The Bee: True Stories From The Hive | Buzz Blog
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The Bee: True Stories From The Hive

A look into the monthy storytelling showcase


The slam poetry season may have come to a close, but that doesn't mean your options for live poetry and storytelling are closed until they kick back up in the summer. In select venues, there's a resurrected trend of having open spoken-word performances happen on a monthly basis, and the latest to gain a buzz has been The Bee. Switching off between The Leonardo and The Urban Lounge, this evening of entertainment has storytellers throw their names into a hat, to which they're randomly drawn to perform in order non-scripted stories from their personal lives. Today we chat with co-founder Giuliana Serena about the series as a whole before their next show happens at Urban Lounge this Thursday at 6 p.m. (All pictures courtesy of The Bee.)

Giuliana Serena
  • Cara Stosich

Gavin: Hey Giuliana, first thing, tell us a little about yourself.

First of all, I LOVE stories and storytelling! In addition to organizing The Bee, I’m a ceremonialist, a Rites-Of-Passage facilitator, a menstrual cycle educator and a lover of the moon. Most who know me would describe me as a passionate and enthusiastic woman, definitely with a penchant for the wild and mysterious. I’m dedicated to the empowerment of my community, both local and global, in various forms. I live with the love of my life, a woodworker and the most dedicated craftsman I know, with our two sons and a Karelian bear dog companion.

  • Dallas Graham
  • Becky Heiss

Gavin: What first got you interested in storytelling and live readings?

Thanks to my literary-loving parents, I started reading at the tender age of 3, and within a few years I was devouring all sorts of literature. Throughout my youth, I was rarely without a book. I read in bed, in the car, at school, on the bus, everywhere, even while walking. Yes, I would literally get lost in my reading. I found books and the stories within them to be a welcome safe-haven from the turmoils of childhood and adolescence. Both my parents, and especially my father, were and are avid storytellers, and my father is known among his students and colleagues (he’s a professor at the U of U) for his storytelling in the classroom.

Gavin: Over the years what's kept your interest in it and what's been your experience doing it?

As I’ve gotten older, with a family and businesses of my own, I simply don’t have time to read as many books as I used to, or would like. Storytelling podcasts fill that need for stories for me on a daily basis. If I’m washing dishes, doing laundry, driving, etc. If I’m not singing to myself, listening to music, or dreaming up my next ceremonial offering, I’m listening to stories. My podcast feed is almost entirely full of storytelling—This American Life, The Moth, Risk, Snap Judgement and Radiolab, among others—all these incredibly passionate people bringing contemporary stories together make my heart so happy! Additionally, in my ceremonial work, I do a lot of storytelling, and supporting of my clients and participants to engage authentically with their stories, and continually examine, reframe, and retell them in new and empowering ways.

Charly Keuks - DALLAS GRAHAM
  • Dallas Graham
  • Charly Keuks

Gavin: How did the idea for The Bee come about, and why just The Bee as the name?

Francesca Rosa, my sister and co-founder of The Bee, called me up last autumn with the not-so-crazy idea of hosting a night of lovingly competitive storytelling in December, when she would visit Salt Lake on a break from grad school in NYC. The structure and form of our event were shamelessly inspired by The Moth, which we both adore and had seen together live, for the first time, in 2013. For those unfamiliar with The Moth, (gasp!) they’re a non-profit organization which, since 1997, has presented thousands of stories, told live and without notes, to adoring crowds worldwide. Francesca kept attending, and eventually two things happened: she realized the format could work in Salt Lake, and that if anyone could pull it off, we could, and should. We have very different personalities, but we're both performers and we both really believe in each other's stage qualities, so it felt right to do it as a team. Though the idea was a bit wild, I was game and The Bee was born. Our name is a direct play off of The Moth. Since we’re in Utah, The Bee was an obvious choice. The theme of our first night was “Tradition” both because we are a community with a rich diversity of traditions (even though the rest of the world might not see us that way) and because we had a not-so-secret hope that our community would respond positively and that The Bee would become a tradition here in Salt Lake.

