Storytelling In DC: Story League

Photo by Abby Greenawalt

I was almost swept away by the wind on Saturday as I trekked down the curvy streets of Adam’s Morgan to meet up with SM Shrake , one of the founders of Story League, and attend their second workshop.  I had a flash of the opening scene to Shutter Island when I was walking up the driveway of the mental institution-like structure. As I got closer and closer to the front door, I heard heavy strings getting louder and louder with each step I took. Fear was trying to take control, but I knew I had to get in there. There was a question that infected my brain with obsession. “What is Story League?”

To get to that answer I first had to learn about the man with the idea of Story League. I had a nice chat with SM who has been a Washingtonian for four years. He grew up in Detroit and lived in Philadelphia before making his way to the District.  He would visit the nation’s capital to hang out with a friend while living in the City of Brotherly Love. (I googled that nickname about Philadelphia. I can’t confirm if people say that, but it sounds nice.) Anyway, he realized that he had so much fun here that he wanted to make it his new home. “What I find fun about it is there’s a camaraderie. The transitiveness of the people. To me that gives it a different feel. It’s almost like hotel bars are sexy. People are passing through.” I totally understand what he means by this. D.C. is a place where people relate instantly, because they are not from here. Fortunately for SM, he was able to bond with people that are not only not from here, but have a passion for live storytelling.

Scott Shrake Standing up
Photo by the author

Story League was founded by SM and Cathy Alter around the fall of 2010 and is a collaborative effort for live stand up story tellers to get together, share their true personal stories, hear feedback, and then retell their stories on stage. The idea to create the project came about when SM turned 40 last fall. He asked himself “What what do you want to do?” He enjoys writing and has contributed to publications such as  The Huffington Post, but after four years of trying to get into politics he realized that “[I] was a square peg trying to get into a round hole.” He was not into politics and did not feel connected to those stories.

He decided to change directions and start sharing his own tales. He reached out to Cathy, another well established DC writer, to organize the Story League and things went on from there. “I played it by ear as I was forming the group, basically picking a few people that are experienced with storytelling in town. The big names that I met along the way, I approached them first.” SM further added that his experience being a live story teller before was very lonely and it wasn’t until the group formed that he realized others felt the same way.  “There are some people that have been doing story telling like this for years locally and they’ve been on the same stages, but they have never met until they met at my group. The camaraderie has been really refreshing.” If you think you have what it takes to share your story on a stage then I suggest you check out their website. SM said that anyone is welcome to be part of their workshops and try out for a show.

I attended their second workshop, which featured Jane Feltes, a producer from This American Life who took the train down from New York City to attend the meeting. She listened to each story and offered her professional critiques for each person. One moved her so much that she said, “This is going to be on the radio.” I’m not going to say which one, but I must say that each of the stories that I heard blew me away. The wind outside was a breeze compared to what I felt in there. “You would be surprised how hard it is to tell a story that makes sense, let alone knocks an audience on its ass,” said SM. They all made it seem like it was very easy.

Their first show ever, Sins of Youth, will be over at the Black Fox Lounge, 1723 Connecticut Avenue NW, on March 3rd at 8:00 PM. Tickets are on sale on the website for the price of $7.

Patrick comes from the West Texas town of El Paso, and decided to make D.C. his new home in the Spring of ’09. He didn’t think that he would love D.C., but things changed after it started seeing other people. That’s when he knew that he was in love. He is on a mission to find the funny in a town where serious decisions are made and hoping to shine the light on the places that force you to enjoy the fun and ridiculous in life. You can reach him at for any comments or requests.

6 thoughts on “Storytelling In DC: Story League

  1. FYI – “City of Brotherly Love” is not just a nickname for Philly, it’s the source of the word “Philadelphia”. Philadelphia is a combination of the Greek words philos (“love”) and adelphos (“brother”). I lived there in college, and it seems to me that people do use the phrase in Philly, but not constantly – less than you hear “Our Nation’s Capital” in DC and much less than you would hear “The Big Apple” in NYC. But it is a nice friendly thing isn’t?

  2. It sounded good to me. Thanks for the information. That’s cool to know. I will use this knowledge to impress people. My hometown is called the Sun City, but not because it’s Greek, but because it’s sunny every day just like the City of Brotherly Love.

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