Sea Cliff's creativity comes alive with storytelling

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Posed inside Sea Cliff’s Creative Arts Studio was a standing mic flanked by rows of folding chairs. The space was illuminated by a single spotlight, which cast shadows against the blank, back wall as residents stepped to the center of the floor, prepared, as well as they could be, to share a story with the crowd.

Their names, written on slips of paper and drawn randomly from a little red pail, were called by Tracey Segarra, of Hewlett, who was hosting her storytelling show “Now You’re Talking” at the studio on Jan. 19. And while the show was sold out, as participants shared their tales, it was quiet enough to hear a pin drop.

“When people are listening to a compelling, true story, they have rapt attention,” said Segarra, who founded “Now You’re Talking” three years ago after partaking in a string of successful story slams. She was inspired to do so after listening to The Moth Radio Hour on National Public Radio. Its slogan is “true stories, told live.” “From there I discovered these story slam competitions in the city, and I was instantly hooked,” she said.

In 2016 Segarra launched “Now You’re Talking,” Long Island’s first live storytelling show. The program, which has been hosted in venues from Rockville Centre to Bay Shore, invites participants, or storytellers, to tell true stories from their own lives. Unlike stand-up or traditional theatre, storytellers in “Now You’re Talking” undergo a meaningful change, or cathartic “aha” moment, while telling their tales, Segarra said.

As the program grew Segarra began offering workshops to instruct newcomers in the storytelling craft. “You’re finding out the details that make that story to come to life,” she said. Tracy Arnold-Warzer, who owns Creative Arts Studio, was compelled to bring the workshop to Sea Cliff after she saw a “Now You’re Talking” show on the South Shore.

“I was very impressed with the fact that the focus was on life stories and learning from each other’s shared experiences,” Arnold-Warzer said. “The arts studio has always maintained that focus on community-building, and providing a space to experience the arts and culture as a way to grow individually and together.”

She added, “Everyone is innately creative, and [storytelling] models the behavior that anyone can do this.”

Residents graced the mic to share their stories, and while each was unique in context and form, they were all well received, with knowing nods, affirming hums or expressive gasps, from the audience. “It’s almost like therapy, and it’s kind of magical what happens,” Segarra said. “When people allow themselves to be vulnerable, and are brave enough to get up and share a part of themselves, you can’t help but be moved by it.”

Sea Cliff resident Christina McLaughlin, a hairdresser, was among the storytellers. Working “behind the chair” for more than three decades, McLughlin said, “I’ve heard it all.” She prefaced her bit by asking a volunteer to sit in a chair in front of her so she could fiddle with their curls. “I only tell stories when I’m cutting hair,” she had said.

McLaughlin offered a poignant tale about tracking down her longtime neighbor, Nina, who had moved to Florida after coming down with dementia. The two were close, but when McLaughlin called Nina to ask why she had left, Nina didn’t remember her — that is, until, she started telling stories.

“When I told her the stories of when she’d stop by my house everyday she sounded so happy — she had a moment of joy,” McLaughlin said. “And even though she may not have remembered after it was done, she knew it was a real story about her.”

McLaughlin said two audience members approached her during intermission — both of them knew people suffering from dementia — and thanked her for sharing her story. Segarra said it was these types of connections that make storytelling such a special art form.

“The great thing about stories is they help build community, and people who couldn’t think of themselves telling stories are usually the ones sharing at an open mic; it’s primal,” Segarra said. “You read all the time that people are married to their phones, yet we all crave human connection. Storytelling helps cuts through the noise.”

The next “Now You’re Talking” show will be held at the Great Neck Library, 159 Bayview Ave., Great Neck, on Sunday, March 3 at 1:30 p.m. For more information visit www.traceysegarra.com/peformances/now-youre-talking.