Art News

The Narrators, Denver's Popular Storytelling Show, Is Tijuana-Bound

The Narrators / Facebook
By now, the cat’s out of the bag when it comes to Denverites knowing about the Narrators. The monthly storytelling show, held on the third Wednesday of each month at 8 p.m. at Buntport Theater, is extremely popular – usually standing-room only. The event spotlights a lineup of storytellers who give ten-minute narrations of true-life stories based on that month’s selected theme. (If you haven’t been, think of The Moth, except that Narrators stories aren’t rehearsed or edited ahead of time.)

Since the show was founded by Andrew Orvedahl in 2010, the Narrators have branched out to San Diego, where a monthly event is hosted by Robert Rutherford and Mary Robertson. Selected stories from both shows – Denver and San Diego – are featured on the Narrators podcast.

click to enlarge A packed crowd at a Narrators show at Denver's Buntport Theater. - FROM THE HIP PHOTO
A packed crowd at a Narrators show at Denver's Buntport Theater.
From the Hip Photo
And now, the Narrators will branch out further by hosting a show in Tijuana, Mexico, on June 27.

To find out how the Tijuana show came about and what’s in store, Westword talked to one of the co-hosts of the San Diego Narrators show, Robert Rutherford.

Westword: To start off, can you tell us about the Narrators show in San Diego, for those of us in Denver who’ve never been?

click to enlarge NOAH VAN SCIVER
Noah Van Sciver
Robert Rutherford: It’s different than the show in Denver, but there’s a lot that’s really great about it. It’s certainly smaller than the Denver show — our capacity is 85 — but the feeling of the San Diego show is very similar to what it was like in Denver when the Narrators used to be at the Deer Pile. And even though Mary [Robertson] and I didn’t know anybody here in San Diego [when we started], we’ve been fortunate in that we’ve found a venue that works. It’s a back patio of a cool local brewpub. And we’ve been fortunate to come into a supportive community.

How did the idea for the show in Tijuana come about?

It’s something we’ve talked about doing since we started the show here in San Diego, and recently we got lucky. We met a woman who runs a space named Huerto in Tijuana that’s sort of an arts studio/dance studio, and she had actually done [the Narrators in San Diego] previously. And when she was putting together an event for her first anniversary of [running Huerto in Tijuana], we all thought that would be a good time to give it a shot.

The border is such a big part of life in San Diego and Tijuana, so we want to cross that as often as we can.

With so much discussion about the border and Trump’s wall going on nationally, is there any political element to the Tijuana show?

It’s not as direct or on-the-nose as that. As organizers, we certainly have our own politics, and that informs what the show is on some level, but honestly, when it comes down to how we address these things, we believe that the power of the show is in its capacity as a community-building exercise. We feel that the show, the storytellers and their relationship with the audience is all about building stronger connections between us.

But I will say that one thing that’s interesting about this show is that it will be done in whatever language the storyteller feels can best speak their truth. So there will be English and Spanish, without translation, and the structure and aesthetics of the show will very much reflect this multilingual border town.

The border wall between the United States and Mexico. - CREATIVE COMMONS / FLICKR USER TONY WEBSTER
The border wall between the United States and Mexico.
Creative Commons / Flickr User Tony Webster
What’s the perception about safety in Tijuana, given all of the cartel violence that’s happened there during the past decade?

It’s surprising to me how many people grew up in San Diego and never go to Tijuana because there’s this perception that it’s an unsafe place. It’s unfortunate that that perception persists.... There was certainly a time a handful of years ago when it was really bad. [Since 2014], all of the times I’ve been down there, I’ve never felt unsafe. I’ve never felt threatened or anything, other than being in a city where people live and go about their business and where you’re exposed to the same types of risks as any metropolitan area in the United States.... Tijuana is an amazing city filled with art and families who are living and going about their days and working, so I think it’s a totally safe and exciting place for people to go.

Is part of the aim of the Narrators show in Tijuana to host storytellers who can speak their truths as to the reality of living there?

Absolutely. That’s part of the reason that we want to do more of these shows. I think that it’s one thing for you or I to ruminate on the relative safety of Tijuana. And it’s another thing altogether to hear from people who have actually lived that experience.

For example, I was recently on a border tour, and my own perception when I look at the border wall is that it represents this big, shameful thing separating people. But then you talk to a lot of people living in the nitty-gritty of that trans-border existence, and they talk about how the border is, for the most part, just a mundane fact of their life — that it’s nothing more than a logistical hurdle.

That’s the kind of narrative that comes from a storytelling show where you can actually hear about people’s lived experiences."

Will the stories told at the Tijuana show be available on the Narrators' podcast for those who can’t be there in person?

Yes. We’ll definitely be posting stories from this show, and I hope we can post some of the stories that are done in Spanish. I don’t know if those will come with translations for the monoglots among us, but I’m excited to figure it out.

Visit the Narrators online to find out more.