Sharing secrets with strangers

Downtown restaurant Copper Penny features a night of truthful storytelling

A group of storytellers gathered at a table for the Garrula: Fringe event at Copper Penny.
Image by: Emma Sewell
A group of storytellers gathered at a table for the Garrula: Fringe event at Copper Penny.

What comes to mind when you think of something that you’ll never do again? Is it a particularly horrid date? Did it involve a bottle of strawberry vodka? Was it trying to walk across the lake to Wolfe Island in the middle of a winter night? 

Well, in the back section of the Copper Penny, a cozy downtown restaurant, a sizeable group of people sit crowded around a table discussing the craziest things that they’ve vowed never to do again. 

Some are sipping tea and coffee, while others casually swirl glasses of wine. They’re comfortably ensconced in the booth by the fireplace. Despite appearances, it’s not a reunion of friends. It’s a storytelling event held by a storytelling organization, Garrula: Fringe, every first and third Monday. 

One by one, each person told their harrowing tale. The theme of this past week’s evening was “I’ll Never Do That Again,” which inspired stories about drunken nights, horrible flights, too-fast bike rides, and, surprisingly, a good amount of acid. Despite ranging from hilarious to heartwarming, the stories were all concise tidbits told with an air of great adventure.

The theme changes each week, and participants are encouraged to prepare their story — usually about five minutes long — prior to the evening. There are two rules: the stories have to be true and they have to have happened to you.

Garrula is a bi-monthly storytelling event that’s more formal and performative in nature, with a large audience. 

It’s run by its founder Claire Grady-Smith and is also available as a podcast recorded and edited by Queen’s music professor Matt Rogalsky. Garrula: Fringe is the smaller, more intimate round-table event used to prepare for Grady-Smith’s larger event.

Garrula: Fringe was born out of the wish to create a storytelling collective that meets regularly throughout the year, rather than semi-occasional, curated storytelling events. Queen’s drama professor Kim Renders spearheads the events with the help of Zoë Fairless, ArtSci ’17. 

Garrula is more intimate and informal than other storytelling events. There’s no stage or microphone, or any performative features of the evening. The Copper Penny is perfect for that — a family-style restaurant that is more accessible as a casual space. 

This collaborative spirit makes Garrula: Fringe and Garrula unique to the Kingston arts scene. 

It’s not isolated to just Queen’s students or young up-and-coming artists around the collective arts scene. Instead, the mix of students, professors and middle-aged folks makes the spectrum of stories told at the Fringe broader than more popular events. 

“One of the things I like most about these events — and I love stories and I love telling stories — is the little gems. And I love this because [they] aren’t in the theatre world, [they] aren’t at Queen’s, so I get to hear stories from all aspects of life that I haven’t experienced yet,” Fairless said.

“I get to hear stories from my peers and the people who teach me, and it’s nice to see that side by side.”

Garrula: Fringe brings us back to our most primal and basic modes of communication: storytelling. It doesn’t feel like listening to a brisk lecture, but rather to a friend telling you about that one time their car broke down in Papua New Guinea. 

It’s sitting by the fireplace of the Copper Penny with a cup of tea and laughing with people you’ve just met, like they’re old friends. 


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