Bill Holt tells a fishing tale at Odie’s Deli on Friday, June 2, 2017 in Soldotna, Alaska. Holt was among the seven storytellers in the latest session of True Tales Told Live, an ocassional storytelling event cofounded by Pegge Erkeneff, Jenny Nyman, and Kaitlin Vadla. (Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion)

Organically grown, locally produced stories

Stories your neighbors have told around campfires and dinner tables are now being told through a microphone to a public audience during occasional live storytelling sessions on Friday evenings at Odie’s Deli in Soldotna.

The event’s trio of organizers have given it a transparently descriptive name — “True Tales Told Live” — and a Facebook page for announcing the sessions, the most recent of which was last Friday, and the next planned for October.

True Tales co-founder Kaitlin Vadla, professionally a community organizer for the conservation nonprofit Cook Inletkeeper, said she began to think about storytelling — how it’s done and what it’s good for — about 10 years ago during a college course called “Leadership and Storytelling.” The class, she said, was “very much about storytelling as a unit of understanding.”

“It helps you understand yourself and understand others in a way that sharing facts or talking about politics doesn’t, really,” Vadla said.

Her course came before live storytelling gained national prominence with programs such as The Moth, or similar state-level events such as Arctic Entries in Anchorage, Vadla said. Upon returning from college to her hometown of Soldotna, Vadla continued to think and talk about storytelling, now with friends Pegge Erkeneff, a communications liaison for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, and Jenny Nyman, presently general manager of local public radio station KDLL.

“We all love sharing stories,” Erkeneff said. “And we said we should have some live local storytelling thing, like the Moth. So after bouncing the idea around for several months, we kicked the first one off on April 1, 2016.”

That session — with the date-appropriate theme of “fools” — set the pattern that the five True Tales events since have followed: seven storytellers, who are either invited or volunteer, speaking for seven minutes without notes about a theme. All have been at Odie’s Deli, on a Friday at 6:00 p.m, and feature local musicians performing between stories. Themes have included “Strange but True,” “Scary stories,” and “Lost and Found.” The tone has ranged from humor to mourning.

“We’ve had stories where people cry,” Vadla said. “It’s Friday night at Odie’s and people are drinking beer, and then they’re also crying. It’s different than going to a movie and crying, because there’s your neighbor standing in front of you telling a story you’ve never heard, even though you’ve known them for twenty or thirty years. And it’s like you see them in a whole new way.”

Last week’s storytellers riffed on the theme of “Nature versus Not-sure,” a play on the phrase “nature versus nurture.” As an audience assembled in Odie’s Friday evening, the organizers spoke with the seven storytellers, adjusted audio equipment (Friday’s session was the first to be recorded and will be released online by KDLL public radio) and greeted friends. Among the sandwich-munching crowd was Bill Holt — Kenai Peninsula Board of Education member, Tsalteshi Trails maintenance manager, commercial fisherman, and practiced raconteur — who was wondering what might come out of his mouth when, in a few moments, he would step to the mic as the first storyteller.

“To be honest, I’m not quite sure what story I’m going to tell,” Holt said. “I’m flipping coins in my mind right now.”

About a minute later, Holt was looking over the crowd from the carpeted platform that served as a stage. He began telling what he called “another fishing story” about a fall commercial trip to net silvers on the west side of Cook Inlet.

Holt’s arms waved this way and that as he layered complications onto his fish story: a zealous Fish and Game enforcer who may have been hiding in the bushes, a bear chewing on the buoy, and finally a shark in the net. Having poised his audience on the edge of laughter and suspense, Holt mounted to his conclusion.

“…And it was one of the very best silver salmon sets I have ever had,” he said. “There’s probably a moral here — I don’t know. We were all three predators after the same prey.”

Other storytellers followed Holt across the stage — Matt Pyhala’s imagined conversation between the bears who made off with his bear canister, Erkeneff’s story of an orphaned moose, Abbie Cunningham’s account of the post-holing hike that preceded her wedding in a backcountry cabin, and others.

The event’s three leaders are all to some degree professional storytellers. Nyman had been a long-time local reporter before her work at KDLL, serving for 8 years as founding editor of the now-inactive Redoubt Reporter weekly newspaper. Prior to working for the school district, Erkeneff worked in Christian ministry and led retreats that she said were “all about sharing true stories and deep listening.” For her, the mandatory seven minute story-length is an important element of True Tales.

“What makes it really real and significant for me is that often we don’t listen to somebody for that length of time,” Erkeneff said. “We might hear tidbits or bits and pieces on social media, but to give your full attention to somebody for seven minutes — no questions, no asking for clarification, just listening to somebody share a true story — to watch the emotions go through their face, whether it’s laughter, confusion, tears — and to receive that story from somebody and take it into ourselves, the whole experience is powerful.”

“True Tales Told Live” is taking a break for the summer. The next session will be Oct. 13 at Odie’s at 6 p.m, with the tentative theme of “Family.”

Reach Ben Boettger at benjamin.boettger@peninsulaclarion.com.

Pegge Erkeneff describes the fall of a tree while telling the story of an orphaned moose to listeners at Odie’s Deli on Friday, June 2, 2017 in Soldotna, Alaska. The seven storytellers who spoke that evening were participating in the latest session of True Tales Told Live, an ocassional storytelling evening cofounded by Erkeneff, Jenny Nyman, and Kaitlin Vadla. (Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion)

More in News

COVID-19. (Image CDC)
38 new resident COVID-19 cases seen

It was the largest single-day increase in new cases of COVID-19 among Alaska residents.

Anglers practice social distancing on the upper Kenai River in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in late June 2020. (Photo provided by Nick Longobardi/Kenai National Wildlife Refuge)
Exploring the Kenai’s backyard

Refuge to start open air ranger station

The entrance to the Kenai Peninsula Borough building in Soldotna, Alaska, is seen here on June 1, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)
Assembly approves plan for COVID-19 relief funds

The borough is receiving $37,458,449, which will be provided in three installments.

‘We need to make changes now’

Millions in small business relief funds remain unclaimed.

Brian Mazurek / Peninsula Clarion 
                                Forever Dance Alaska performs for the crowd during the 2019 Fourth of July parade in Kenai. The team will not be performing in the parade this year due to the new coronavirus pandemic. They will instead perform during an outside July 4 production hosted by Kenai Performers.
The show must go on

American icons to take stage in outdoor July 4 performance

Soldotna’s Chase Gable, a customer service agent with Grant Aviation, prepares to load and unload baggage from a plane at Kenai Municipal Airport on Tuesday, June 30, 2020, in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Airport sees decline in traffic in wake of pandemic, Ravn exit

Passengers leaving Kenai this year through May are down 18,000.

Registered Nurse Cathy Davis (left) and Chief Nursing Officer Dawn Johnson (right) work at a table to get COVID-19 tests ready for the public Friday, May 29, 2020 at the Boat House Pavilion on the Homer Spit in Homer, Alaska. South Peninsula Hospital is now offering free COVID-19 testing for asymptomatic people with no appointments necessary at the Boat House Pavilion through June 6. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
3 cities, 3 testing strategies

Peninsula communities take different approaches to COVID-19 testing.

Cars pass the City of Homer advisory signs on Wednesday morning, June 24, 2020, at Mile 172 Sterling Highway near West Hill Road in Homer, Alaska. The sign also reads “Keep COVID-19 out of Homer.” (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
‘Don’t get complacent,’ governor says of pandemic

Alaska saw 36 new cases of COVID-19 in residents and 12 new nonresident cases.

Refuge reopens some trails to public

Burn areas provide new views

Most Read