Stories of Loss, Love, and Reality Checks performed at OKSO Tulsa Grandslam

OKSO held its eighth Tulsa Grandslam in May. The winner for this year’s event was Jordan Price. She won the top honor with a tragic story of her father’s surgery.

Price shared a heartfelt story about her estranged father going into high-risk surgery to remove his five aneurysms throughout his arteries, and her healing through connection.

She said in an interview, “The reason I decided to tell the story about my dad was because it had just happened last year, and the imagery and the emotions were fresh and vivid. In The Moth workshops, the [workshop mentors] speak about telling a story that is a scar and not a wound, and in crafting and telling this story, it provided more healing than just holding it to myself.”

Jordan Price was one of many to perform at the OKSO Grandslam. (Photographed by Rik Clemens)

As the curtain drew in the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, Shawna Blake, an assistant professor in communications/liberal arts at Tulsa Community College (TCC), walked to the stage and began her emcee comedy routine introducing OKSO Tulsa and the Grandslam participants. There were jokes about feeling pumped for in-person events, such as being “waxed and vaxxed,” preparing to be a good storyteller by making bad decisions, and her first experience with OKSO telling a “Love and Lust” themed story.

“Branda [Jean Piersall] and Michelle [Bias]…they started this thing [OKSO Tulsa]…In 2013, they got obsessed with the Moth and…[they said] they should come to Tulsa, but Tulsa wasn’t quite big enough at the time to come here…They were going to do what all Tulsans do, create their own cool s…,” Blake performed. From that dream, OKSO Tulsa has been going strong and recently hosted its eighth annual Grandslam.

OKSO Tulsa hosts a story slam every month at the Living Arts of Tulsa, 307 E. Reconciliation Way, in downtown Tulsa, usually on the second Thursday or Friday. It is an open mic event for people 18+, and participants can tell a true story based on the story slam theme. The judges evaluate the performances of each story and decide on the winner. The winners of every month’s theme go on to perform at the OKSO Tulsa Grandslam in May. Calendar information can be found at the OKSO Tulsa Facebook and website.

“Truth is stranger than fiction, you tell it and can engage with the audience,” said Blake at the Grandslam, and she explained, “I teach a public speaking class [at TCC], and I start our classes with a story speech of personal experience because it is my dream to have all my students to be able to find their voice[s] to share their experiences with others.”

Shawna Blake hosted the OKSO Tulsa Grandslam. (Photographed by Rik Clemens)

She introduced the judges of the event, and one of the judges was Annina Collier, dean of the McKeon Center for Creativity and George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF) Endowed Chair at TCC.

After the event, when asked why she wanted to be a judge for the Grandslam, Collier said that her fandom for The Moth, a non-profit organization based in New York City dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling that hosts story slams around the country, began a decade ago with listening to The Moth podcasts played on her old iPod.

Collier further said, “I have participated in six storytelling intensives with The Moth and told three of my own stories at story shares, so judging the slam seemed like a good way to utilize that experience. The best part of the adjudication experience was listening with heightened attention, knowing I needed to assign each story a score. The most difficult part was scoring, as all the stories were so good!”

The Center for Creativity has partnered with The Moth to bring four storytelling intensive workshops to Tulsa over the past two years, one general session and others had a special focus on Black, Native and LGBTQIA+ voices. TCC students and employees get priority workshop space, and then the offer extends to the public.

This year’s competitors with Price were Shannon Barry, Julie Green Culley, Western Doughty, Jake Follis, Toni Gray Hart, Michael, GK Palmer, Christopher Rauchenstein, and Matthew Weatherbee.

Overall, the OKSO Tulsa Grandslam will present an opportunity for TCC students as The Moth is now interested in launching its national Pop-Up Porch tour in Tulsa this fall.

Collier said, “The Center for Creativity’s ongoing partnership with The Moth was largely responsible for The Moth’s decision to launch their national Pop-Up Porch tour from Tulsa this fall. While the porch is in Tulsa, The Moth will offer a storytelling intensive and story share at the Center for Creativity with a special focus on deaf voices. We are proud to be a community partner of The Moth and feel the collaboration has brought immense value to the college and to our community.”

The OKSO Tulsa Grandslam competitors appear on stage prior to the winner announcement. (Photographed by Rik Clemens)
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