The sun had just begun to set over the Birmingham skyline as the doors opened, and the line of people that stretched down the sidewalk in front of Urban Standard snaked inside. Guests paid $5 for admission, a small fee for the rich experience that the evening would provide.
The line, now in front of the register, extended across the entire width of the coffee shop. The hum of the espresso machines mixed with the cacophony of voices and music being played softly in the background as people took their seats.
Taylor Robinson, founder of Arc Light Stories, made his way to the single microphone at the front of the room to introduce the evening’s event: Arc Light Stories. The event is held monthly in downtown Birmingham and is a place where ordinary people come to share, according to Robinson, “true, personal stories told in person.”
“Arc Light is something different from the normal ‘night-out’ fare,” explained Story Coach Erin Moon. “It’s very intimate to tell stories in front of strangers. You never know how a line will hit or where the laughs will come or even if you’ll remember the story the way you practiced it. There’s nothing more vulnerable than performing a story live for strangers, and I think people connect with that.”
Each subsequent story is as engaging as the first. As they share their lives, storytellers captivate not only those in the audience but people walking along the sidewalk outside. Those simply passing by are drawn in, slowing down or even stopping to gaze into the front windows and note the events taking place.
As one of the oldest forms of self-expression, nothing brings people together quite like a good story, so it naturally follows that Arc Light routinely accomplishes a profound sense of community. “As humans, we are naturally drawn to tell stories and to hear stories,” said Robinson.
Arc Light is unique, characterized by more than just great stories. There is a sort of magic that happens during these events. Robinson and Moon both agree that the best part of the event happens while watching someone tell a story for the first time.
Moon describes the single moment when something clicks, and a storyteller’s nerves give way to confidence: “They hit that first beat, they feel the audience react, and there’s this grin, like: I did it, and I’m killing it.”
Robinson firmly believes, “You don’t have to be a professional storyteller to tell a great story.” Each person has something to share, to teach or to leave with the audience, and each new story builds a stronger sense of camaraderie among those in attendance.
“We have such great audience members; no one wants you to succeed more than they do. They are always supportive, always kind, and it makes for such a great room,” said Moon. As Arc Light staff, Robinson and Moon are able to see and appreciate the community that the event creates better than anyone.
“You become a little family unit with the other storytellers from your event: cheering each other on and pumping each other up,” said Moon. “The audience even joins in. They are happy to be there, and they’re ready to share in the experience.”
In the future, Robinson hopes that Arc Light Stories will become an established Birmingham staple. While they will continue the monthly, flagship events, he is also expanding the organization to offer storytelling workshops. Having grown so quickly in the five years since its conception, Arc Light’s future is bright.