First published on State of the Arts
There are numerous speaking events these days, where famous and high profile people tell of their adventures and exploits. But even lowly individuals have stories to tell. So, This is What Happened offers an opportunity for all of us to tell those tales, and the audience to appreciate just what we all have to offer.
The format is simple. On the last Thursday of every month at the Omnibus space in Clapham, six people have ten minutes each to tell their story. The only rule is that they must be true and it must be from their own lives. These people look like you and I. And they are. Their stories are life affirming and poignant, and show how in ordinary lives extraordinary things happen. Started by Laurel Lefkow in 2014, after she was inspired by similar events, it’s an opportunity for connection, celebration and participation. An actress herself, she says that she finds many of the stories ‘more memorable than a lot of theatre that I see. Human beings are endlessly fascinating, and the sense of wonder, inspiration, and community that these evenings have are inspiring.’ Creating something so powerful at the same time as being laidback and intimate is no small feat, but one that Laurel has succeeded in.
Sudeshna Choudhury told an inspiring and heart-warming tale of how simple feedback to the manager of a call centre employee who sold her a mobile phone went on to change his life. She describes her greatest joy as “helping and mentoring others to make a difference in their lives”, and her ten minutes showed just how simple that can be. This really was a case of the magical happening in the every day.
Some stories were a little bit more epic. Travelling the world with three children is quite an undertaking, especially when the time between a throwaway comment and the first train journey was only six months. Juliette Grassby-Lewis and her husband took their children around the world and gave them a real education in the process. She has been Buddhist for 27 years, and believes that putting your vision out there will help the universe bring it to reality.
It was not always about things that people have done, but also how they’ve felt. Yaron Engler, an ‘out-of-the-box coach, musician and speaker’ has lived all around the world, and explained in a tear-stained speech how love, hope, and tenacity rescued him from depression. A candid explanation of the ferocity of mental illness and the resilience of human beings to triumph over it, his vulnerability on the stage warmed the audience. It’s this type of story that continues to wow Laurel and who she believes are the “most memorable because they are so entirely themselves”.
Another tale of love came from Frederik van der Zeeuq, who has been in London for three years after following his heart here. Roddy Gye has done apparently everything, and continues to do it. A volunteer and consultant at Omnibus, he’s a storyteller who embodies what the venue is about. Thomas Quinton explained what keeps him coming back to the bar and how it feels to defend the truth in the name of justice—and just how hazy the truth can be.
It seemed such an apt location, in this old library that resembled a cosy living room in a large house. The intention of the Omnibus is to bring the literary canon alive to a contemporary audience, and it’s the perfect place for So, This Is What Happened. The locals saved the library from being converted into commercial premises just three years ago. Aiming to celebrate its historical roots and everything they do is intimately linked with the spoken word. We all have a voice. We’re all the stars of our own stories.