Local Stars Burn Bright at Story Story Night Fundraiser

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Local designer Caleb Chung talks about turning coins into creations, while musician Dan Costello and Story Story Night co-founder Jessica Holmes look on. - PHOTO BY JESSICA MURRI
  • photo by Jessica Murri
  • Local designer Caleb Chung talks about turning coins into creations, while musician Dan Costello and Story Story Night co-founder Jessica Holmes look on.
There are stories, and then there are journeys. Starry Story Night was a combination of the two. This annual fundraiser for the popular Story Story Night—a local storytelling event held on the last Monday of every month—packed the Boise Contemporary Theater to capacity (in spite of the $25 ticket price) on Oct. 27 with people who had come watch five local stars each tell a story, without notes, on the theme of “Curiosity”: Furby co-creator Caleb Chung, young-adult novelist Kristiana Gregory, executive director of the Idaho Conservation League Rick Johnson, singer-songwriter Phil Roy, and dancer and Trey McIntyre Project co-founder John Michael Schert.

Guitarist Dan Costello played with Classical Revolution—a duo with a French horn and a trombone—opening the show with a whimsical theme song written for Story Story Night a few years ago.

Rick Johnson took to the microphone first, rocking back and forth as he stood on the Prussian rug set in the center of the stage. His captivating story began "like many mornings, in the shower."

Johnson talked about being in the shower of a hotel room in Washington, D.C., during a trip to lobby for conservation efforts on behalf of the Sierra Club. He was thinking vividly of the wilderness he was trying to protect and then was suddenly lying on the floor of the shower, ice-cold water spraying down on him.

Strange episodes like this continued to happen throughout Johnson’s life, including at a French restaurant, when a candle on the table and the lemon slice in his glass triggered an intense childhood flashback to his father making a martini. When he “came to,” he had fallen face-first into his plate, his wife was panicking and the waiter was calling 911. Johnson told his wife he was fine, but she said, "You are not fine. You have beans in your eyebrows."

Johnson realized he'd been having seizures, and for the rest of his 15 minutes, he talked about what it was like to be in his mind during a seizure. Even more curious, he said he kind of missed having them.

Jessica Holmes, host and co-creator of Story Story Night, then took the spotlight to explain that the idea to have local notables tell stories about curiosity came from her experience putting Story Story Night together. Holmes said she recently worked through mountains of paperwork to file Story Story Night as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Whenever she felt overwhelmed by the project, she watched video of the mission control room when the Curiosity rover was about to land on Mars.

"It was called the ‘seven minutes of terror,’" Holmes said, "because the video feed from the rover was seven minutes delayed to the control room. So for seven minutes, no one was sure if all their hard work from so many years would pay off. Then it touched down."

Holmes said now that the paperwork has been sent off, she feels like she's at the beginning of "seven months of terror," which is typically how long it takes to find out if a nonprofit proposal will be approved. She said without it, Story Story Night is at risk. If it wasn't for a Kickstarter campaign, a seed grant and a lot of donations last season, she said Story Story Night would no longer exist.

When Krtistiana Gregory stepped into the spotlight, she told a story about researching Edith Irving, a photographer who took pictures during the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Her curiosity was piqued when she saw a picture of Irving in a National Geographic she was flipping through at an orthodontist's office.

When Caleb Chung took center stage, his curly hair, energetic eyes and round torso made him look a little Furby-like. Chung’s story stemmed from his earliest memory: He found pennies on the ground that seemed to fall from the sky and they inspired a state of wonder he carries with him to this day. He then sparked the audience’s curiosity by holding out a small, golden box. The Egyptian scarab design on top of the box suddenly opened its wings, which began flapping. The box then opened by itself, a blinking white light illuminating Chung’s face. He snapped the box closed, not revealing what was inside. 

"There's the curiosity," Chung said. "Do you feel it?"

After an intermission, it was Phil Roy’s turn. Roy—whose songs have appeared in Academy Award-winning films Leaving Las Vegas and As Good As It Gets—moved to Boise from Manhattan a year ago. His story meandered through his life, dropping names like Jim Carrey, Charlie Sheen and Nicolas Cage (with whom he said he shares a matching tattoo). The spotlight then turned to John Michael Schert, whose story of searching for and finding himself after a drastic life change ended the night strong.

Schert was charismatic as he peppered his story with colorful but difficult details like growing up in south Georgia, having a mother who came out as a lesbian, a brother with schizophrenia, neighbors burning crosses in their yard, and an aspiration to be a professional ballet dancer. Audience members leaned in close, taking the journey with Schert.

"We live in a state of curiosity," Schert said. "It's a state of uncertainty, of not knowing."

Story Story Night moves to the El Korah Shrine beginning Monday, Nov. 24.