Meet the Artist: Hillary Rea

Hillary Rea photographed by Joanna Nowak

Hillary Rea photographed by Joanna Nowak

Our series dedicated to meeting the artists and collaborators of Mother/Daughter, continues with EBP founder Lauren Leonard (LL) interviewing audio-documentarian and storyteller, Hillary Rea who is collaborating with EBP on the February production of the show.

Hillary Rea is the founder of Tell Me A Story, a company that supports you and your stories through artistic guidance and educational support. She is an award-winning storyteller (NYC Moth StorySLAM winner, Upright Citizen’s Brigade’s Animated Stories, the Story Collider), the host of Tell Me A Story’s long-running live show, and an audio documentarian with a podcast.

LL: Where did your storytelling journey begin?

HR: It has been a long and winding road, but I would say it fully began in 2010 when I brought all of the change from my piggy bank and cashed it in at the TD Bank penny-saver and used that money to go to a live story slam show at L’Etage. It was raining and on the way there I was splashed by a SEPTA bus. I showed up soaked, put my name into the bag to tell a story, and was picked first.  I had prepared a story on the theme (it was “Emergency”) but I had no idea what types of stories people told at these shows or how anyone told them. I was also just getting over severe stage fright, so the fact that I had to go first was not helping. But I got through it! The story slam was scored by audience judges and one of them told me he gave me a lower score because I said “and so” too much. The judges aren’t supposed to give you a verbal critique of your performance, just a number, however, his critique did help me to use less filler words in my storytelling.

LL: You started off as a stand up comedian. In terms of structure, how do telling jokes and stories differ?

HR: I think this can be different for everyone. There are a lot of comedians who tell funny stories and pepper laughs all the way through a beginning, middle, end structure. I like to find the truth in comedy vs. planning and working out a perfect joke to insert into a story. I like to find the funny moment in real life situations, and go from there.

LL: We share the belief that everyone has a story to tell and that every story has the power to effect change and move people. How does your company, Tell Me A Story, promote this idea?

HR: Yes, I am so thrilled that our company’s missions are aligned in this way. One of our mottos at Tell Me A Story is to be a “megaphone for your voice, your words, your story.” We’re not going to tell you exactly what story to tell or exactly how to tell it. Instead, we guide people through the experience of finding their story and the words to make it come to life so that they may be heard and invite other people to listen. We do this by working with people one-on-one in public speaking and with our storytelling workshops. It’s really all about listening to each other and opening up space to share experiences.

LL: In addition to the business side of things, you host the bi-monthly Tell Me A Story live show at Shot Tower Coffee. How do you select your themes and storytellers?

HR: The live show is how Tell Me A Story (the business) came to be. I can’t really remember my initial process for coming up with themes, but now I sit down at the end of the year and brainstorm theme ideas for the following year. It’s lot of free association and finding words that have many interpretations. As for the storytellers, it’s a combination of people who have told stories at our shows in the past, people who submit story ideas through our website, and former audience members who get inspired to tell a story of their own. I do try to go a full calendar year without repeating a storyteller, so that we can be as inclusive as possible.

LL: For the past two years you've shifted your creative focus to audio storytelling and recently launched your podcast, Rashomon, which asks people to tell the every side of the same story. What is the “Rashomon Effect” and why does it make for compelling storytelling?

HR: The Rashomon Effect came out of the 1950 Akira Kurosawa film Rashomon and its innovative storytelling style. Simply put, the Rashomon Effect is the idea that every person can experience the same event in different ways and have different memories, emotions, and perspectives of what really happened. The term used in psychology (and many other ologies) and demonstrated well in The Cohen Family episode of the podcast. The Cohen’s are a married couple, both psychotherapists, who use this idea in their clinical practice.

LL: Speaking of compelling storytelling, we are collaborating (with photographer Joanna Nowak) this fall/winter to revisit and rework Mother/Daughter as an interdisciplinary event. Where are you in your creative process?

HR:  I am about to audio record a performance of Mother/Daughter this weekend during its Fringe Festival run. I’m excited not only to document the show, but to experience it as an audience member! From there I’m planning to meet with mothers and daughters that have already participated in (or expressed interest in) this project and find the stories that will be shared as part of a mini-season of Rashomon in early 2019.

LL: What about the collaboration appeals to you?

HR: I like that this collaboration is interdisciplinary and tells stories in many forms. In a way the theater production, the photographs, and the audio are all Rashomon Effects of the same experience. Or is that a stretch? I don’t think it is!

LL: It’s not a stretch, at all! I might even borrow it going forward! Speaking of experiences (the critic mentioned earlier would likely take issue with my use of “speaking of…”), what are you most looking forward to or ready to rave about at this year’s Fringe Festival?

HR: I just returned from the first performance of An Unofficial, Unauthorized Tour of LOVE Park by two of my favorite people, Rose Luardo and Kate Banford. It’s free and takes place in (you guessed it) LOVE Park. It’s hilarious!

LL: What’s up next for you?

HR: A lot! Tell Me A Story has a show on September 19th at Shot Tower Coffee. I’m teaching a half day professional development workshop on Origin Stories, and starting Season 2 of Rashomon. Looking forward to all of it and to working with you and Joanna!

Mother/Daughter Sept 15 8pm & Sept 16, 2pm, Philly PACK (233 Federal)

Tell Me A Story

Rashomon Podcast