The eclectic Westside storytelling event returns to the stage next week with tales from ‘outside the box’

By Michael Aushenker
21For Sarah Fazeli, it was the night no one showed up at her birthday party.

For Janie Fried, a bizarre find at a vintage store that led to a haunting odyssey.

For Raegan Payne, it’s how her grandfather’s death launched her on a quest to complete 100 volunteer projects in one year, while Stephen Wolcott’s is the time he met a mysterious travel guide in Europe who led him on “a wild tour not on any tourist map.”

Next Thursday, Jan. 23, these and other real-life stories come to life on stage during SHINE, a monthly professional and amateur storytelling event organized by Santa Monica Repertory Theater, Storey Productions and the YWCA Women’s Partnership.

Launched in September 2012, SHINE reflects the sensibilities of organizers Jen Bloom, co-founder of Santa Monica Repertory, and Isabel Storey, who has directed plays on stages all over Los Angeles, including the Santa Monica Playhouse and Powerhouse Theatre.

SHINE’s non-fiction bent may stem from the fact that Storey is a seasoned vet of news and reality programming. She spent five years as a news writer and producer at KCBS and was one of the producers of the CBS reality show “Rescue 911.”

Each month SHINE offers a new theme to challenge its writer-performers. Past prompts have included “moving on,” which addressed “leaving a relationship, a town”; and “the kiss,” which had inspired stories from the romantic to the poignant.

“One woman wrote about her difficult relationship with her [estranged] father, and the story ends with her kissing him on the forehead,” Storey said.

This month’s theme is “outside the box,” and the lineup of storytellers reflects the wide range of backgrounds that SHINE events draw upon. Among others, the January event features Ellen Switkes, who produced the adult storytelling program Cornucopia and was on the board of LA Story Works, LA Storytelling Festival’s founding group; Eric Toms, an aspiring screenwriter and a quarter-finalist in the prestigious Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences’ Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting; and the aforementioned Wolcott, a writer/producer whose credits include five “Star Trek” TV specials and behind-the-scenes documentaries for Blu-Ray/DVD releases and who has also directed theater. Many local stage actors are also reading, including Kevin Held, Sara Mayer and actor and costume designer Michael Mullen.

“It’s really an eclectic mix,” Storey said.

SHINE storytellers’ ages have ranged from early 20s to 80s, and have included writer-performers born in the U.S., England, South Africa and Jamaica.

Singer/songwriter Brenda Varda prefaces each month’s happening with a live music performance.

SHINE takes the stage from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 23, at YWCA Santa Monica/Westside, 2019 14th St., Santa Monica. A $5 or $10 donation is requested. Call (310) 452-2321 or visit