Valentine’s Day may conjure images of commercialized romance, of chocolate boxes and flowers.
But the Raven Narratives took a broader look at the idea of love on Friday, as eight southwestern Coloradans stepped up to the Sunflower Theatre’s stage and shared tales of self-love, love of the great outdoors and discovering their own sexual identity.
Even the love of sheep made it to the stage Friday night.
“Most kids are excited for Christmas,” said Andrew Schafer, the third storyteller of the night. “I was more excited for the day after Christmas, when we went to go to Phoenix to go to the sheep show.” (After a somewhat absurd path, he is now a cattle and sheep rancher, operating Cedar Mesa Ranch with his wife.)
The Raven Narratives, modeled after “The Moth” storytelling event, were begun in January 2016. The show offers a platform for community members from Montezuma and La Plata counties to share their life stories, centered on one theme.
“It’s a very, very powerful thing we do when we tell each other stories. ... This is one of the most profound things that we can do for each other, whether it’s here on the Raven Narratives stage, whether it’s over a beer at a bar somewhere, around the dinner table,” Tom Yoder, one of the show’s co-producers, said in his introductory remarks.
Friday’s performance saw a full house, as dozens crowded into the 107-seat Sunflower Theatre to hear stories around the theme of “love.” This was the second week of performance for these storytellers, who spoke first at the Durango Arts Center on Feb. 9.
The rules of the Raven Narratives dictate that stories must be true, fit within the eight- to 10-minute time limit and relate meaningfully to the theme of the night. Notes are not allowed on the stage, nor are stand-up routines, rants or essays.
All the stories are first pitched to Yoder and fellow co-producer Sarah Syverson.
Friday’s stories caught a wide range of love-focused tales, with some striking a more lighthearted tone and others delving into heavier themes of self-identity, or of the emotions that surface when confronted with death.
Barbara Balaguer kicked off the night with a story about discovering her own attraction to women. She spoke of being honest with herself publicly and privately and how doing so might disrupt others’ expectations of her role as an Asian-American woman.
A little later in the evening, Bailey Carlson followed in a similar vein, as she told of her struggle to reconcile her gay identity with her lifelong connection to church. Her story, which recounted early crushes and disparaging encounters with pastors, made a full circle of self-acceptance.
“I’ve embraced this true, authentic person that I am, not what anyone else wants me to be,” Carlson said. “And I’ve learned, and I’ve loved, and I’ve grown, and I really just love how gay I am.”
Stories ranged in form and structure too. Some opted for a more linear path, with a satisfying and reflective ending, while others were less tidily wrapped up.
Jody Furtney told the story of her relationship with her husband in flashback, her reflections from a hospital room after a devastating mountain biking mishap at Hermosa Creek. Jack Turner’s story skidded backward and forward in time, as he unpacked the symbolism of caring for a small owl, connecting it to his own family’s roots in the Mancos Valley.
For the more daring in the crowd, the evening featured a raffle, where audience members could submit their name into a Cracker Jack-decorated box for a chance to deliver a spontaneous, four-minute tale of their own.
Alana Bond was the night’s brave, off-the-cuff speaker. She recalled the early days of dating a bouncer while a student at Fort Lewis College, of her own drunken accidents that he put up with, and how he subsequently cut off her hair to get even.
“Well, this is love,” she remembers thinking. “If I can do this to him, and he can do this to me, and we still can share this life together, then this is love. And 10 years later, we’re married now.”
The Raven Narratives’ co-producers are now accepting pitches for their April event with the theme “Rites of Passage.” For more information, visit ravennarratives.org.