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Shelsea Ochoa and Daniel Mazur at Fireside Stories at the Skyland House Co-op.
Shelsea Ochoa and Daniel Mazur at Fireside Stories at the Skyland House Co-op.
Photo by Bri Erger

Colorado Creatives: Daniel Mazur

Daniel Mazur is a touchy-feely kind of guy on a mission to uncover authentic experiences through introspective storytelling. As the co-founder of Soul Stories, Mazur has been doing just that since 2013, gathering people from the community to share a piece of their inner lives at events in the mold of The Moth and other national storytelling programs. That ongoing effort includes this weekend’s A Seat at the Table: How Denver Is Changing, a participatory roundtable of presentations that tackle New Denver/Old Denver issues on a personal level [details below]. What drives Mazur to help ordinary people open up before an audience? Find out via the Colorado Creatives questionnaire.

Every third Friday, Mazur emcees the Stain'd Open Mic at the Whittier Cafe.
Every third Friday, Mazur emcees the Stain'd Open Mic at the Whittier Cafe.
Photo by Hannah Skewes

Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?

Daniel Mazur: I consider myself a "vulnerability junkie.” Whenever I hear a story, song, poem or statement that gives you a window into an individual's soul, I immediately feel warmth and a connection to myself. I appreciate when people are willing to put themselves on the line and say this is me, this is my experience, and you can take it or leave it. Especially when it shows both strength and shortcoming. You know, we are all deeply flawed. And I love that. To me, the best stories, art and comedy show those parts of ourselves. It cuts through all the bullshit and brands, bringing us back to ourselves and our fellow humans. It makes us softer and more willing to listen to each other.

As an event host and facilitator, I am obsessed with creating the right environment. I'm always thinking about what activities, guidelines, preparations, transitions and stories need to be shared to get people to feel confident in taking risks. How can we get participants and artists to put themselves on the line to inspire others to connect to those parts of themselves?

Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?

Mary Oliver, R.I.P.: She was the first to make poetry accessible to me. In college and my early twenties, her words had a deep impact on my soul and my spiritual path.

Kendrick Lamar: He is not afraid to speak truth. He speaks about his experience in a way that is both personal and observational. Kendrick will call out human hypocrisy while also not being afraid to say I'm also a hypocrite, and I'll show you why.

Marc Maron: I find him so funny and so honest. WTF With Marc Maron is my favorite podcast.

Daniel Mazur and Soul Stories friends at 1st Sundays: Looking Forward, Looking Back at the Mercury Cafe.
Daniel Mazur and Soul Stories friends at 1st Sundays: Looking Forward, Looking Back at the Mercury Cafe.
Photo by Dylan Lee Lowry

What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?

The best thing is that people are not afraid to take risks and be themselves. In my experience, people create the thing they want to create and put it out there. They are not trying to appeal to anyone or compromise their own version of self-expression. It lends itself to developing a strong sense of community. Whether it's Stain'd Arts, the open mic at Corner Beet, South Broadway Ghost Society, the Black Actors Guild or other groups, you find creatives who are genuine, having fun and speaking truth.

The worst part is that it is so hard for people to be properly compensated for their high-quality hard work.

How about globally?

Globally, storytelling and art push the national conversation forward in unique and nuanced ways. In our current political climate, the human experience often becomes reduced to buzzwords and over-generalizations. I appreciate how storytelling and art can communicate genuine feelings and individual experiences in ways that politics cannot.

How does Soul Stories bring diverse communities together?

Diversity is an interesting topic. It can be tricky, because I think there can be this appeal in the nonprofit world to objectify diversity as a tool to get people to believe your thing is inclusive. For me, I often think about how Soul Stories can be more welcoming, where we are falling short, who is represented at our events and what stories we might be missing. Most important, I think it comes down to who you choose to connect to and what relationships develop organically. I hope to always co-create diverse spaces through naturally developing relationships where everybody who is participating is mutually benefiting and invested.

