One of the most magical aspects about spoken word stories and poetry is the connection you make with a singular group of people. After COVID-19 threw live performances for a loop, Pivot Spokane is back and ready to share more than ever.
In normal times, Pivot features local storytellers who take the stage in front of a big audience to deliver a memorized tale centered on a particular theme. At the beginning of the pandemic, though, as live events were canceled for the better part of a year, the organization adapted to give back to the community of artists that has given them so much, while keeping the storytelling spirit alive online.
Pivot accepted two rounds of online video submissions of people performing their stories, with first, second and third places winning $50 to $150. According to Morgan Marum, Pivot board member and head of digital marketing, the organization wanted to give back because so many people have generously given to Pivot in the past.
Now, though, Pivot is ready to get back into the swing of things with its first public virtual event March 11, with five storytellers performing live on stage the way they would have pre-pandemic, with the stories streamed to an audience at home.
"This last year has given us all more stories to tell, and that pent-up energy is just aching to be released," says Eric Woodard, president of Pivot. "We ran two successful video contests during that time, but in all honesty, it's just not the same as gathering together with the community and hearing the stories in the same space at the same time. We miss those inspiring and cathartic moments. I hope this livestream will scratch that itch just a little bit."
While the public might miss out on the in-room experience, the Pivot team plans to get performers into its familiar performance space. Pivot will be broadcast from the Washington Cracker Building to capture some of that original Pivot magic, Marum says. Between the storytellers, board members and technical staff, she figures there will be about 20 people in a space with a capacity for 300.
Everyone will be masked and remain socially distanced, she added, although storytellers will be allowed to remove their masks when they perform their respective pieces. Storytellers will be at least 20 feet from the others in the room, on a raised stage.
Ross Carper, executive director of Feast World Kitchen in Spokane, has been writing for a long time and has always enjoyed hearing the stories shared at Pivot and national storytelling group the Moth. Being a part of Pivot has been a goal of his for a while, and with this event he will finally achieve it.
"I'm so happy this opportunity came up. I love writing and storytelling, but I'm not a big fan of writing and submitting to journals that aren't a part of my community," Carper says. "I love when storytelling, writing and creativity can be shared in a community kind of way."
The Pivot board decided on the theme of "Out of the Ashes" for the March 11 show for a very relevant reason.
"We talked to each other for an hour to figure out what kinds of stories would feed people's hunger for connection," Marum says of the board's deliberations on a theme. "People's stories about coming out of the ashes could be about resilience, but it could be about really anything."
For Carper, "Out of the Ashes" was incredibly relatable.
"It's a personal story, a kind of tumultuous dichotomy of the last year or so," Carper says of his piece. "We had a stillborn baby in March right when the whole world shut down from COVID. That was right as we were launching Feast World Kitchen, and those things combined into what the theme of the story is — launching something new with enthusiasm, that I believe in, while experiencing the worst loss and grief I've ever had."
The parallel journeys with loss and launching something that the community has really come to support is the theme of Carper's story, and the roadblocks of the pandemic aren't enough to stop him from sharing the experience at Pivot. Carper says he's worked to edit his own writing to extract mentions of the pandemic, noting "not everything is about COVID." And he's not going to let the restrictions forced on his Pivot debut get him down.
"It would be more fun to be in front of a live audience, but it's not that big of a deal," Carper says. "It's a fun and different challenge, and I'm thankful to be a part of it."
While the Pivot team continues to march on despite the challenges COVID-19 brings, its main focus of sharing stories and experiences to connect people in the community has never wavered.
"I think storytelling and stories in general are the most universal language, and people right now need to know that they're not alone," Marum says. "Pivot really strives to be that community connector that allows people to be seen and that's how change effectively happens, so we are really grateful for the opportunity to put on this event." ♦
Pivot: Out of the Ashes • Thu, March 11 at 7 pm; available online for 48 hours • $5 • Online; tickets and stream at pivot.veeps.com