Susanne Schmidt started telling stories over a year ago, during a comedy fundraiser for the lunch ladies of Vermont. “The day before the event, I was having a really hard time deciding what to do for my set, when I realized I had a story about my lunch lady when I was growing up," Schmidt says. “So I threw out my comedy set, got up in front of 200 people and told my story.”
From that point forward, Schmidt hasn’t stopped connecting with people through her storytelling.
A psychologist and adjunct professor at Southern New Hampshire University, Schmidt enjoys both the art and science of storytelling. She views storytelling as “an art form that helps connect the audience to what you’re saying.” As for the science, she says, "storytelling really affects your brain in a couple of ways. It raises the cortisol level in your brain, which is the chemical that makes you attentive ... It also raises the oxytocin level, which is the chemical that helps you to feel empathy. Humans are very much wired to like stories."
For Schmidt, storytelling is a tool to help connect people in a variety of ways. She is the founder of Tell Me Something Good, an organization that uses storytelling events to raise money for mission-driven service organizations in Vermont, and a member of the group The Three Tellers with Kevin Gallagher and Cindy Pierce. (Those who have attended VPR's Moth Story SLAMS may recognize these names; all three are regular performers.)
An organization that specializes in education and help for families with children with special needs, Vermont Family Network is deeply rooted in storytelling. “They did an event last year that brought together a number of different families and helped them to talk about some of the struggles, triumphs and issues in raising children [with] special needs. I think the beauty of storytelling is that once you are able to take that risk and talk about something that’s really challenging, you find out that lots of people in the room have had the same experience,” Schmidt says.
The stories being told at the event on Friday are all about growing up. “Each of us will tell a story about a different part of our life, really to highlight how our families have influenced us. Not just the families that we grew up with, but families over multiple generations,” Schmidt says.
Schmidt describes her fellow storytellers Cindy Pierce and Kevin Gallagher as “very funny people with really strange lives.” She predicts the three of them together will make for an interesting evening.
Are We There Yet? takes place Friday, Nov 21 at FlynnSpace in Burlington. Learn more about the event here.