On January 26, we're hosting a storytelling and dialogue event on gentrification. That came about because I was at an event, and I met these twenty-somethings just out of college. They love dialogue as much as I do and wanted to collaborate. As a black woman and man, they were like, "We want to talk about race.” The topic evolved into gentrification, and here we are.

As co-creator and emcee of Liminal: Morality, Daniel Mazur introduces the first storyteller of the night.
As co-creator and emcee of Liminal: Morality, Daniel Mazur introduces the first storyteller of the night.
Photo by Delia LaJeunesse

What’s your dream project?

I would love to host a storytelling event on the national stage that directly challenges a topic in the national conversation. I would love to work with The Moth, StoryCorps, This American Life or another project that would be willing to humanize an issue that is impacting our communities, through stories, art and dialogue. It would be awesome to travel to New York City or another city to host an event.

Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?

Love it. I meet so many people who are grounded in themselves. It feels like a community where you do not have to impress people. You can be yourself, do your thing and find people who are willing to support you.

Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?

I would say it's a tie. Delia Lajuenesse, an artist and the leader of Stain'd Arts, has been a dear friend and collaborator. Her work ethic, uncompromising vision and creativity has pushed me to constantly grow and show up as the best version of myself. In my experience, she always put the artist and community before her own needs. Most of all, she isn't afraid to speak to what she believes in. These characteristics show up in her writing, visual art, and the art that is curated through Stain'd Arts.

I would also like to give a shout-out to Shelsea Ochoa. She is a performer, storyteller and educator who is emerging in the improv scene, performs/educates at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science and is on the board of Soul Stories. She has pushed Soul Stories to find creative ways to tell stories, interact with audiences and engage in dialogue. When she performs or tells a story, she has this magnetic energy. You can't take your eyes off of her performance. Look for her upcoming performance piece inspired by ancient folklore from the book Women Who Run With Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estès.

Mazur and friends at Soul Stories: Assumptions.
Mazur and friends at Soul Stories: Assumptions.
Photo by Bri Erger

What's on your agenda in the coming year?

I'm in the process of piloting a Soul Stories youth program that explores identity through community storytelling. We have a team working on our monthly event, first Sundays, where we are hosting a twelve-month series on unpacking the human experience. Local creative Hannah Skewes brought the topic "consent" to the table, and we will be hosting an interactive storytelling event in honor of sexual assault awareness month in April. Dr. Savita Ginde, who used to be the chief medical officer at Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, was a victim of a doctored video by an undercover pro-life organization. Her team came to me and asked if we could do a storytelling and dialogue event where she can tell her story and inspire a difficult conversation on the topic of “consequences." On April 12, Liminal: Expectations will be held in the upstairs room of the Mercury Cafe. It is a collaboration between Soul Stories and Stain'd Arts to host a Stories on Stage event where storytellers tell intimate and vulnerable stories that create a disruption in commonly held beliefs. Also, I am super-pumped for the Soul Stories podcast to drop later this year. We have a super-exciting year ahead of us!

Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?

In addition to Delia and Shelsea, Claire Heywood, a local singer-songwriter, has a booming, intimate and haunting voice. I'm so pumped for her EP release on March 7 at Syntax Physic Opera. I've seen her eight times, and I can't get enough. Brenton Weyi created a play/musical called My Country, My Country, which tells the story of Congolese independence. I've seen the preview twice, and it's a must-see. Bri Erger is one of my favorite photographers because there is so much energy, life and humanity in her photos. Brett Randell, a writer and musician, is in the process of writing an epic novel on human consciousness. As a writer, Brett has a talent for communicating the complexities of human existence. I'm super-excited to see what he creates with this novel.

Soul Stories will host A Seat at the Table: How Denver Is Changing from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, January 26, at New Legacy Charter School, 2091 Dayton Street in Aurora, and 1st Sundays: Fresh Perspectives, from 2 to 4 p.m, on Sunday, February 3, at the Orbis Institute,1818 North Gaylord Street. Learn more about these and future events on the Soul Stories Facebook page.

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