More than a decade ago, Donna Lubow went to see her brother, Rick Leslie, perform at 2nd Story, an unofficial storytelling cousin of Chicago’s Second City. Lubow, who raised her kids in Highland Park and now lives in Riverwoods, came away from the experience inspired.
“We went to see my brother and I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is great’ … this should be going on in the suburbs as well,” Lubow says. “So, we started Short Story Theatre and we’ve had many different locations where we’ve performed around town.”
Lubow co-founded Short Story Theatre with Leslie and Susan Block in 2012. She says at the time there wasn’t much storytelling going on in the suburbs with most of the action taking place in Chicago. By now they’ve hosted performances at Miramar in Highwood and other bars and restaurants on the North Shore.
For the past three years, because of the pandemic, Short Story Theatre has been on hiatus. But all that’s changing on March 16 when the organization hosts performances by seven storytellers at The Art Center in Highland Park.
“We’ve always had such big crowds and we didn’t really want people to be on top of each other like that,” Lubow says. “Now we’re going be at The Art Center. I think that’s a really good place because it’s a place where all sorts of art things are going on, including performing arts.”
Lubow says Short Story Theatre likes to highlight local storytellers who are people from everyday life. Her lineups are usually a mix of seasoned storytellers—some with professional experience—and new storytellers that represent all walks of life.
“Our next story time, we’ve got a guy who is a retired doctor. We’ve got a college professor who’s done some acting over the years,” Lubow says. “For some reason, a lot of doctors like to get up and tell stories, which is interesting.”
Stories are generally based on the storytellers’ own personal experiences, Lubow says, and she wants the stories to reflect the broad range of human emotions.
“We want the stories to make the audience feel something, whether it makes them laugh or cry sometimes because some of these stories are very touching,” she says. “I know that’s going to happen at our next storytelling because we’ve got a couple of stories that really tug at the heart. And then we’ve got a couple that are just really funny.”
Most stories included in the organization’s events are under 10 minutes, and some as short as five. Storytellers can use a script if they prefer, and some just riff off the top of their heads. The audience leans to the over-50 crowd, which aligns with the demographic of the storytellers themselves. Lubow has featured one raconteur in her late 80s.
She identifies storytellers in a number of ways. The organization has developed a network of storytellers over the years—more than 60 have participated in Short Story Theatre events—and submissions, both oral and written, are accepted via the organization’s website.
“We always encourage people in our audience if they have a story to submit it,” Lubow says. “We have guidelines on our website to say what we’re looking for. We hear or read the stories before we accept them.”
One of the storytellers at the March 16 event will be Scott Woldman, a middle school teacher who grew up in Wilmette and now lives and works in Palatine. Woldman will tell a story, in his words,
“About trying to woo the girl of my dreams in 8th grade on perhaps the worst ski trip ever. It ends in utter misery for all people involved.”
Woldman got his start in improv comedy and says with writing and performing live comedy there’s always a challenge trying make people laugh, and when they do it provides the validation that “maybe people other than your mom think your funny.”
“I started doing improv and taking classes at Improv Olympics, and then from there I moved into doing scripted work, a lot of playwriting work,” Woldman says. “Then one of my improv coaches was in a two-person storytelling troop and he asked me if I wanted to try doing it.”
Woldman become a member of 2nd Story in Chicago, and ended up connecting with Lubow, the mother of one of his childhood friends who was looking for storytellers for Short Story Theatre at the time.
“Somehow, I was put on her radar, and we reconnected,” says Woldman. “I’ve enjoyed the opportunities I’ve had to do Short Story Theatre because it’s fun and I don’t have to go into the city. It’s like a hip urban thing that you don’t have to go into the city to enjoy.”
For her part, Lubow says she’s happy to bring storytellers and their stories to people on the North Shore.
“Honestly, we feel like in a way this is a gift to the community because it’s wonderful for people to tell stories and wonderful for people to hear them,” she says.
Tickets for Short Story Theater’s March 16 event at The Art Center of Highland Park are $10 at the door, cash only. To learn more about the event and those in the lineup, visit shortstorytheatre.com.