Organizers Astrid Rose, Thandi Carros, and Brianna Gibbs held the first of the monthly sessions in November, inviting anybody with a story to talk for seven minutes on a common theme.
All three were surprised at the popularity of the idea, which drew a full house the first time and has continued to draw more.
“It really took off,” said Rose, who works with Carros on Rep. Alan Austerman’s staff in Juneau. “People sit on the floor and line the aisles.”
Although people have suggested moving into the larger auditorium, the team prefers the intimate ambiance of the smaller space, where storytellers don’t need to use microphones.
“It’s really cozy,” Carros said.
Despite the immediate success, Rose said getting people to talk in front of an audience has meant coaxing friends and family and calling in a lot of favors. Announcements were made each month on the group’s website and social media and on flyers and radio and drew in some surprising participants.
“It brings people out of the woodwork,” Rose said.
Carros said she learns new things about lifelong neighbors when they take the stage.
The theme for this Friday is “small things, big meanings.”
The organizers have enjoyed hearing how different themes inspire the participants. Sometimes the brief, general phrase elicits a group of closely related stories. Other times, the speakers bring completely different interpretations of the theme.
“Those are my favorite events,” said Gibbs, a reporter for KMXT.
At Friday’s session, audience members will get to vote on themes for next year’s series, which will kick off on Oct. 31.
“It makes it really personal and it’s a really good community-builder,” Rose said.
While the monthly story theme varies, that part of Galley Tables’ underlying theme remains constant. “The whole point is it’s community storytelling,” Gibbs said.
The event does not throw its community neighbors in front of a crowd completely unprepared, however. Participants get a rehearsal where theater coaches Michelle and Jared Griffin give pointers. But Gibbs noted that the energy and interaction with an encouraging audience actually helps many people overcome stage fright.
“If it’s your story and you’re owning it, you’re going to be good,” she said.
Public radio station KODK has broadcast the Galley Tables sessions at 9 p.m. the last Tuesday of the month, and archives can be heard via the Galley Tables website.
The shows include musical interludes with local performers, who seem to like having an alternative venue to bars or full concert performances.
“It’s good vibes all around,” Carros said.
Anybody who doesn’t want to go all summer without a fix of local storytelling can look forward to a program set for 7 p.m. Friday, June 6, at the end of week-long Galley Tables class in the Sum’Arts for Kids program.
“It’s the same as all the other First Fridays except it’ll be the high school edition,” Rose said.