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Storytelling speaking out loud, without notes, to a room of relative strangers probably won't reverse the tech-driven disconnections of modern society.
Teenagers still will stare blearily for hours on end at their devices. Our common understanding of "truth" will be undermined with each phony story shared on Facebook. And the new president will continue to explain his policy decisions in 140 characters or fewer.
But perhaps restoring our oral traditions can smooth the rough edges.
That's the premise of The Bee: True Stories from the Hive. Founder and "beekeeper" Giuliana Serena knows she's not going to slow the pace of impersonal innovations with the storytelling collective she launched in 2014. But she hopes The Bee might bridge the breach reviving a gentler and more authentic method for communicating with each other, relearning how to listen and, perhaps, documenting our collective experiences along the way.
In "Women's Work" on Friday at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, six women will tell stories from their working lives. The storytellers, picked from dozens of nominees, will include a student, a chef, a lawyer and a physician. All are advocates and caregivers of a type. Ann Pack will talk about determining she was a transgender person while working at Zions Bank. Cathy Tshilombo-Lokemba, "Mama Africa," will explore her path from refugee to chef. Longtime AIDS doctor Kristen Ries will traverse a career of caring for Utah's HIV-positive patients from the fraught days of the 1980s to the development of lifesaving drug cocktails.
"We want people to be really brave and be able to be themselves and be accepted and celebrated," Serena says. "People are really craving the opportunity to engage with others and be in a space where there's a sense of mutual respect and admiration in a room full of flesh-and-blood people. It's visceral."
Inspired by The Moth, a national storytelling movement that launched in 1997, The Bee is not the first storytelling tradition to emerge in Utah. The Timpanogos Storytelling Festival has drawn thousands for nearly three decades including events at the West Jordan Library Viridian Event Center.
Still, The Bee has built a passionate grass-roots following since 2014. The invitation: "Bring your friends. Have a drink. Laugh. Cry. Bee entertained."
The format of Friday's gathering differs from the regular competitive storytelling events staged every other month over the past two years (they go monthly starting in February). At those events, 10 names are drawn from a hat. Competitors have five minutes to tell their stories and are then scored by the audience.
"Women's Work," on the other hand, coincides with a complementary art installation: "Work in Progress," a 20-foot-wide collage launched at UMOCA in October that explores the gender pay gap and highlights local leaders in the campaign for equality. In that new setting, each of the six storytellers will have up to 12 minutes to unspool her narrative.
Martha Castillo, a pre-nursing student, plans to deliver a longer version of the impromptu story she told at The Bee's August event celebrating "Grit." The 26-year-old daughter of a Utah family with Mormon and Catholic roots, Castillo is driven to talk about her experience taking care of a friend's mother as she entered hospice care. Little more than a month later, the woman died on Christmas Eve 2015.
"It's a privilege to do that for someone, to make their days as comfortable as you can, to provide space for a family to grieve," Castillo says. "I didn't realize how much strength that took."
Before her caregiving experience, despite surface appearances of financial success, Castillo was struggling to find her passion. Well on her way to becoming an accountant, "I would have been miserable," she says. "Providing hospice care is how I found that out. It's freeing. Purpose always comes before money."
For Castillo, sharing her story is at once terrifying and empowering. "Changing your trajectory in life is scary. This feels like the diving board again," she says. "In a way, more is at stake. When you tell your story in public, it's like physical accountability.
"But you have a whole group of people behind you." 'Women's Work'
Six women will share stories from their working lives in this curated event organized by The Bee: True Stories from the Hive.
When • Friday, Jan. 13, 6 p.m., storytelling at 7 p.m. after a reception
Where • Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, 20 S. West Temple, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $36; http://www.thebeeslc.org/events/womens-work (online ticket sales end at noon Friday, with a limited number available at the door if not sold out). Vegetarian & vegan appetizers from Olives & Thyme and Mama Africa will be served; proceeds from cash bar will go to support UMOCA; must be 21 and older.