Gavin: For those unfamiliar with the evening, how does it play out from start to finish?

Whether we're at Urban Lounge, The Leonardo or elsewhere, we'll always have drinks on hand to lighten the mood and relax the storytellers and audience. Make sure to bring your ID, as it will be checked at the door. On nights at The Leonardo, anyone 18+ can attend! Doors and bar will open at 6 p.m., with stories starting promptly at 7 p.m. We encourage you to come early and have a drink, make new friends, connect with old ones, and, generally speaking, enjoy the company of our community! If you're looking for a seat, especially on a night at Urban Lounge, come early, as seats fill up fast. As you enter, you'll be invited by a volunteer to fill out an anonymous audience participation slip. The host/s will read these in the interstitial moments between stories while judges confer on scores. This is a great way to participate even if you're not one to get on stage.

Steve Sternfeld - DALLAS GRAHAM
  • Dallas Graham
  • Steve Sternfeld

Giuliana: The host/s will introduce the theme of the night and then we'll dive right into stories. Ten storytellers picked at random from a hat have five minutes each to get up on stage and tell us all a true tale, on the theme of the night, without notes. Half way through, we'll have a 20-30 minute intermission, followed by the rest of the stories, and we'll announce our winner and wrap up by 9:30 p.m. We agree that having stories scored by friendly judges, and pronouncing a winner at the end, adds an element of drama and makes for a very entertaining evening. We say, "lovingly competitive" because it's all in good fun. The judges aren't judging you, they're judging the stories. There are no losers, and honestly, everyone wins, it's just that one person is the winningest.

Gavin: How do you go about deciding the theme of the evening?

We’re looking for compelling, interesting themes. Themes which are to some degree open to interpretation so that we get a variety of stories, not all about exactly the same thing. If it makes us laugh out loud, if we feel it deep within our bones, if we get excited just thinking about a particular theme, chances are others will feel the same way.

  • Dallas Graham
  • Davey Davis

Gavin: What made you decide to hold it at Urban Lounge, and what was their reaction to holding the event there as an early show?

Francesca had known Will Sartain since her days of playing in a local band and guessed, correctly, that he would get behind our crazy idea and be willing to take a chance on something new to the scene. Urban is also a great fit for confessional content: relaxed, grungy, dark, big enough for a crowd, but not so large it would lose the feeling of intimacy that so supports storytelling. And of course, liquor counts: a few drinks go a long way towards loosening up both the storytellers and audience. Will was, and continues to be, super supportive, and we’re so happy to have found such a good match. After our debut, we were approached by The Leonardo on Library Square, with an invitation to host events there as well. We decided that alternating between venues would be a great way to mix things up. The venues have very different vibes and we hope this will expand our reach and create more fluidity between the not-so-different communities that frequent these very different spaces.

Gavin: What was it like for you to organize the first event and how did the evening go?

Organizing the debut of The Bee was an exciting blend of spontaneity and anticipation. We made a little flier, posted it around town, invited all our friends, and wrote an article on storytelling for the Catalyst that went out in the December Issue. To be honest, we had modest expectations. Most of all we were stoked to have a party at a bar and invite all our friends. We agreed that even if we could get a few dozen of our friends to show up, we’d consider it a success. As for the night of the show, our expectations were blown out of the water. We had over 220 people show up! And they LOVED it. The energy in the room was outrageously positive. We felt tremendously grateful to have, in the words of one of our guests, “met a need that she didn’t even knew existed,” in our community.

Angela Lovell - DALLAS GRAHAM
  • Dallas Graham
  • Angela Lovell

Gavin: Were you hesitant to start a second show or did you know right away you wanted to make it bimonthly?

I told Francesca—and myself—that if “Tradition” went well, I would consider making The Bee an ongoing thing. As I mentioned before, she lives in NYC, so if it was to continue, it would definitely be on me to make it happen. The huge success of our debut made it clear that SLC is hungry for this type of gathering, and made the decision to continue The Bee quite easy. We decided that a bimonthly rhythm would be ideal, at least for the time being.

