Storytelling series works to bridge community


Victoria Reeves

Co-producers of Soul Stories Live Victoria Reeves and Johnny Price perform together. Their event series mixes music and storytelling to promote unity between people.

Max Lubbers, Reporter

Smiles, tears, laughter—all three are common at Soul Stories Live, an Evanston event series that mixes storytelling and music.

Soul Stories Live, previously known as Soul of Evanston, began in April 2019, and each installment centers around a different theme. The next show, “Family Dinner: Stories of Comedy & Tragedy” will be on Nov. 17 starting at 2 p.m. at Firehouse Grill and will feature five storytellers.

Co-producers Victoria Reeves and Johnny Price said they intend to make a safe space where people can talk about their own experiences without fear of judgment.

“We started this show because we wanted to create a platform for people from very diverse backgrounds to be able to come together through spoken word,” Reeves said.

Storytelling is an art form that involves reflecting on an experience in front of an audience, Reeves said. At Soul Stories Live, performers tell 8-10 minute stories. Storyteller Reeves hosts the show, while Price DJs. Price said combining the storytelling with music makes people more “relaxed” and “open-minded.”

Now as they prepare for the sixth installment of the series, Reeves and Price said the audience has grown in size. To accommodate a larger group, Soul Stories Live will switch venues from the Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center to Firehouse Grill for the next show. They also changed their name from Soul of Evanston to Soul Stories Live to reflect that performers and audience members outside of Evanston are welcome.

Although newly rebranded, Reeves and Price said they maintain the goal of the show: to create community.

“We’re in this polarized climate that wants to divide us,” Reeves said. “But storytelling is the place that brings us together.”

Lee Melchior, who has performed in Soul Stories Live, compares the feeling to sitting around a kitchen table with friends. Melchior said she finds writing lonely, and the process of sharing out loud completely different.

She added that the audience is a key part of the experience.

“There’s something about it: that you’re sharing, and they’re ready for what’s next,” Melchior said. “You feel it more deeply. And that’s true with the laugh line, with the line that makes someone cry. It’s deeper when it’s all felt together.”

Some audience members like Evelyn Rivera-Palen have performed at the event after attending.

After opening up to a small group following a show, Reeves asked if Rivera-Palen would be interested in storytelling for the next one. Rivera-Palen decided to talk about how she earned a master’s degree after people said she couldn’t.

“I just felt it’s a good way to help people understand that we may look different, but they don’t know that we’ve gone through a lot of struggles like they’ve gone through struggles,” she said.

After more than 15 years of talking about doing something like Soul Stories Live, Reeves and Price said they’re full of energy to continue with it. They’re not only a creative team but also a couple, which factored into why they created the show, they said.

”We planned the show because of our own human experience,” Price said. “We came together as an interracial couple, and if we can feel passionate about each other, and we come from two different sides of the tracks, then so can everybody else. So let’s come together and act on it through listening to people.”

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