When We Tell Stories, We Can Change Stories: Bespoken Live

We’re celebrating ten years of telling stories together. A couple of years into our time as a production company, we realized there was work to do just for the sake of the things we love and not to bring in income. So Rebel started a non-profit called Bespoken Live. We had no idea what it would turn into or just how necessary it would become in a world that could always use more exercises in empathy. 

There’s a certain hum in rooms where stories are the only agenda. It’s the sound of hearing and being heard. It’s the sound of us becoming less mysterious to each other and to ourselves. Over the years we’ve met in all kinds of rooms like this and it doesn’t matter if we’re in an old theater, a new coffee shop, a community center, or a high school cafeteria, the hum is the same. 

Bespoken started as a way for some of us at Rebel to tell stories just for the love of stories. In the early days of 4-letter words shows at the Woodward Theater, we were tapping into our gifts of production and orchestration to put people on a stage with a microphone and inspire a crowd. 

Since Bespoken’s start in 2015, Brad Wise, founder of Bespoken, says, “We’ve been experimenting with ways to craft ‘transcendent entertainment.’ That’s our best attempt at naming something we don’t have exact language for. It’s the magic we feel every time we gather and share stories.”

Over time, Bespoken started adding in more space for conversation to our gatherings. We left room in our time for the crowd to tell their own stories and to join the conversation. As someone who loves metaphors, I’ve always loved the picture of a room where a microphone goes from sitting in one place, under one spotlight, in one person’s hand, to being passed around a room, amplifying the voices of everyone in the room. This is essentially the story of Bespoken over the last year. 

We started meeting more often around smaller tables. Once a week, a group of people who started as mostly strangers meet for Cuppa, a chance to sit around a table in Cincinnati or Northern Kentucky, and share stories. 

Through grants and gifts, Bespoken was able to hire Joey Taylor to lead Bespoken Live on Campus, helping students to combat divisiveness and isolation by getting around tables and telling and listening to their life stories. Teachers and community leaders have seen again and again how empowering it is for students to tell their stories to each other and to make room to listen to each other. 

A grant from The Johnson Foundation has given us the resources to start offering Story in Process Workshops in communities affected by gun violence. We’ve partnered with La Shanda Sugg of Labors of Love Counseling and Consulting and Sandy Hook Promise to host workshops that address the specific trauma of stories that include a chapter of violence and grief. 

It turns out there are all kinds of needs in the world that can be met by exercises in empathy. As Brad says, it’s something like magic: It’s “the something beyond / bigger / spiritual / mysterious that happens when we really listen to each other. We feel less alone. Hope fills our lungs. We see differently.”

To join in the stories Bespoken is telling and changing, find more information here. If you want to join them as part of the Festival of Words with concert:nova, click here.