It’s a popular weekend for storytelling. Not only does the Quebec Intercultural Storytelling Festival launch tonight, but it’s also the opening night for another storytelling event – one that might not be as kid-friendly. Nisha Coleman and Jeff Gandell swap stories in Things Drugs Taught Me, playing at Mainline tonight through to Sunday. The show features the two seasoned performers recounting hilarious and heartwarming tales about their wildly contrasting drug experiences.
It takes a lot of skill to be an engaging raconteur. Timing, tone and a strong audience connection are key elements to spinning a successful tale. When executed poorly, storytelling events can be tedious. When done well, however, they can can be an intense collective experience. Gandell and Coleman are no strangers to this art form. Coleman is a writer, translator and musician based in Montreal. Her memoir Busker: Stories from the Streets of Paris documents the years she spent living as a street musician in Paris. She has performed at Ladyfest, is a regular storyteller at Yarn and Confabulation and her work has been featured on WireTap and No More Radio.
Jeff Gandell’s first one-man show, The Balding, was nominated for Best Comedy at the 2013 Montreal Fringe Festival, and has since played for sold-out audiences across Canada. He debuted a second one-man show, Danger Unit, at the 2014 Montreal Fringe, and frequently performs at Confabulation and other storytelling events. Since 2012, he’s curated Yarn, a storytelling event in Montreal.
I caught up Jeff and Nisha on the eve of their first show for a quick chat:
Andrea Stanford (AS): What was the inspiration for this piece?
Jeff Gandell (JG): We did drugs! Not together. But we each had moving and interesting and terrifying drug experiences that we felt other people should hear about. When we were originally brainstorming the show, we thought it would be illuminating to contrast our drug experiences, seeing as how I had done much more than Nisha.
Nisha Coleman (NC): But when we started writing and rehearsing the show, we found more points of connection between our experiences than we had anticipated. It was a pleasant bit of karmic luck, not unlike the kind that often follows from a good drug trip.
JG: Speaking of connections, in the process of rehearsing, we both developed mysterious markings on our third eyes. I have a big zit there, and Nisha has a rash. We’re hoping it’ll clear up before opening night, but also, kind of not.
AS: What is the format for the show?
NC: We are alternating stories, back and forth.
JG: It is like a merry drug carousel.
AS: What is the appeal of storytelling and how does it differ from stand-up?
NC: You get a story arc, which you don’t need to have in stand-up. Storytelling can be more intimate.
JG: You don’t have to get a laugh every ten seconds in storytelling, which is very freeing. There’s potential to delve deeper into your own character in a more theatrical way.
AS: What are you hoping the audience takes away from the show?
JG: A feeling that they’re not alone in their shame and amusement over the stupid things they’ve done in life.
AS: In one very short sentence, describe why people should come to the show.
NC: We took all the drugs so they don’t have to.
Things Drugs plays at the Mainline Theatre from October 15-18 at 8 p.m., with a matinee on Sunday at 2 p.m. $12