Live storytelling group Secretly Y’all presented “Adventures in Mischief” Jan. 23 at the Hofheimer Building, where six storytellers recalled their experiences of getting into trouble to an audience that filled the large venue.
Proceeds from the $5 door charge were donated to the Milk & Cookies Children’s Program, offered by Assisting Families of Inmates (AFOI), which provides support services to children impacted by family incarceration. The proceeds will go toward curriculum supplies and other needs — such as food, rent and utilities — required by the families involved.
Some of the speakers recalled legal consequences that came about as a result of their actions, while others were able to avoid severe punishment. AFOI Executive Director Fran Bolin remarked jokingly at the event some of the storytellers might be in need of her organization’s services.
“I found it an ironic twist on the evening, it’s fun to come in and have these laughs and kind of think about that,” Bolin said. “It really shows that [incarceration] is not an issue that’s limited, that it can affect anybody at any time and that we need to be empathetic.”
Richmond poet Lydia Armstrong’s story began with her exploration of religion at age 14. Her freshman year conclusions from this study were that God doesn’t exist. As a result, “if God’s authority is a construct, all authority is a construct.”
What started as skipping school to read the Bible ended with an expulsion from high school after ending up in a middle school with a Bible and a box cutter in her pocket. Armstrong said the box cutter was a result of rapper Tupac Shakur’s 1990s influence.
Toward the end of her time on stage, Armstrong pointed into the crowd, explaining that her mother was present. The audience responded with a mixture of laughter and applause.
“I’m a pretty responsible adult these days,” Armstrong said. “I don’t really break any laws, I’m pretty straight-laced. I definitely feel like my adolescence was tremendous in helping to mold my world viewpoint and how I frame things and how I think about the world.”
Kathleen Brady, a Secretly Y’all organizer, said the program’s popularity has risen thanks to word-of-mouth since the first show in 2009. She dates this time period as before the rise in popularity of podcasts. As a result, many people weren’t struck by the idea of live storytelling.
Brady said Secretly Y’all continues to operate as the incarnation of a nonprofit, meaning all of the proceeds go directly to a charity and organizers don’t make any money. Oftentimes, the charities selected are not well-known, Brady said.
“One of the awesome things that ends up happening is people will end up going and volunteering with that charity or heading up another event with that charity,” Brady said, “It’s not just about the money that we raise that night, but also about creating that connection between people.”
Author and Secretly Y’all storyteller Erin Mahone said she was “basically born an old person,” but at 16, she tried out a rebel personality. The phase ended when, “in a moment of bravery,” she sat on the hood of a friend’s car, who proceeded to “take off.”
“I hope you’re all done eating,” Mahone said to the audience as she described her injuries from the ordeal. “I realized I am much better at making jokes than being a rebel.”
While Secretly Y’all does employ a small stage and sound system, the environment of the event isn’t that of a traditional show. These stories aren’t performances, Brady said.
“There’s a big separation between what is happening in the audience [in traditional theater],” Brady said. “With our event, we’ve always tried to make it — yes, of course we want everyone to have a microphone so everyone can hear them — but a lot of that story being is also them interacting with the audience.”
RVA Magazine Editor David Streever told the Secretly Y’all audience of his experience stealing a “larger-than-life” cutout of David Hasselhoff with friends. The group succeeded in taking the cutout, but didn’t get much further. Streever recalls confessing shortly after he was asked by police, “Sir, where is he, where is David?” He thinks he started crying.
Georgia Geen Spectrum Editor