Up Close: Pamela McNichols

Everyone has a story …

If you’re a friend of the arts in the greater Scranton area, you know Pamela McNichols. A true patron of the arts, you’ll see her everywhere: First Friday celebrations, Prose in Pubs, local theater productions, art receptions, Pecha Kucha, and, of course the event she helped her daughter Zoe bring to the Electric City, the Scranton StorySlam. This popular storytelling competition started out as a senior project for Zoe, and was met with such tremendous success that the McNichols family organized a second event, and now a third StorySlam is coming our way on Friday, Nov. 23, at the Radisson. A native of California, McNichols is a graduate of the University of California San Diego with a degree in Cultural Anthropology. She moved to northeastern Pennsylvania 12 years ago, and enjoys a career in financial research. Promoting the art of storytelling is a great way for this busy wife, mother and community volunteer to tap into her creative side. That’s her story – now, she’s looking for your story. Meet Pam McNichols …


StorySlams are now major events in Scranton that we look forward to. How did it all get started?
Our family went to a StorySlam in Brooklyn that was organized by the MOTH, which is a New York City based non-profit organization dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling. We had an amazing time. The theme was chutzpa. It was in a bar and the energy was just fantastic, and all types of people were there. My daughter, Zoe, loves writing and performing. StorySlam meets at the crossroads of theater and writing and memoir and documentary art. So it was perfect for her, and she decided she wanted to attend more of these and bring them home and share them with her friends. She wanted to bring her friends to New York (laughs) but we thought this would be a good idea for her senior project. She worked with Maureen McGuigan (Deputy Director of Arts and Culture, Lackawanna County). We’re so lucky to have an arts administrator for our county.  They worked together and Maureen suggested storytellers and helped Zoe learn how to market the event. They have a great press kit there (at the county) for anybody who’s interested in bringing arts to the community. They have a lot of great resources. That’s how the StorySlam came to Scranton.

When you start something new, you never know whether or not it will take off. What do you think the secret to StorySlam’s success is?
Well, I think we were fairly confident it would work because it’s so popular in other cities. And I think we would have thought it was successful even if only 30 people came because I think the people who come have a meaningful experience and really enjoy it. It ended up being really popular and I think the reason it’s so popular is everybody loves to hear a good story. It just has universal appeal. It’s all ages — we’ve had storytellers from age 16 to 60 and the audience has ranged from teens to people in their 80s and 90s. Ted Michalowski invited his Tai Chi class from the senior center and they enjoyed it.

What do you love most about StorySlam?
One thing that I think is so appealing is the people who get up on stage are just fearless. They’re so vulnerable. They’re opening themselves up and sharing something embarrassing or a heartbreaking situation; highly personal stories. And those stories in particular are the ones that win the StorySlam. Those are the ones that people really remember.

Let’s talk about the themes. The first was “Warning Signs.” The second was “Dirty Laundry.” How do you choose a theme?
We look at other StorySlams and see what kind of themes they’re using, and then we bounce ideas off people and get their feedback. After the second StorySlam, I wasn’t sure if people were loving the themes. I don’t think they were. So they were coming to me with ideas for themes and ideas for storytellers. Jeff Fowler, who was one of the storytellers (at the second StorySlam) and he is also the founder of the Community Film Project, came to me and said, “If you need any ideas for themes, I’d be happy to help.” So I went to him and he has some amazing ideas. This one — “Game Changers: An Evening of Life Altering Moments” — was one of his ideas. The themes are so general, you can really take them in any direction. I’m sure we’re going to hear all kinds of stories.

Who’s in your lineup of storytellers this time?
J.W. Colwell. He’s the film reviewer for PA Live and he has also done improv. We’re also welcoming back to the area Eleanor Gwyn Jones. She’s a writer and an actress, and that’s a great combination right there for a StorySlam. Matt Hinton will be there. He’s a playwright and has an MFA from Wilkes University. Dr. Laurie McMillan will join us. She’s a Marywood University Professor of English. Llifelong West Scranton resident and local artists’ model Pat McNichols will share a story. Also in the lineup is Judge Thomas J. Munley as well as Barbara Kelly O’Brien. She’s a writer and she also happens to be the mother of two very talented people who are active in the arts community, Maggie O’Brien and Conor O’Brien. Patrice Wilding is also a storyteller. She’s a Lifestyles writer for the Scranton Times-Tribune. There will be two more storytellers selected at random from audience members who will have thrown their names in a hat at the beginning of the evening. And Conor McGuigan will once again be our emcee.

Where do you see for the future of the local arts scene?
I think there are a lot of amazing people putting a lot of energy and love into creating a vibrant art community in northeastern Pennsylvania. I would love to see the arts appreciated by an even larger population, and I think one way to achieve this goal might be through better marketing and also collaboration. When artists work together, I think they can be unstoppable

— julie imel

The third Scranton StorySlam will take place at The Radisson Lackawanna Station Hotel’s Platform Lounge on Friday, Nov. 23. Doors open at 6 p.m. Storytelling starts at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5 online at www.brownpapertickets.com, or at the door. This event is recommended for those age 14 and older. For more information, visit www.scrantonstoryslam.com.

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