The Spill: Your Guts

The Spill is one of those events that you will hear about from your friend that still watches VHS tapes. VHS Friend will gush about this one-of-a-kind live storytelling event, how it tears down the barrier between performer and neighbor. You will tell VHS Friend that it sounds interesting. You will tell Facebook that you are interested but brush it aside at the last minute because “Well, it’s all the way out in Nampa,” or, “This artistic stuff isn’t really my jam.” You will make this mistake too many times until finally you find yourself in the spacious Flying M Coffeegarage.

You notice that VHS Friend is there but so is a mom who just got done cooking her family dinner, and kids out on their first date, and old folks straight out of an ad for RVs. There is no one clear demographic because when the ad says “everybody welcome,” they actually mean it. Community is easily the most important aspect of The Spill. This is no accident, which becomes quickly apparent as you talk with the three cofounders.

Diana Forgione, Dig Reeder, and Nic Darlinton all met the way any friends do in the Treasure Valley. That is to say, here and there then suddenly all at once, glued together by a shared sense of direction. In this case, art. They recognized the growing need for an artistic outlet for their community, not just musically or poetically. Diana shares, “A town needs that outlet to bridge the gap between the community and personal life.” They all express a similar idea but Dig says, “Nampa has a lot of diverse people and interesting characters… it’s important to explore people’s real life experience that might not be poetic or literary, people that have exciting real life stories to tell.” They speak with such sincerity and pride in their work that you start to believe that these three mismatched people can actually bring art back to the community in a way that nobody else currently does.

The Coffeegarage immediately puts you at ease. Dig points out that the Flying M Coffeegarage is already the cultural hub of Nampa in many ways. Nic says specifically they chose the space because “it’s a big space, it’s a good space, it feels focused. It also sets the right atmosphere. It’s not a loud bar and it’s not a quiet library. It’s an easy space for us to manipulate to fit the right tone of the event.” When he says “us,” he means the community, as the Flying M, like The Spill, is first and foremost about the community. “But do these people know anything about the other fellow regular patrons that symbiotically share this space?” Diana asks. “Regardless of the answer, could the community do well by forming a clearer picture of one another?” This all happens behind the scenes, however. All you know when you walk in is that you’re definitely in the right place.

Maybe you buy some coffee to kill time, maybe you are cutting back so you stick with water. Either way, you sit and debate entering your name to tell a story that night. You’re not entirely sure how it works but the hosts, Nic and Dig, seem surprisingly approachable. You see a person who must be a poet enter their name, then a person who looks nothing like you, then a person who looks exactly like you, and you find the courage to put your name down. You give Nic a brief summary of your story, something about travelling. You assure him that it is funny. He thanks you and smiles and you actually feel something like comfortable.

Eventually, the house music turns off and the hosts welcome a poet to the stage. The hosts selected a poem ahead of time that plays into the theme for the evening. The poet then reads said poem and they act as a sort of mood setter for the night. The theme and mood are not strict rules, of course, just guides. Diana adds,“This also gives the audience who might not go to poetry readings a chance to be familiar and comfortable with that medium too.” Dig takes to the stage to explain the rules. Storytellers have five minutes and then are politely warned by one of the hosts ringing the nearest object (tonight it’s a glass) when they approach their time limit. Notes are not allowed. No swearing (although Nic seems more adamant on this rule than Dig does). Finally, and most importantly, the stories have to be true and about you. Nic makes a point at every show to adjust the mic to the next speaker’s height and to shake their hand, a nice personal touch.

The theme of the night is “Stories of Experimenting,” which brings to mind many adult exploits yet surprisingly most stay very family friendly. You see a young woman recount the time she found herself suddenly in an art discussion group for retirees. A man describes taking acid and having an existential crisis about 27-year-old cats. The hosts share their own stories and you find yourself laughing despite your nerves. Your name is somewhere on the list but you don’t know where.

Finally your name is called. Or maybe it’s far too early. Either way, your legs find themselves planted on the steps to the stage. Nic shakes your hand and you turn to face the audience and words start happening from you. You see the story in your head but you’re not entirely sure where it’s going or maybe you’re an expert and the tale is fully crafted before you took your first step. Maybe people laugh where they are supposed to and get quiet and glassy-eyed where they are supposed to or maybe not. Maybe you feel the lights, hotter than your face. You realize that five minutes is a lot shorter than you ever knew. You hear the ding of the glass or maybe your feet leave the stage in three minutes.

Maybe your nerves drop like a curtain or maybe they join the smell of coffee in the room to hang around for awhile. You definitely feel like you messed up your story until you catch the first person watching you walk to your seat, eyes full of you. You notice the energy in the room shifts around you while it finds its space again. You have changed the space. Wherever your nerves are, that feeling will not leave for several more hours.

The night will continue and stories will be told and you will find yourself a part of this community. Tears will be shed or maybe you’re good at hiding that from others and that is alright. No matter what happens, the night ends all too early. For one final turn, the hosts will say that they don’t believe in scores because the truth isn’t a competition but they do want people to express how they felt. That is why members of the audience are selected at random to act as anonymous judges and they are asked onto the stage, one by one, to share what their favorite story of the night was. These stories are given a $5 gift card and one more moment of recognition. The hosts share a number of upcoming events with the audience, wish everybody a good night, and then it is over.

You leave, not sure why you waited so long to come. You drive home and maybe you start noticing more stories happening in your life. You find yourself a part of a community that has always existed but, before the honesty of The Spill, maybe you were just missing it. No matter what, you tell yourself that you will be back. Maybe next time you tell Facebook that you are going and keep your word or maybe it will stay in the pile of “interested’ for awhile again. VHS Friend will continue to invite you and maybe you start proselytizing on their behalf. Who’s to say what happens next.

The Spill is a unique storytelling event that opens up a space for honesty and art in a community that maybe doesn’t realize it needs it just yet. But it does. Diana, Dig, and Nic are attempting to open up a space for even the simplest of stories to create a new way for the community to recognize itself. You will see for yourself how that space opens. Or maybe The Spill will stay a thing on your periphery. Either way, The Spill is doing something truly different for the Treasure Valley and Nampa in particular and all who come will be treated to an unstructured, at times goofy, and always honest portrait of their neighbors and strangers.

The Spill’s next event, Stories of Great Expectations, is July 6 at the Flying M Coffeegarage in Nampa. Learn more about The Spill on their Facebook.

Photos by Jenny Bowler