Sycamore is known for its whiskey selection, its impossibly-packed Saturday nights, and its music — but what you may not be aware of is the quiet storytelling series that goes on in its basement every third Wednesday of the month. Kelley Brannon, Assistant Designer in College Textbooks at Norton and creative writing graduate student at Goddard College, is the driving force behind the event. After a fantastic show on March 20, we spoke with Kelley about the past and future of Sycamore Stories.
Tell us about yourself, and how you got interested in writing/storytelling/poetry readings.
I have a background in visual art and theater, but I’ve always written in addition: journal entries as a kid and poems as a teenager and adult. When I moved to Brooklyn three years ago I started writing one act plays, and I’m currently working on a memoir and an unrelated feature screenplay. I grew up in rural New Hampshire where the artistic communities I craved didn’t exist. After finishing high school I made my way to San Francisco and got my feet wet in the open mic scene there. Later, I enrolled at Massachusetts College of Art in Boston and moved to Brooklyn after earning a BFA.
I began working at The Bodega Wine Bar in Bushwick six months later. Ben and Gina, the bar owners, were really into The Moth at the time and wanted to start a storytelling series in their bar. They asked me if I was interested in getting it going and I jumped at the opportunity — I love putting things together; whether it be a show or an artwork. I’m probably one of 10 people in the world who actually enjoys putting together an application or proposal. I also embrace opportunities that bring creative people together, and of course, I love listening to live stories and writing. I know it’s good when I forget who is performing next… though it could also be the alcohol.
Robin Grearson reading at the debut show
What is Sycamore Stories? When did it start, and who has been featured?
Sycamore Stories: The Humpday Monthly/Night of Literary Madness is a monthly storytelling series including non-fiction, fiction, and poetry. It takes place in what I’ve dubbed The Sycamore Cave every third Wednesday of the month at 8pm.
In June 2012 I took a summer video gig in Buffalo and left The Bodega Monthly in the talented hands of writer/current host Robert Semple. I returned to NYC in late September and it was clear the show was going well and Robert was having a blast. However, this didn’t change the fact that I started to miss the madness and indulgence of organizing and hosting, so I decided to start another show. I pitched the show to John, who books Sycamore’s shows, and over a beer Sycamore Stories: The Humpday Monthly was born. It was by sheer luck Wednesday became the night and I was able to include a sexual reference in the title. January 16, 2013 was the debut show and thanks to the talented writers who’ve been reading each month, we’re going strong.
Sycamore Stories has been featuring up-and-coming non-fiction, short fiction, and poetry writers. Moth-style non-fiction has been dominating as of late; bringing heartfelt, insightful, and often hilarious life experiences to the show. A few performers have incorporated music and sound effects into their sets and comedy musician Jessica Delfino helped kick off the debut show. Even though this isn’t the red scare it’s dangerous for me to name names because in just the last three months there have been well over forty performers/readers and I don’t like singling people out–it’s not that kind of show and I’m not that kind of host. Delfino gets a shout out because I think she usually only plays paying gigs and this wasn’t one of them.
Why this neighborhood, and why should Ditmas Park residents get involved?
Ditmas Park was a random target for storytelling debauchery. I figured since no one really knew if the neighborhood was Flatbush or Ditmas Park or East Williamsburg it would take longer to get shut down.
I found myself living in the Borough Park area of the triangle last November, a stone’s throw from Ditmas Park. I remembered Sycamore bar from a friend’s show I had gone to there a few years back and knew they had that downstairs space. I only lived in the area for a few months, but picked up on its down to earth, artistic vibe. I’ve been surprised though by the amount of engaging writers in the area who’ve been coming to read. The show is off to a great start, and I hope more Ditmas Park residents get involved. The format is open, and as long as what you’re reading is 5-7 minutes, anything goes. It’s a great way to test new material or get your feet wet if you’ve ever wanted to try it. It’s non-competitive and always free.
What’s the piece you’ve heard read that’s had the biggest impact on you?
This is a tough question. There have been such stellar performances at Sycamore Stories in the last three months, and again, I definitely don’t want to single any one person out, but… one of the pieces I really enjoyed was Mariette Papic’s non-fiction piece about the excessive wealth of Boulder, Colorado and the “Republican Boots” her parents had given her. In the last show there were half a dozen performers who had me in tears from laughing, one of them was local Joseph Lindberg who, inspired by Eric Nelson’s sound affects in a previous show, made an entire soundtrack for his erratic story; and Eugene Rosenberg told a captivating tale about being on the other side of the story, recounting his experience of hearing his ex-girlfriend tell her story of having abortion, in which he was the father, on the radio.
Although I’ve mentioned non-fiction examples, there have been great poets and fiction writers who have taken the stage in the last three months as well, their work is just harder to summarize… every piece is a surprise, and when it’s coming form an honest place, it’s sure to entertain, inspire, or move someone.
When is the next Sycamore Stories, and how can folks get in touch about participating?
Sycamore Stories takes place at Sycamore (1118 Cortelyou Rd) every third Wednesday at 8pm. The next show date is April 17. Anyone is welcome to take the stage by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I should mention that Sycamore Stories is prearranged, and it’s not an open mic. I set up the shows in advance but never never too far in advance. Interested people can usually get in the next show.
Sycamore Stories also has a Facebook page (which was huge for me since it caused me to go against my anti-media stance), but it’s a great resource to find out the next show’s line up, what other storytelling series are happening in NYC, and share shows/events that you’re reading in or going to.
Sycamore Stories events are also listed in the calendar on Sycamore’s website, and you can always email me for more info.