Faithfully dedicated to the art of storytelling, local event series Rabbit Box breathes new life into an ancient tradition. As attentive audience members empathetically listen—at times bursting into laughter, holding their breath in suspense or blinking back tears—everyday community members step on stage to tell their real life stories. Vulnerable, powerful and inspiring, these true accounts range from humorous to heartbreaking. The series, which celebrates its 10-year anniversary this month, reinforces the belief that all people have unique experiences to share, and all people can grow from hearing the perspectives of others.
“Rabbit Box may be 10 years old, but storytelling started hundreds of years ago,” says director Leara Rhodes. “We are trying to catch up. We have held 85 shows, 706 stories have been shared, and countless connections have been made through personal stories.”
Founded by local artist, writer and activist Marci White in 2012, Rabbit Box was inspired by The Moth, a New York City-based nonprofit that, in addition to running a weekly podcast and radio show, presents storytelling events in over two dozen cities across the country. Rabbit Box’s name is a tribute to the dearly departed songwriter Vic Chesnutt, whose prolific and poetic discography is altogether confessional, darkly comic and unapologetically candid—much like the stories shared on stage.
Growing in popularity and attendance over the years, the event has moved from its original location at Avid Bookshop, to The Globe, to The Melting Point (now called The Foundry) and finally to its current venue of VFW Post 2872 on Sunset Drive. Aside from bouncing around town, very little has changed to the event’s format over the past decade.
During each Rabbit Box, eight adults have eight minutes each to tell a true story responding to that month’s predetermined theme. Guaranteeing an element of spontaneity and ensuring that stories are told not read, storytellers must recount their tales from memory without the assistance of a script or notecards. Fortunately, story coach Pat Priest is available to help guide storytellers in shaping a cohesive narrative before stepping up to the microphone.
“Every time we begin to select our themes, we discuss how to engage new storytellers and how to promote audience development,” says volunteer board member Connie Crawley. “We think about whom we have not heard from and who potential audience members will be.”
With a mission to connect communities one story at a time, the board thoughtfully selects a variety of themes and diversity of speakers. Often, themes are intended to lend a platform to individuals with marginalized identities, such as members of the LGBTQ, Black, immigrant or elder populations. Others might respond to current events, spotlight local organizations or simply explore interesting topics. Audio recordings from every show are later archived on rabbitbox.org for future audiences to enjoy.
“Themes are determined in much the same way as you name a child,” says Rhodes. “You have no idea what that child’s personality will be like, but yet you feel you must give that child a name. There is pondering. Ideas are thrown out, rejected, adjusted and then accepted. The concept is that the theme must be specific enough to have people identify with it and broad enough that it can be thought of in many different ways. We have the themes for the fall: ‘Wallflower,’ ‘Undone’ and ‘Last Call.’ Ask any three people and they will all know what all of these are, and they will all be different. I can’t wait to hear these stories in September, October and November.”
On Tuesday, May 24, Rabbit Box will celebrate its 10th anniversary with “Back to the Future: New Stories from Some of our Favorite Storytellers,” a program featuring return appearances by Earnest Thompson, Lora Smothers, Paul Guillebeau, Ramsey Nix, Nasrin Rouhani and Gwen O’Looney, plus emcees Stevie King and Tara Stuart. As per tradition, audience members can drop their name into a box for a chance to be drawn as the “crackerjack surprise” storyteller who tells an impromptu tale after intermission. A special table called “Independents Unite!” will be designated for anyone attending solo who’s interested in meeting new people and experiencing the show together. The evening also offers a full cash bar and treats from Tricia’s Office.
“Rabbit Box can have intense personal effects on the storytellers, the listeners and we hope the entire community,” says Crawley. “Storytelling can be a cathartic event that can help someone to obtain support from others who may share a similar experience or from those who suddenly realize how a similar experience would affect them. Other times the storyteller just sees it as a fun opportunity to remember a humorous event and laugh at themselves. Our audience frequently just wants to forget the troubles of the world and enjoy a big belly laugh. That is why we have such a wide variety of themes and storytellers.”
No matter who is standing on stage, listeners have a unique opportunity to hear from new perspectives that, with hope, will deepen their understanding, empathy and sense of connectedness to others. With every Rabbit Box that occurs, the organization’s reach expands further and further into the community.
“In a way, I am not surprised Rabbit Box has lasted,” says Crawley. “From infancy, people love to hear and tell stories. It is how wisdom is passed from one generation to another through the ages.”
WHO: Rabbit Box’s 10th anniversary
WHEN: Tuesday, May 24, 6 p.m. (doors), 7 p.m. (event)
WHERE: VFW Post 2872
HOW MUCH: $8 (adv.), $10
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