Gavin: What have been some of your favorite stories you've heard so far while doing this?

 We’ve had so many wonderful stories! Steve Sternfeld, my and my sister’s father, was the winning storyteller at “Tradition” in December. I had heard his story numerous times about a particularly challenging holiday with my grandparents when he was in college, but the way he told it on stage that night illuminated his experience, and my memory of my grandparents, in a whole new way. Daniel Geery’s story about his heart failure and subsequent transplant, also at “Tradition,” brought me to tears. The eloquence with which he literally bared his heart and soul to us was astounding. “Attachment,” our second gathering, was full of delights, most especially for me, Ashley Sanders’ story about driving to California with her just-ex-fiancé and getting her period blood on his best friend’s pants. It really was almost too good to bear. I could not stop laughing the entire time, and neither could the audience. Davey Davis’ story of a doomed long distance relationship and discovering a way to love himself was deeply heartwarming. Nan McEntire’s stage presence was marvelous as she recounted a first date gone horribly wrong. And while there were several other gems, the last I’ll mention is Charly Kueks’ story of attachment disorder; her story was poignant and completely relatable.

  • Dallas Graham
  • Beth Wolfer

Gavin: What advice would you give to a first-timer coming to perform?

If you can, don’t come with the intention of “performing” at all, instead, see if you can just relax, be yourself, be present with the audience, and open yourself up to the power of your story, and in the telling of it. What comes to mind when you think on the theme of the night? Follow that thread and see where it gets you. It's got to have an arc: know where it starts, know where it wanders, and definitely know how it ends. And it really ought to be interesting. A strong finish is key. The best way to prepare is to tell your story aloud at least three or four times, either to yourself or even better, to a willing listener, with a timer handy. Keep it to five minutes, so we don't obnoxiously interrupt you. Personality goes a long way, but plot counts. If you're the type that likes to write, go ahead and sketch out your story, perhaps the key points, but remember, no notes on stage. Don't get up and give us a speech or recite a memorized essay, and no stand-up routines either, we're after STORIES.

Gavin: Who do you believe are the mainstay storytellers people should be looking out for at every event?

One of the brilliant results of picking the names of willing storytellers at random from the hat each night is we never know who will be telling us a story. Those who continue to put their names in the hat and get called, will become more familiar to the audience, and the medium, but it isn’t about crowning an elite. The whole point is that anyone gets to tell their story and does. Look for the seasoned tellers, those who deftly pick us up, carry us through a marvelous wonderland and release us on the other side. Look for the first-time tellers who stun the audience (and themselves) with the sheer vulnerability of a tale haltingly told. Look for the stories of your best friends, neighbors, and strangers too. Look for the authenticity of our diverse voices, and you won’t be disappointed.

Suzi Montgomery - DALLAS GRAHAM
  • Dallas Graham
  • Suzi Montgomery

Gavin: For those interested in participating, what is the theme for the next event this Thursday?

The theme of the night this Thursday is “Dirt.” Bring us your stories of scandal and soil. What have you buried deep down? What do you wish you could wash your hands of? Have a burning secret you’re ready to share? How is the biology in your backyard? Are you gardening, getting down, digging, and filthying your fingernails? What is your relationship with the musty, dusty earth? Do tell. If you have a story you’d like to share with us, it’s not too late to put your name in the hat! Write to me at and I’ll send you some friendly suggestions for preparing to tell your story. You can also put your name in the night of the show, as long as you show up before we begin.

Gavin: What can we expect from you and The Bee over the rest of 2015?

We’re thrilled to be hosting storytelling nights every other month throughout the year, alternating locations between the Urban Lounge and The Leonardo on Library Square. We’re also thrilled to have been invited to host two nights of storytelling at this year’s Utah Arts Festival at the end of June; one night will be “loving competitive storytelling,” as per usual, the other will be a night of invited artists! You can visit our website for dates and themes, to learn more about what we’re doing, and, of course, to get involved.