On election night in Uptown's McKinney Avenue Contemporary, the second season of Oral Fixation opened to a full house. The night's theme was "Baby Steps"—an idiom in the English language that could be applied to any number of situations and for the night, six local writers took to paper and then to stage to apply it to a situation in their life.
Nicole Stewart helms this storytelling ship that evolved from a previous collaboration with Nouveau 47 Theatre titled The Most: A Night of Storytelling. When her previous collaborator at N47, Lacy Lynch, moved to New York City, Stewart was ready to craft a new brand on her own.
"This idea has limitless potential," Stewart reflects over lunch at Ali Baba, a neighborhood restaurant for the Lakewood native. "I have this big goal of capturing the voice of Dallas. And it might be unrealistic, but there are so many different points of view here and I'm always hoping that new, diverse voices will tell their story."
Anyone can submit a story to be a part of one of the season's seven hour-long nights. Stewart says most stories are 1,200 words long and when performed last about 8 minutes each. Each night has a theme. The next one, tonight, Dec. 11, is "Cold Turkey," followed by "Cloud Nine" on Jan. 22.
"I'm a total word geek," Stewart admits with a laugh. "So one of the things I love is the way that we each have different ways of applying language to our life."
To one person, "Cold Turkey" may carry an association with overcoming an addiction. It may remind others of a holiday culinary disaster. One of her favorite double entendres yet was last year's "One Night Stand" theme. While many of the stories were about sex, one storyteller chose to use an antique night stand as a thread through her life.
Stewart serves as the filter for the stories, as well as the director for the evening. She edits less experienced writers and coaches delivery and technique for less experienced performers. "It can be as simple as reminding someone to use the commas they wrote into a sentence," she says.
She considers Oral Fixation, which has the subtitle "An Obsession with True Life Tales," to be a different kind of theatrical experience. Essentially memoirs onstage, the night strips down the fourth wall that so often separates actors and audience. For her there is something remarkably genuine about the performances and the reactions they garner.
"There are transformative moments in life—experiences that shape us," she reflects. "That's what I'm interested in. You were one person before and then something changed. How do we deal with that?"
Stewart notes that the catharsis in storytelling can be remarkable, no matter which side of the conversation you are on. She was recently invited to write, direct and produce a short play for the Holocaust Museum's annual fundraiser Hope for Humanity. She pieced together diary entries from teenagers then and now. And she said the reaction was remarkable, with many Holocaust survivors saying her words and the student performances took them back to their young adulthood.
"I'm really enthusiastic about using this art form to chronicle history—particularly local history," Stewart says, with a sparkle in her eye. "Did you know we have 200 Holocaust survivors in North Texas? That's 200 stories."
And with no promise of exactly what direction her enthusiasm combining history and narrative, Stewart notes that she is constantly seeking new projects. With an upcoming Continuing Education class at Southern Methodist University "Storytelling for the Stage" and numerous pending collaborations, this newlywed redefines productivity. But for now, she assures me that she's giving herself time to slow down and revel in Oral Fixation.
"I'm loving it," she says. "I can't wait to see this series grow and grow."