Suffering loves a vacuum, because isolation is an ideal breeding ground for pain. A creative outlet can be a release but, maybe just as importantly, what is created can provide a sense of solidarity. Feeling like someone really understands what you're going through can be huge, and the combination of opening themselves up and helping others is what drives writer-storyteller Eric Valentine and musician Laio of local art collective The True Story Project. It has taken them from being two people dealing with pain individually to becoming a collective of artists who have created an innovative way to share their stories on a wide range of stages, which will include the Jerry Orbach Theater in New York Tuesday, Oct. 31, which they rented for a one-night performance of their two-act play, The Mammal Problem, which debuted at The Egyptian Theatre earlier this year.
When asked what True Story Project is, Valentine offered a simple description, but one he said took more than four years to come up with.
"At its core, it's a collaboration between storytelling and songwriting," he said. "Or, it's a collaboration of a writer-storyteller and a singer-songwriter." It is both, but it's where the coming together happens that makes True Story Project unusual.
"We write separately," Laio said. "Then we bring it together," she said, punctuating her statement with a loud clap, as though suggesting TSP isn't truly a collaboration would be met with a firm, "Yes it is," from Laio. "We collaborate on stage," said Valentine, who explained that Laio performs a song, then he tells a story, then she performs again, etc.
"I always tell people, 'He interrupts me,'" Laio said, eliciting a laugh from Valentine. "He interrupts my songs with his stories."
What started out as small-venue song-story-song-story performances has blossomed into full-scale plays with other artists performing as well, from dancers to classical musicians to visual artists. TSP added even greater depth to Laio and Valentine's already profound stories of addiction, abuse, mental illness, death, spirituality and more.
Some of the songs and stories Laio and Valentine perform were written weeks before Laio and Valentine started putting a performance together, while others are 20 years old. The songs and stories are all true, original and reflect their own lives, but they also speak to shared human experiences. Laio and Valentine both hope True Story Project can help people who are struggling.
"Despite some struggles I had a few years ago, I'm happier and healthier than I've ever been because I stopped keeping everything in," Valentine said. "I let it all out."