Bringing stories to life

You’re never too old to have stories read to you — at least that’s what Stories on Stage: Davis believes. Stories on Stage is a monthly event where local actors read aloud short pieces and excerpts from the works of successful and budding authors.

Stories on Stage was founded in 2010 in Sacramento in hopes of revitalizing the art of oral storytelling. The series became an award-winning event, attracting renowned authors to submit and present their work. News of its success spread, leading local author Jeri Howitt to create a branch of Stories on Stage here in Davis.

The readings are held the second Saturday of each month in the main exhibit of the Pence Gallery in downtown Davis. The show features excerpts or short stories from works of one established author (usually someone who’s been recently and widely published) and one promising author (someone with great literary potential). Each story is dramatically presented by a local actor.

The February show is set to feature Pushcart Prize nominated author Kate Milliken and Washington D.C.-raised author and poet Alexa Mergen.

Actress Shelly Gilbride, who received her Ph.D. in performance studies from UC Davis, will be reading “A Matter of Time,” the first work in Milliken’s award-winning collection of short stories If I’d Known You Were Coming. Milliken explains that the piece is about a mother coming to the realization about “the death of her own greed.”

“It’s so fundamental to hear stories out loud,” Milliken said. “I’m from L.A. and I come at my stories with an L.A. perspective, so it will be cool to hear what it sounds like being read from someone outside the big city.”

Mergen’s short story “Learning to Swim” will be read by Sacramento-based veteran actress Analise Langford-Clark. “Learning to Swim” is one of the first stories Mergen ever wrote and she worked on it for 20 years before completing it this year. Mergen said she feels that now that her story is finally complete, it has become now a narrative that needs to be brought to life by being told aloud.

“I think Stories on Stage emphasizes writing as a living art,” Mergen said. “There’s something very intimate and human about sitting in a room with other people taking in a story. I mean, short stories are always about the human condition: love, loss, learning and delight, things we can all relate to.”

Stories on Stage: Davis is run by a panel of local writers, headed by Howitt, who pride themselves on carefully choosing easily readable, entertaining pieces. After choosing readings for the show, the panel goes through the meticulous process of hiring actors who can uniquely bring each piece to life.

“You really have to match the story with the perfect actor.” Howitt said. “How they phrase passages in the story changes how you understand the story. It can bring out the poetry in the piece without harming the content.”

Stories on Stage has recently become more popular in Yolo County, attracting large crowds that don’t always fit in the Pence Gallery. Howitt plans on keeping the event in the small space in order to preserve a sense of community and intimacy. It has been suggested to Howitt that she raise the price of the event in order to make a larger profit off its newfound popularity, but for Howitt it’s not about the money.

“Some people say we should charge more since it’s getting so popular, but I won’t,” Howitt said. “My attitude is that I don’t want to make this an expensive thing. This is an event for people who love writing and acting. I view writers as artists, and this event is for the art.”

The next Stories on Stage event is on Feb. 8 at 7:30 p.m. at the Pence Gallery. Doors open at 7 p.m. Seating and standing space is limited, so it is suggested you arrive early to secure a seat. Admission is $5.