Story Time

April 2019 View more

Storyteller Tiffani Desrosiers

By Christie Willhite

When a family in Rachna Prasad’s Naperville neighborhood experienced a tragedy, she realized playground chats and status updates wouldn’t help her community heal. Neighbors needed to really talk to each other.

Prasad started inviting friends like Claire Dee over for storytelling nights. Everyone prepared to share a personal story was welcome.

“We found it broke down barriers,” Dee says. “People talk all the time, but we don’t usually get to the issues underneath.”

Seeing how the stories sparked more intimate conversation, Prasad and Dee scaled up the experiment and in January 2018 teamed up with friend Kat Gilbert to launch The People Tree, a monthly show of regular people relating their experiences, emotions, and ideas. The shows sell out all 220 restaurant seats at Empire Burgers & Brew.

“Everyone has this perception of Naperville, but by having the show, we’re showing the depth and breadth of the community,” Prasad says. “It’s such a beautiful thing.”

Each night, eight storytellers deliver on a theme, such as April’s motif of “Lies, Confusion, and Practical Jokes.” Stories range from lighthearted to poignant, with diverse takes on the topic.

“It’s a cliché, but it’s like a roller coaster with some thrills, some uncomfortable moments and anticipation,” season subscriber Susan Cheng says. “As the audience, we get taken along. It’s like listening to a good friend.”

The People Tree shows start the same discussions organizers experienced in Prasad’s living room.

“At the end of the show, you don’t see a single phone out because everyone’s talking,” Dee said. “We want people to walk across the room to start a conversation.”

Potential presenters can share their ideas on The People Tree’s website, Founders select stories, then help storytellers hone their style and message.

Erin Ambre workshopped her first story for five months before feeling ready to step onstage, only to find she hadn’t anticipated the glare of stage lighting. Unable to see the audience, she made a rocky start, she says.

“At one point, I heard the audience laugh and that moment hooked me,” Ambre admits. “I knew I was making a connection with the audience. I knew they were with me.”

Ambre has returned to The People Tree stage with her “personal triumph story” of forgiveness after her divorce and has told similar stories in storytelling venues in Chicago, Evanston, and Hyde Park.

The People Tree “has changed me. I’m more confident,” she says. “Before, I was a listener. Now I know I have something to say, and it’s important.”

If You Go

What Two-hour storytelling shows
When 7:30 p.m. on April 18 (“Lies, Confusion, and Practical Jokes”) and May 16 (“Coming of Age”)
Where Empire Burgers & Brew, 48 W. Chicago Ave., Naperville
Cost $18/person (21+)

Photo by Kat Gilbert