Amber Blais on Shotguns and Love Affairs With Sandwiches at Raconteur Denver

Curator Amber Blais.
Curator Amber Blais. Amber Blais

Denverites love a good narrative, and the Mile High City is chock-full of storytelling events. But if you’re craving an old-fashioned, friends-around-the-table-after-a few-drinks type of experience, then Raconteur Denver is for you.

Now in its second season, Raconteur Denver was created by Amber Blais, communications manager for contemporary dance company Wonderbound, and a Coloradan with an exceptional network of off-the-wall creatives she recruits for her storytelling series. Blais is a recent recipient of a Colorado Creative Industries Career Advancement Award, a grant she has used to pay for recording equipment to produce Raconteur Denver: The Podcast.   

Westword sat down with Blais before the January 10 launch of the 2017 series to talk about her role as curator.

Westword: How is Raconteur Denver different from other storytelling events? What was the inspiration to begin these events?

Amber Blais: I loved the Moth and the Narrators (both storytelling events), but my favorite thing about hearing stories is when you’re sitting around a table and one story sparks another, and then you have that warm feeling of community. I was hungry for that missing element and wanted to make it happen.

You switch up the venues where Raconteur Denver takes place. Talk about this.

There are so many amazing spots in Denver that don’t get attention. Raconteur is an excuse to explore your city. We’ve had events in venues from art galleries to bars. And I host them midweek, during times that aren’t as busy, as a way to also drive a little traffic into these local spots. The next event is in the basement of the Thin Man in a funky room called the Ubisububi Room. I bet a lot of people don’t even know that it exists!

How do you find good storytellers?

At first I was mining my network, and that led me to the Lighthouse Writers Workshop. They have a lot of amazing writers. I’ve also featured comedians, journalists, random people that have approached me. I try to vet it a little bit: After the three main speakers present at fifteen minutes each, there’s an open forum where anyone in the audience can speak for three minutes on the topic at hand. If someone is exceptionally good during that, I’ll ask them to come back and be a featured Raconteur.

click to enlarge Raconteur  Morgan Hartley tells a story at November's event at Leon Art Gallery. - AMBER BLAIS
Raconteur Morgan Hartley tells a story at November's event at Leon Art Gallery.
Amber Blais

There’s a lot of organic connecting through these events by way of its open platform. I’m sure that this has lent itself to some off-the-wall experiences.

My very first Raconteur Denver event was at the Denver Bicycle Cafe, and I had no idea what to expect. The very first person to sign up to share her story was a woman named Hayley. She and I had spoken briefly at the start of the evening where she stood holding notes and nervously said she wanted to share a story. No notes are allowed at the microphone, so I wasn't sure what to expect. When she came up to the microphone though, she was completely composed and shared a really beautiful story about fighting with an eating disorder. That same evening, I had stories of shotguns, meditation retreats and adventures on Navy vessels. It was a complete success. Six months later, I was scoping out venues for the next Raconteur event and fell in love with the patio at Habit/Carbon (formerly Paris on the Platte). I e-mailed to see if it would be possible to have the event there, and the manager responded right away; it was Hayley! She had enjoyed the first event so much that we were instantly allowed to have the next one there. They even booted out their regular open-mic night.

I've had all kinds of amazing stories, some funny, some sad, some just completely weird. I had one guy who had been arrested in several states along the East Coast and one woman who shared a brief love affair with a sandwich. Most of them end up in my podcast, and some only live on with the people who were there to experience them.

All that being said, I love putting these events on. I feel like everyone deserves a chance to be heard, and I am so grateful to have such amazing audiences who are always ready to cheer and clap and support whoever is on stage.

Raconteur Denver is held every other month; all events are free. The themes for 2017 are Arrested, Nicknames, Spectacular Failures, Tales of the Tour, Pets and Lost &(or) Found. The first session runs from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, January 10, at the Thin Man, 2015 East 17th Avenue. For more information, go to Raconteur Denver's website.

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