If you attend a Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers show, buckle up and prepare to take a wild roller coaster ride of human expression and emotion.
Through themes such as love and justice, courageous griots take the stage to share deep, moving, beautiful personal experiences, stories that reflect the range in life’s varied spectrum. Ordinary people tell outrageously humorous stories that make you laugh so hard your sides hurt and so extraordinarily sad, you weep. The shocking, sordid, honest tales are woven with so much depth, you think about them long after the last word has been spoken. Whatever they’re about, when the curtain comes down you’re grateful you took the ride.
Listen to a guy who befriends a lonely, elderly man with a plan to inherit his valuable art collection and discovers he’s in competition with the postman. Hear how a woman wearing a mink coat steps out of a Rolls Royce and takes an embarrassing tumble in snow in front of Flood’s Bar & Grille, an iconic Detroit nightspot. She spends years getting past people quipping, “I saw you go down at Flood’s.”
You are ushered into a hospital emergency room to watch a young man’s father die then detail who the departed was: An often drug-addicted, hustling provider who fiercely loved his family and taught unforgettable lessons about fatherhood. A woman’s mother suddenly dies, and she heads to a Caribbean Island to salve her wounds and finds love.
In a society that feeds on reality television, celebrities and social media, people are typically unaccustomed to this level of raw truth, these microscopic views into other people’s lives. Even among other shows that feature storytellers, this is on another level. Imagine listening to a man share his intimate encounters with a prostitute, how he learned about her gruesome murder on the front page of the newspaper—and his guilt.
“Our mission is global to connect humanity, to heal and transform community and to provide an uplifting, thought-provoking, soul-cleansing entertainment experience through the art and craft of storytelling,” says Satori Shakoor, the founder of the Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers, which developed from a story she was afraid to tell.
“To achieve thought-provoking soul cleansing, a human being must go through roller coasters because each storyteller takes you on a journey of their humanity. Their humanity started in one place, transformed them, and it gave them growth, wisdom, something to look back and say ‘That’s what I got from going through that.’ They take that gift and give it to other people through the story, and the people in the seats get to listen so they can laugh, they can cry, they can scream, they can gasp, they can be afraid, they can understand, hope, mend. It doesn’t matter if you are black or white, yellow, older, fat or skinny. It doesn’t matter because you are human. I want to connect our humanity because our humanity makes us the same.”
Shakoor says experiencing the stories helps people expand, fosters understanding and breaks down barriers of racism, ageism and “all the other isms.”
A storytelling legend who is also a veteran actress, writer and a former member of the Brides of Funkenstein, Shakoor says she got the idea for the monthly show in a vision while strolling through a park one day in May 2012. She meted out details in her mind’s eye during long walks with her sister. By July of that year, she hosted the first show before a 45-member audience. Word quickly spread, and audiences outgrew spaces around Detroit—a loft apartment, Northwest Activities Center, and Pangea Art Gallery—until it landed a home in the General Motors Theater at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. Even now, the performances in the 317-seat capacity theater often sell out.
The shows also feature musical and dance performances to enhance the experience.
“It was a calling,” she says. “The calling is compelling and fills you up with excitement. As an artist, you want to see it in the world. But we had the challenge of always finding a new venue because we outgrew every venue we found. This wasn’t handed down; it was built brick-by-brick, storyteller-by-storyteller, audience member-by-audience member, check-by-check.”
The founder of the Obsidian Theatre Company in Toronto has shared her stories—some love, some pain—on stages across the nation. You may have enjoyed her stories as the host of Ann Arbor’s Moth Story SLAM, on WDET’s “Beginning of the End,” or her podcast, “Twisted Storytellers” on iTunes. In October, she detailed her journey with breast cancer at the TEDxDetroit event at the Fox Theatre.
She’s hosted a show for the Student Advocacy Center in Ann Arbor, and storytelling workshops for organizations and institutions such as Planned Parenthood in Flint, N’Namdi Galleries, the Detroit Historical Society and the Inside Out Literary Project in Detroit. She’s developing collaborations with corporations and other organizations.
Shakoor, who hosts each Twisted Storytellers show, has used her social platform to share how she often smelled her mother’s wigs after she died, and her return to Detroit to care for her adult son—her only child—who was critically injured in an automobile accident and later died. Shakoor, who loves foot massages, had her audience laughing hysterically when she told about experiencing the joys of a male massage therapist with a foot fetish.
Those audience members were the first to know she had an epiphany in the middle of sharing a story at a Moth Mainstage event in Boston. That’s when she realized powerful, personal stories could be used as a vehicle for healing Detroit.
Shakoor has a transparent personality, so she openly shares she was living in a friend’s basement and struggling to find a job when she started the Society. Keeping it going has been a hard scramble. She says by 2013, her pockets contained only lint and she was so financially challenged she was just about to shut the production down when she won a $30,000 Detroit Knight Arts Challenge matching grant. The funding prompted to her to form a nonprofit organization, The Society for the Re-Institutionalization of Storytelling, which accepts donations on its website, TwistedTellers.org.
The Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers was prominently featured in the 2015 documentary, “Acres of Diamonds: The Story of the Knight Arts Challenge in Detroit.” The stories are preserved on YouTube.
She believes storytelling is an art form integral to the wellbeing and health of any community or society. The storytellers are performing a service, but that’s only 50 percent of the show. As an audience member, you have the responsibility of listening and that’s critical in a society where goldfish have longer attention spans than people.
“By listening to what people are doing, you are being generous,” she says. “It’s a demonstration of human kindness to listen to another person. It grants being to a person. It’s a revolutionary act and the highest demonstration of love.”