To tell the truth

Sharing stories at Live Bait
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  January 7, 2009




You hear them all the time. From the animated person entertaining her friend on the bus. From the stranger at the cocktail party and the spouse returning bedraggled from errands.

Stories. We all have them. And Phil Goldman is putting them on stage at Perishable Theater on the second Friday of each month at 10 pm. The participatory storytelling series is called Live Bait: True Stories from Real People, and the next opportunity to dangle yourself before an audience is January 9. People sign up for five- or six-minute stints until the hour is booked. Admission is $5. The next theme will be "At Least I've Got My Health."

Every 10 years or so since he was 19, Goldman, 47, has scratched an itch to have an adventure. The first was a cross-country excursion after he read Kerouac's On the Road and dropped out of school. His wanderlust has provided him with stories about being a jungle guide in Thailand, a tai chi student in Malaysia, and almost a male stripper in Tokyo (too hairy).

How do you tell a story so that it wins over an audience?

"Ah, if I knew that!" Goldman says, overly modest considering that he's worked with Improv Boston and has done performance art in San Francisco. "I think the key is having an ending in mind, so you have something to lead toward. Have a strong opening, have somewhere to go, and the rest should take care of itself.

"Having something at stake is always good for a story," he adds, after a moment's reflection. He is having a beer down the street from the theater, before the December show begins. "In some cases, I think it's been sort of cathartic for some people to tell stories they wouldn't ordinarily tell. Because it's not just being funny or entertaining, some people are just being very honest, which is nice to see."

Since many of Goldman's stories are drawn from his travels, he notes, if he doesn't incorporate what he learned from the experiences, "then it's no different from my doing a slide show, and everybody's falling asleep."

Lately Goldman has been thinking about the process because he will be doing a workshop at Perishable on how to tell a story. The scaffolding of a successful true story — which doesn't have quite the flexibility of fiction — is also the focus of a class he's been taking at Rhode Island College on creative nonfiction. He has two books of stories, "slightly fictionalized memoirs," that he is pulling into written form.

What creative truth-tellers does he especially appreciate?

"Mike Daisy, I like his style lots," he says. "Spalding Gray, of course — he's the touchstone. Another one is David Sedaris. They bring in these seemingly disparate things and by the end they all work. It might not even be in an explicit way, but you feel that it's a complete whole."

When Goldman first read some Sedaris stories, he didn't understand what all the fuss was about. But then he heard the popular writer deliver one. "Since then, when I read him I hear his voice doing it, and it's got the timing."

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