April's West End Stories

I love films, but one thing I don't like about how films are publicised is the focus on how much they cost to make and how much money they made once they were released. I know that if you're in the industry it's terribly important, but what does it really matter to the viewer? Citizen Kane used all sorts of tricks to save money, wrapped under budget, and still gets picked regularly for those Top 10 lists.

There's another impact, though, one I worry about more - the idea that only things that cost money and are done by paid professionals are any good. Because every month, events like West End Stories prove that just isn't so.

The April West End Stories was held at Poor John's Café, same as every month, presided over as always by the ever-magnificent Howard. It's always free, although of course it's only polite to buy something from the café, and anyone is free to go up and tell a story. The first time I went, only a few people wanted to tell, so the ever-brilliant Ariel told a story from 1,001 Arabian Nights that lasted the entire second hour, even though it only felt like twenty minutes.

This time there was no shortage of tellers, so each person kept it short. Because everyone was a listener, and each teller was mindful of the listening experience, the stories dovetailed to each other with recurring themes, recurring central conflicts. It was a spoken word mass DJ mix.

Some people came prepared, even with props and, if not costumes exactly, dressed for the occasion (like the woman who wore the waistcoat with images of African animals on it and told a Masai story). Other people just thought of something while they were there that went with the stories just heard and asked Howard if they could go up next.

The first half was traditional(ish) tales from all over the world, but the second half was all contemporary or personal stories. It was in the second half that I made my telling debut. I am happy to report that nothing got thrown at me, and it was a vast improvement over the story-telling assignments that I did for my senior drama class ('cos, um, I failed that unit)! I was surprised - it really wasn't any harder than doing a reading.

By the end of the evening, our collective brains had been stuffed with far more good stories than we could ever remember (okay, I'm sure people of Ariel's or Howard's calibre could, but not mere mortals), and the satisfied feeling that only a very excellent film can provide.

Go if you can. If you can't, organise your own.