When VancouverisAwesome.com founder Bob Kronbauer told me he’d be sharing a personal story about sturgeon fishing in the Fraser River at an upcoming CreativeMornings event, I said I’d like to attend. Too bad, he said, the first 50 tickets became available at 11 am and they were taken in 30 seconds. Two subsequent ticket releases, at 4 pm and 9 pm the same day, were also snapped up.
Admittedly, it was a free event and included a breakfast (thanks to Arc'teryx, a sportswear company in search of creative employees), but the story was familiar. I remembered a similar event I attended in January that was also sold out, with 400 people, mostly under 40, gathering to hear eight story-tellers talk about “What Feeds Us” at the spectacularly renovated Salt Building in the Olympic Village in southeast False Creek.
It was hosted by Rain City Chronicles, run by two women who have volunteered their time to organize 11 storytelling nights since Dec. 2009. All but the first event have sold out, featuring a diverse roster of largely unknown Vancouverites telling stories around themes like “Luck”, “Surprise!”, “Mixed Messages,” and “Border Crossings”.
“From your favorite actress to the guy who sells you coffee, we believe everyone has a great personal story to tell,” says co-organizer Karen Pinchin (Can you tell she’s a former journalist?). “Our mission is to provide a community space for sharing these stories…long stories, short stories, music, and beverages.”
Graphic designers (a group that connected to many of these events) Jane and Steven Cox have a similar goal with their Pecha Kucha Night in Vancouver events, which they describe as “thinking and drinking.” That’s hardly a new combination, but the new-ish Pecha Kucha format is. Like CreativeMornings, it’s an imported international formula for bringing people together in person and showcasing outstanding personalities. Originating in Tokyo in 2003 and now used for presentation nights in cities around the world, it allows each speaker 20 slides for 20 seconds each—giving the audience a glimpse into someone’s world in less than 7 minutes. The Coxes have now hosted 21 Pecha Kucha Nights in Vancouver in venues as big as the 2,700-seat Queen Elizabeth Theatre. They have all sold out ($12 a seat).
Then there are former Mayor Sam Sullivan’s Public Salons, now in their third year, packing them in at the 670-seat Playhouse. His format is reminiscent of Pecha Kucha and Rain City Chronicles: 7 or so disparate high-profile speakers at the peak of their game, telling stories. In his case, it’s an outgrowth of small dinner salons he has hosted for years, bringing together accomplished people from varied backgrounds to talk to other guests about their personal passions.
The wildly popular TED Talks on “ideas worth spreading” are another variation on this theme: scintillating speakers in a tightly-scripted format with a live audience. It’s probably no coincidence that the only Canadian city holding auditions for the 2013 TED talks is Vancouver, where twin sisters Katherine and Janet McCartney of North Vancouver-based Procreative Design Works are directors of operations and events respectively for the international organization. Last November, a TEDx local event in West Vancouver featured, again, a series of amazing people sharing their stories and passions.
And this is just the headliners. Simon Fraser University (SFU) has been organizing Philosophers Café gatherings since 1998. They’re on almost every night in cafes around town, offering “comfortable surroundings for vibrant street level discussions on burning issues of the day. No formal philosophy training required; real life experience desired.” The SFU City Program and Centre for Dialogue just launched an ongoing lunch-time series of “city conversations”. In a matter of months SFU kicks off a major Public Square initiative—still more in-person engagements on today’s broader civic and cultural issues.
Every event hosted by SFU’s Centre for Dialogue is full. Every monthly lunch hosted by Rick Peterson’s invitation-only Burgundy Luncheon Club (three speakers at 10 minutes each in a downtown business club) has sold out.
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