the venue has a decent stage, a neon-lit bar, and plenty of seating (folding chairs on concrete).  It’s not bad at all, and is ‘rustic’ enough to exude that undefinably authentic, unpretentious Philly cred.

The show started well past the 8 PM ticket time, causing my partner (who had to work early the next AM) some fair amount of distress. We killed a few minutes by musing what comical outcomes would transpire if I took charge of the situation and marched onstage myself, starting the evening with an unsolicited storytelling moment of my own.  Alas, Kevin Allison—the legitimate host—kicked things off before I could grow a pair and sabotage the event.

Kevin was hilarious, and somewhat regrettably, was also the best performance of the evening (it’s all downhill from here!).  Sure, it’s a bit unfair to compare a professional actor to “regular folks” just telling stories from their lives, but the contrast was unfortunate—he was so animated and comical that the other stories (barring one specific exception) had an impossible task to match.  Kevin’s autobiographical anecdote revolved around his experiences with anonymous gay sex whilst in college, the day he contracted crabs (the night before graduation), and his revelation of said crabs to his visiting parents.  I mean, it basically writes itself—and the audience was in an uproar.  He killed it, and easily earned half of the ticket price ($25) himself.


I’m not going to spend a ton of time tearing down the other performers—it’s too insulting and trite, not to mention cheesy and critically irresponsible…primarily because average, everyday folks should not be held to the same standards as a professional entertainer. On the other hand, the other four folks who’d been selected to workshop and present their stories (i.e. be on a stage!) are definitely opening themselves for legitimate audience reactions, and as a result, I don’t feel bad about having some opinions.  In general, I wasn’t terribly bored, but at the same time, at least two of the speakers spent far too much time recounting personal tragedies in excruciating detail and overwrought emotional language.  Instead of evoking my sympathy, those performances pushed me into the “this needs an editor” mindset.  I was also unable to enjoy the show without constantly imaging Tara’s reactions . . . she’s less of a fan of “wah wah my life is terrible” anecdotes than even myself.  Anyway, while there were 2 great narratives, 1 middling (in my humble opinion), I can’t deny that two back-to-back Debbie Downers harmed the event’s pacing and ruined any chance of walkaway enjoyment.

Speaking to the good, though, there was no doubt which amateur storyteller won the evening—it was a boisterous, hilarious, woman who, in an amazing disregard for any sense of embarrassment or “maybe I shouldn’t talk about such things in public, much less via microphone to audiences”, gave us a hyper-detailed description of her wild experiments in bisexuality and strap-on sex.  Beyond her titillating subject matter, she was simply a hilarious speaker, gifted with that ability to simply entertain an audience with her sheer force of will, wit, and unmistakable authority.  Her story would have horrified anyone with hangups over X -Rated subject matter—but if you could hang with that, her ride was awesomely entertaining.  Equality in sex via democratic use of a strap-on?  I can’t say I subscribe, but I applaud her excellence in ‘telling it like it is’, at least for her worldview.

Summary?  It was a good time.  If some of the narrative would have been stronger, it would have helped justify the ticketprice a bit more, but as it was, I’m calling it a win for a Friday night activity, and occasionally enjoy listening to the Risk! podcast, to which Tara now subscribes.

NEW Tara Says Graphic

Thanks to our attendance at this show, I now listen to Risk! podcast almost every time I am cooking.  The attraction of this online show is that the stories are curated.  In fact, the story about ‘Carlitos’–i.e. the strap-on story Clay mentions above–made it onto an actual Risk! podcast!  I personally really had a great time at the live show.  The best story of the evening was of course ‘Carlitos’, and the rest of the stories were still a worthwhile experience, though they did not contain the same level of storytelling chops.  Regardless, I have a great respect for everyone that took the stage.  I am a terrible story teller . . . just ask Clay.   So, I respect these people for taking the stage in front of strangers and not getting totally tangential like I do!

Like I said, I love the convenience of the podcast and the curated quality—but there is definitely something worthwhile about witnessing the stories of other people live and in-person.





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