In the urban East Bay, Walnut Creek is known for a few things — including high-end shopping, great public schools, and its suburban idyll — but despite the Lesher Center for the Arts and a handful of smaller galleries, theaters, and venues, it’s not often considered an epicenter of up-and-coming arts and culture. Once a month since April, however, resident Kay DeMartini has been working to change that. Her Real Stories series brings professional and amateur comedians and writers from all over the Bay Area to 1515 Restaurant and Bar (1515 N. Main St., Walnut Creek) for a series of ten-minute stories, all organized around a central theme. It’s dynamic, original — even hip — entertainment in a part of the East Bay often dismissed as little more than a mall.
It’s also part of what looks like a larger trend toward storytelling as entertainment for adults. NPR’s This American Life is now the most popular podcast in the nation, and in recent years, live storytelling events like New York’s The Moth and San Francisco’s Porchlight have proliferated nationwide. DeMartini suspects that this recent enthusiasm for long-form, live storytelling is attributable to what may be the beginnings of a backlash against stand-up comedy. “It’s expensive, it can be so unpredictable,” she said. “When it’s good, it’s great, but it can be terrible.” That’s part of what drew DeMartini herself away from the stand-up world and into storytelling, and she thinks it’s what makes Real Stories compelling: It’s narrative, but more casual and considerably cheaper than theater; and funny, but more organic and less forced than stand-up.
Past shows have focused on themes as varied and broadly interpretable as “family matters,” “kitchen confidential,” and “judgment call,” and have featured storytellers including an ex-con, a transgendered comedian, a professional-baseball-player-turned-fisherman, a bikini-waxer, and a butt model.
This month’s show, on Wednesday, December 29, tackles “gifts” — good and bad, literal and metaphorical, god-given and man-made — as its theme, with what DeMartini calls a “well-rounded” set of ten-minute-long stories. Performers will include KFOG personality Peter Finch, San Francisco playwright Carolyn Doyle, Orinda-based storyteller Chris Holton, and stand-up comic Chris Judd, as well as two audience members, who’ll enter their names into a hat. (DeMartini isn’t planning on performing, but if someone backs out, she’ll discuss what she forebodingly referred to as “The Chia Pet disaster”).
Thus far, DeMartini has drawn about 45 people per show, respectable by any standard — but the show, which primarily attracts Walnut Creek residents and Lamorindans in their thirties and forties, isn’t immune to the particular vicissitudes of suburban family life: “If there’s a spelling test on Thursday,” she said of her Wednesday evening show, “I know I can count on a much emptier room.” 7:30-9:15 p.m., $10-$15. BrownPaperTickets.com/event/137898