There will be plenty of stories to be shared once the monthly "Stories at Latitude 56" program resumes in-person in May.
After taking a break from the usual Creek Street Cabaret setting to adapt a radio program in the wake of the ongoing pandemic, the event is picking up right where it left off, at 7:30 p.m. on the second Tuesday of every month.
Jack Finnegan, the program's host for the past five years, says the program has been a longtime First City favorite and that enthusiasm for the event hasn't dampened during the pandemic.
"I regularly get asked about it when I encounter people in the grocery store and so on," Finnegan told the Daily News during a recent interview.
Finnegan is a well-known local storyteller who has collaborated with the Ketchikan Area Arts and Humanities Council, as well as First City Players.
And while the in-person program was on pause, Finnegan has been the sole host of the Stories at Latitude 56 radio edition, which continues to air at 9 p.m. on the first Saturday of the month on KRBD.
"Not only (is) the radio edition ongoing — and we plan on continuing with that portion of the program into the foreseeable future — but we also are excited to be getting back to our live, in-person story slams," Finnegan told the Daily News during a recent interview.
The Stories at Latitude 56 program is presented by the Ketchikan Area Arts and Humanities Council.
"We (KAAHC) feel enough people are using good practices or have been vaccinated that there is a good mitigation plan in place so that we can safely meet again in-person," Finnegan added.
The Latitude 56 "Story Slam" program is an opportunity that's open for anyone with a story to share.
"It's an event where people feel comfortable enough and confident enough and welcomed enough to take the stage and share a piece of their life with friends, neighbors and total strangers in that room," Finnegan commented. "And to me, that's just enthralling."
Quite often, the event attracts newcomers — a highlight of the event in Finnegan's eyes.
"Virtually any given month that we have gathered, somebody who has never set foot on that stage will join us and will tell a story," Finnegan said. "For anybody coming up there, it takes a degree of courage."
Finnegan noted that even he sometimes feels the need to "drum up a bit of confidence" before telling a story.
But at the core of the program is a belief that storytelling builds strong community connections.
"When we're in that space together, processing humor, sorrow, loss, (or) surprise; it's just so humbling and humanizing, and that, I think, is critical for any community," Finnegan said. "It's something that I think Ketchikan especially benefits from because we speak very frequently as to why this place is special and it's special for a lot of reasons. But there's something so important and personal about sharing that space and your time."
After all, telling stories is one of the oldest forms of communication, according to Finnegan.
"I mean, it's the most intimate, it's personal, and it's the original form of entertainment," he said.
"And that form of art (storytelling), it's a big crux of virtually every form of art," Finnegan continued. "Theater, songwriting, even a painting. All of these in some way, shape or form, communicate stories. But when you get down to the fundamental nature of how human beings exchange what's meaningful about their lives — sitting or standing in a room face to face, and feeling and seeing and hearing these portions of our lives — I think really stitches the community together in a meaningful way."
Social media also can be used to tell stories, but Finnegan was adamant that the best stories are told face-to-face.
"It's really remote," Finnegan said of social media storytelling. "And the power of being gathered together and sharing little snippets of our lives really underscores how connected we are. And that's something that the Story Slam gives to me every time we hold it."
The radio edition, while still more remote than an in-person event, has suited storytellers well, Finnegan noted.
Due to the pandemic, Finnegan can't be in the KRBD recording studio with all the storytellers, so adaptions were made.
"I'm live in-person in the studio and we have the storytellers record their stories, which I think is fantastic, especially for those people who are reluctant to get on a stage," Finnegan explained.
The radio edition of the Story Slam also is helpful for people to hone what they want their story to sound like.
"It can be (scripted), it doesn't need to be," Finnegan said. "Some folks can be very raw, very straight takes ... other people are more comfortable having something written out that they can read or recite that they feel like really capturing the language or building the image that they want to build."
The first in-person Stories at Latitude 56 Story Slam is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on May 11 at the Creek Street Cabaret.
The theme is "fortunately/unfortunately," according to a KAAHC social media flyer.