These are the times from which myths are born.
These are days of plague upon the land and ailing kings. Of technical magicians who pull stories out of the air and send them winging into our homes to give joy and solace, laughter and relief.
These are the days stories are needed most.
These are the times storytellers have been preparing for, for a thousand years….
In 1985 Multnomah County librarian Sarah Stein posted a note on a library bulletin board inviting anyone interested in storytelling to meet at her house. Eight people responded, including Ken Iverson, Roger Coles, Maureen Pedone, Mary Wiley, Meagan O’Flaherty, Alys Carrasco and Susan Fowles. These were the founders of the Portland Storytellers’ Guild. Ken Iverson had just been asked to tell monthly stories at Ezekiel’s Wheel, a popular restaurant in northwest Portland. He proposed the eight tellers share the stage with him.
As word of mouth spread, audiences grew. And as audiences grew, so did membership. People came wanting not just to hear stories –but to tell, as well.
The choice to become a guild honored the centuries-old tradition of preserving ones’ craft by passing the skills and techniques from master to journeyman to apprentice—thus keeping alive the oral tradition of this ancient art.
Performance is only one small part of what the Guild took on. Members wanted to have a more informal way to gather. So as membership grew, monthly potluck/story swaps were added to the calendar. They met in members’ homes, as a way to get to know each other, share stories and study the craft.
Eventually, Ezekiel’s Wheel closed and the Guild went through a series of other venues, from coffee shops to bookstores to finally landing at the community room at McMenamin’s Kennedy School.
When the performances reached that room’s capacity, the Guild knew they needed to rent theater space. That meant charging for performances instead of simply asking for donations. In 2011, when the Guild moved the monthly shows to Hipbone Studio, it became clear that in asking audiences to pay, they needed to deliver more polished, professional level storytelling.
The Guild took on this challenge by creating a “three legged stool” of storytelling.
Professional level storytelling. Stories delivered by the Master and Journeyman level tellers.
Story swap/pot lucks. Intended to be free, informal, fun events each month, but also a place where beginning tellers could work on craft in front of an audience, and experienced tellers could work on new material.
Workshops to bring the apprentice tellers along in the craft. The workshops have evolved over the years into three-hour long Saturday morning events held between October and May each year.
In 2016, audiences reached capacity at Hipbone Studio and another, larger venue was found: Clinton Street Theater, where we performed monthly from September through May. The pandemic stopped that in 2020, and the performances went virtual.
From the beginning, the Guild has been a volunteer led organization. The board consists of anywhere from five to nine members. In the thirty plus years the boards have led this organization they have accomplished some amazing things:
Tellebration. When the Multnomah County Library ended their long and beloved storytelling festival in the late 1990’s the Guild picked it up and turned it into Tellebration – an international night of storytelling that had been going on for several years.
Festival of Stories. Sarah Hauser, board president form 2010 to 2013, proposed we end our storytelling season with a two-night festival featuring the best tellers in the Guild. We launched that event in 2013 and have continued it ever since. With Sarah’s passing, in 2015, the board renamed it the Sarah Hauser Festival of Stories.
In 2013 the board began holding long-range planning meetings in addition to the monthly board meetings. Here the community of tellers were invited to help the Guild plan for the future.
Thanks to the efforts of Barb Fankhauser, the Portland Storytellers’ Guild has non-profit status; individual and corporate contributions to the Guild are tax deductible and the Guild is exempt from federal income taxes.
Upon becoming Guild president in 2011, one of Barb's goals was to get the Guild registered as a non-profit organization.
Reviewing the requirements, Barb saw that the Guild needed to get their financial statements into spreadsheet form, a process that took time and care. With that task finally sorted out, Barb faced down the 30-page application — full of details that would not be denied, even though they did not apply to the Guild (e.g. “Have you attached Form 8718, User Fee for Exempt Organization Determination Letter Request PDF, required for applications other than those submitted on Form 1023 or Form 1023-EZ, along with the appropriate user fee in a check or money order made payable to the United States Treasury in U.S. dollars?”). Anyone who has done business with the IRS knows all the layers of forms can get very deep, very fast. It has been said that Barb looked a little wild-eyed at that time, but that may just be a rumor.
Suddenly, the IRS popped up, waving a 2-page application. “This is the one you need,” they said abashedly. It was quickly completed, submitted, and in a month the Guild was officially a non-profit organization. The Guild finally achieved its official IRS tax-exempt status for non-profit organizations in 2013, after a journey of 12 months.
In 2015 the board set up a review committee to screen tellers for the monthly performances. Each monthly team is assigned a coach and is asked to rehearse around a monthly theme of their choice. This is how we work to assure our shows are professional and reflect well on both the organization and the tradition of storytelling in the world.
Because of their designation as a non-profit arts organization, they were able to bring their board meeting, workshops and story swaps to Multnomah Arts Center in Multnomah Village.
Members and non-board volunteers have stepped up to increase our monthly marketing on social media as well as revise our website and take on the monthly task of writing and sending our newsletters.
2020-21 has been particularly challenging. The board learned quickly, how to move our performances, swaps and workshops to the world of Zoom. They did an amazing job. Not one performance was lost or cancelled. In addition, a number of additional paid storytelling events were added to supplement income lost by a number of our professional tellers.