Put your cellphone down. Dave Sabol has a great story to tell you.
Sabol is the creator of Told, a semi-regular storytelling event where people get together at a bar to share true stories from their own lives with strangers.
Some are heavy — such as a deacon from St. Patrick Parish sharing Ohio City's history with the Underground Railroad and his work with modern-day refugees from Liberia. Some are light — such as Sabol's tale about how his family came to be painted into a portrait of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum that his mother bought at Kohl's.
"We have a natural proclivity to prejudge," Sabol says. "This medium forces the audience to just sit and listen to this person for a little bit and hear what they're going to say."
Each show, hosted by Sabol, has two featured storytellers who prepare a 10-minute story on a theme such as foreign territory or home sweet home. Afterward, audience members drop their names in a hat to be called to recite their own themed narrative.
The Jan. 29 event at Market Garden Brewery is held in partnership with Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead Women in Business group and is themed 9 to 5, stories about work.
These events foster connections, not from the details of the stories, but of the underlying emotions of the storytellers. A psychiatric nurse, for example, shared a story about a difficult patient.
"I don't think there were any other psychiatric nurses in the crowd," Sabol says, "but because he was such a talented storyteller and because his experience was genuine, people were able to connect to his themes of frustration, human desperation and eventual relief."
What's Sabol's story? After working at employment agencies in Los Angeles and Baltimore, the Seven Hills native returned to Cleveland to teach math at his alma mater, St. Ignatius High School. He spent his free time listening to storytelling shows such as The Moth and This American Life and yearned for an outlet to hear stories in his hometown that had a similar structure and tone.
So he created one. In 2013, Sabol joined Cleveland Bridge Builders, a program through the Cleveland Leadership Center that helps develop emerging leaders in the city. The group called for him to create a civic project that addressed an issue, so he developed Told.
By March 2014, he hosted his first event at the former Visible Voice bookstore in Tremont. Since then, he's held six public events and a handful of private storytelling workshops. He views the event as bridging the divide between Clevelanders.
"For as much pride and unity we have, there are still separations culturally, economically, racially, geographically," Sabol says. "I see this medium as a potential equalizer and conversation starter."
Tell Us a Story, Dave
"I was telling this story about Literary Lots, which the theme for it was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. This was a Sunday in July that got totally waterlogged.
There's a little enclosed submarine that fit no more than eight children. We all kind of crowded in to get away from the downpour. So here we were — it was about eight adults now trapped inside of this tiny, little submarine. Water's starting to drip down the middle.
We're just looking at each other ... just appreciating the fact that this was creating its own little story."