Not a “best of” anthology but a showcase of how our switched-up storytelling series has evolved over the past decade.
No, YOU Tell It! (NYTI) is a nonfiction development and reading series where storytellers first work together to create their true tales on the page, then swap stories to embody each other’s experiences on stage. We value cooperation over competition, supporting participants as they produce personal stories from the inside out.
I have been working on our NYTI elevator pitch for the past ten years — for approaching potential storytellers, for marketing materials, for our website (once we got one). Hell, I’ve even recited it in an elevator. But no elevator ride seems long enough. It is impossible to capture all the connection, knowledge, laughter, tears, and joy No, YOU Tell It! manifests before the doors open and the ride ends.
The series began as an experiment in 2012 when I gathered four friends with varied creative backgrounds — Jorge Cordova, David Harrell, Jeremy Holmes, and Erika Iverson — to provide artistic and emotional scaffolding for each other as they wrote and traded true tales. All four brought in stories that wrestled with their different religious upbringings. Thus the first show theme, “Religion,” was born.
That show is also an origin story for one of my favorite aspects of No, YOU Tell It! We’d rented a small studio space for the performance and were running out of room for the audience, so I asked the storytellers to sit up on stage. Afterward, so many people shared how much they loved watching the author’s face as their partner performed their story, we’ve had the story partners sit up on stage together ever since.
No, YOU Tell It! is unique in that it asks participants to tell each other’s stories. There is an extra effort involved, but there is also a kind of freedom. For that first show, Erika wrote a raw story about her mother’s recent death. At one point in developing it she turned to her story partner, Jorge, and said,
“I don’t think I can read this out loud. But I can let you read it.”