Story Jam


When Wilmette resident Stephanie Rogers recruits performers at the Chicago live lit events she frequents for her Story Jam show, she warns them that they need to have a sense of humor.

The series, which she launched in 2014 and now runs once a month at the Wilmette Theatre, fuses storytelling with music, with a band performing songs Rogers writes based on each of the night's five tales.

"We echo the stories," Rogers said. "If somebody tells a really sad story, I might write a really irreverent, quirky funny song as an answer to that story to lighten the mood and shift the timbre of the evening."

The stories are submitted ahead of time to give Rogers time to work on her music. In one case, a story by a Wilmette man about how he quit weed and alcohol and spent a year eating vegan and doing yoga only to have a heart attack involved her crooning about drugs while backup singers used "heart attack" as a refrain. For a piece about a girl's happiness when the pet monkey her parents wanted her to think of as a sibling, died, Rogers penned a dramatic musical piece as a tribute to the play that shares the monkey's name.

Sometimes a story makes Rogers shift away from her mocking tone, as she did for a story about a woman's guilt that she lied to her deaf parents about what was being said at school conferences.

"It ends with audience thinking, 'Wow, I shouldn't be such a jerk to people,'" she said. "At least I felt that way. So I sang a song that was a real ballad and really serious because that was too touchy a subject to mock."

Story Jam combines two of Rogers' passions. She began writing songs as a hobby while studying theater at Northwestern University and after college performed music for weddings and fundraisers. She started attending storytelling events in Chicago while taking a class at Chicago Dramatists on writing a solo show.

"You can go to five storytelling nights on any day of the week," Rogers said. "I started realizing there was so much talent out there."

She realized that she could bring some of that talent to her musical performances and created Story Jam, inviting storytellers that impressed her to participate. Now she's also getting several submissions each month from people who have heard about the show and want to be part of it.

"I like to ask the people who I think are telling phenomenal, moving, emotionally heightened stories," she said. "I gather tellers who are culturally diverse, racially diverse, diverse in age and style. I thought that would be cool for Wilmette. We're bringing real diversity to a suburban town that isn't particularly known for diversity."

Rogers would advise anyone considering storytelling to take a class to get tips on writing, editing and performing their work.

"I've had a couple really fantastic writers at Story Jam and they get up and read the story and it doesn't have the highs and lows and characterizations," she said. "There's a little bit of acting to great storytelling. There's definitely an art to it and I'm trying to tap into that. I know it when I see it, and I'm trying to bring that art to The Wilmette Theatre."

Copyright © 2016, Chicago Tribune

MODERN LUXURY, January 2016

This musician brings the racy and refined to one night of tunes and tales.

Stephanie Rogers, host and originator of the performance series Story Jam, has given life to an original art form that taps into her many talents. Rogers, a singer-songwriter, band leader and actor, is a longtime admirer of live literature and created Story Jam to combine storytelling with music. Each Story Jam features five diverse storytellers who reveal true tales of frankly incredible life experiences. After each story, Rogers and her nine-piece pop-rock band perform an original song inspired by the narrative. “It’s like an edgier, more rocking [A] Prairie Home Companion,” says Rogers, who writes all the songs. “To bring together a lineup of culturally diverse talent and then write a song for each of the stories they bring is a terrific challenge and provides a very entertaining platform.”Each show runs for a single night and is completely unique. The stories range from racy to poignant, and the evening is intended to be a rollicking ride. “I curate the night so it has highs and lows–it’s a journey,” says Rogers. “But we always end up having fun.” Rogers’ aim is to put on an entertaining show, but in addition, she says, “I hope the audience is moved, has a lot of laughs and feels a sense of elation walking out of the theater.” Story Jam, Jan. 23, 8pm, Wilmette Theatre, 1122 Central Ave., Wilmette, 847.251.7424 –MK 

Preview: Story Jam at the Wilmette Theatre

I’m talking on the phone to Chicago based singer songwriter and bandleader Stephanie Rogers. She tells me about her January 23rd Story Jam performance at the Wilmette Theater.

Rogers acts as emcee, songwriter, and bandleader for the monthly event which features a rotating menu of Chicago’s best storytellers. She explains that the show follows in the vein of the incredibly popular radio program and podcast The Moth. She says that there are really only two requirements for a story performed at Story Jam, “it has to be true and it has to be life changing.” This seems like a tall order to me but Rogers explained that they choose “a culturally and racially diverse group of storytellers” which insures that no two stories are alike. Rogers promises “if a story disturbs you or upsets you, something fun is probably coming along next.” Most of the live lit shows I’ve gone to are closer to open mic than theatrical performances, but Story Jam breaks from that mold. Rogers receives the stories in advance of the show and she writes a song for each story that either mocks or highlights aspects of the story. The fluidity of music and the stories is one of her favorite aspects of Story Jam: “it’s really original and creative. It’s a setting where we have a ton of freedom and it’s an artist pursuit” she explains.

The difference between Story Jam and other live lit events is the rehearsed, put-together feel of the show. These are fresh, real stories selected and curated for maximum entertainment value. Rogers reminds me that there’s a “big ass band” as well as the “raw edginess” people expect from live storytelling for adult audiences.

If you’re interested in attending Rogers’ monthly Story Jam, you can find out more here. Tickets can be purchased for $25 online or at the Wilmette Theatre Box office. The January 23rd Story Jam includes performances from Elizabeth Gomez, Lynne Jordan, Kevin D’Abrosio, Nestor Gomez, Carol Moss and Julie Saltzman.