Two of Madison’s foremost storytellers are “exploring Madison, one story at a time” on their new podcast.
“Inside Stories,” co-hosted by writers and storytellers Jen Rubin and Takeyla Benton and produced by First Wave hip-hop alum Richard Jones, highlights autobiographical tales originally told at venues like Moth StorySLAMs, Madison Story Slams, or Sustain Dane’s storytelling projects.
“There are all these cool storytelling events in Madison ... but you only get to hear the audio if you’re in the room,” explained Rubin, a co-producer of Moth StorySLAMs and a leader of storytelling workshops in Madison.
The podcast also features stories from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Odyssey Project, an educational initiative for low-income adults that includes storytelling classes led by Rubin and Benton.
Each episode of “Inside Stories” starts with a complete five-minute story, recorded live at a storytelling event. On episode one, Esteban Touma reminisces about his impromptu green-card marriage in Nevada. In a later episode, Lenora Rodin, shares an uproarious tale of addiction, love, cookies and learning self-love.
Another features former mayoral candidate Raj Shukla weaving a joyous story on the Moth about his young daughter and her penchant for getting the people she meets to smile, whether it's a grocery store cashier or President Barack Obama.
However, Rubin and Benton say they want to do more than share interesting stories. They also want to share interesting conversations. On each episode, after listening to a recording of the story, the co-hosts sit down in a basement studio on South Park Street with the storyteller behind the yarn to chat about the story.
According to Benton, the show is very much about craft: “How you organize a story, how much detail you put in or don’t put in, humor and how it’s used, the performance aspect.”
Benton said that one recurring theme is how stories can go in unexpected directions. On one episode, for example, Odyssey Project student Tandalaya Taylor talks about about her struggles with a cancer diagnosis.
“From the story, you’d think it would have been sad,” said Benton. “You think she would have gone for a serious reaction. But it was light… there was brevity to it.”
On each episode, the co-hosts also always make sure to ask two questions of their guest: “What do you like about Madison?” and “How do you use storytelling in your life?”
“So far, everyone has said that, yeah, I use storytelling in my life,” noted Rubin. “Even if it’s just, ‘I’m the person in the office who’s always talking.’ You want that person in your office.”
She said that they get all kinds of observations about Madison from their guests — plenty of gratitude about the recent warm weather, but also appreciation for its food, its people and its size. She said that perhaps more than anything, though, it’s the diversity of their guests and their stories that says the most about the city.
“It’s not monolithic. You’ve got the Latino family trying to figure out how to live in an all-white neighborhood. You have people battling cancer. People battling addiction. People whose kids have disabilities,” she said. “There’s a lot of people here who are living lives that you don’t even know.”
Benton and Rubin say that they still have a lot of room to grow on the podcast — Rubin said that she has a newfound appreciation for the tricky art of interviewing. However, the two are happy with the body of work they’re released so far.
“We did it. It’s happening. And I really like the stories,” said Rubin. “I don’t think storytelling changes the world by any means. But it can lower fences in the community.”
The two also said that they’re excited about the prospect of getting the show on air: They say that they’re speaking with producers of Wisconsin Public Radio about possibly broadcasting some of the stories from the show.