Every month for the past five years, comedian Dave Pokorny warms the crowd at Sonoma Portworks for an intimate evening of dependable laughter, occasional tears, and the hard-won insight that comes from true-life tales. The gig is West Side Stories, a series in which storytellers of every stripe tell “five minute, true stories, told live, onstage, without notes.”
Multiply those five minutes by 10 stories per show, one show per month for five years, and the amount of stories told equals, as Pokorny says, “A lot.”
Pokorny is a consummate host, leaning on chops he honed on the road performing standup back in an era he calls “B.C.” (“before children”). The monthly event regularly sells out. Ditto the end-of-year grand slam event that features the winners of the preceding shows. Last year, the event sold out the capacious Mystic Theatre. The upcoming May 4 event also just sold out (though a rare no-show can result in an open seat).
Despite a schedule busy with family and a day job (the quotidian grist of more than a few Petaluma stories), Pokorny indulged a few questions for the Rivertown Report:
Rivertown Report: May’s theme, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” seems particularly relevant in Petaluma right now . How do you choose the topics?
Dave Pokorny: “I punch in every letter of the alphabet on my google search and see what comes up, I search sayings, quotes, limericks, movie titles, song titles, this list of things I do could go on for a while, but I compile a huge list of things I think sound interesting and then I start to try and group them by months, and start cutting until I have the right one for the right month.”
RR: Why is storytelling so compelling?
DP: “The type of storytelling we do at West Side Stories Petaluma is compelling, I think, because it’s personal. People get up there in front of a room full of strangers and open up, tell the audience something that really happened in their world and sometimes it is so raw that a teller will have you on the edge of you seat on on the brink of tears-like the night a woman came in and told about her sister dying in the World Trade Center on 9/11.”
RR: How should someone who is considering putting their name in the hat prepare?
DP: “First, I’d say look at the theme, if you have a life experience that fits, then talk it through a few times make sure you have a beginning, middle & end. Then time it-if it’s over 6 minutes you have to cut it down to at least 5:30 cause you generally speak faster when you’re doing it for real.”
RR: What’s the worst/best thing that can happen to a storyteller whilst onstage?
DP: “The best is when you are living in the moment and you’re not even thing about the next word, it just flows. That is one of the best feelings in the world. Worst — when you have written out your story and you think you have this great turn of a phrase and in the moment you are thinking more about that phrase and forget what your saying.”
RR: Is it about the competition or catharthis?
DP: “If it’s about competition then you’re doing it for the wrong reason. I do this — tell true stories, in front of strangers — because I have to. I have to get up on stage and perform, it’s who I am, it’s not just something I do.”
Pokorny is not alone as there are often more potential storytellers who put their names in the hat than can be accommodated. The attraction to tell their stories is likely the same as Porkony’s:
“In my ‘real life’ I don’t get to speak as freely as I do when I’m working on stage, I worship that time on stage for a billion reasons, but the freedom that I have up there, is totally worth the $8 an hour I get paid to do it,” he deadpans.
West Side Stories Doors open at 7 p.m. at Sonoma Portworks, 613 2nd St., Petaluma. Tickets are $8 (in advance) and $10 (at the door). They’re available at WestSideStoriesPetaluma.com (and are prone to selling out!).