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Refining the art of storytelling

Refining the art of storytelling

Beech Grove native Bob Sander has always enjoyed writing, even as a child. Teachers chose to read his creative works aloud in class. He continued his passion into college and even while co-owning a business for some time after graduation in the 80s.

“In comes this gal named Ellen (Munds), she’s a client, and at some point, she says to me, ‘You’re always scribbling in this note pad, you’re always writing. What are you writing?’” Sander recalled. “I said, I write short stories. She said, ‘Read me a story.’ I read her the story and she said, ‘That was a really average story. But I really like the way you read it. You should be a storyteller.’ Which meant exactly nothing to me.”

Ellen promptly invited Sander to hear a professional storyteller perform for middle school students, a tough audience to impress, and was fascinated with the way the storyteller held the students’ attention. “I think that was the point I thought, maybe I could try this,” he said.

Bob Sander entertains children while his assistant, Deborah Asante, looks on. (Photo by Neal Smith)

It wasn’t long before Sander, his wife, Nancy, a native of Greenwood and Ellen Munds founded Storytelling Arts of Indiana, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit organization devoted to bringing the art of storytelling to audiences throughout the Midwest. Munds is currently executive director. Annual events include Ghost Stories at Crown Hill Cemetery, Talk of the Town in spring and the Annual Liar’s Contest at the Indiana State Fair. The organization also hosts Indy Story Slams, designed as an after-work event to relax and unwind as storytellers at every skill level are invited to the stage to share a story, told in first person, based on a predetermined theme at the event. Events are held at Garfield Park Arts Center.

Suzi Keown of Franklin and her daughter Summer Keown, who lives in Fountain Square, decided to attend an Indy Story Slam in October to listen to other storytellers. Summer was interested in observing the event as she had attended a storytelling event called Trampoline (similar to The Moth Radio Hour on NPR) when she was living in New York.

“I used to go to Trampoline and think ‘There’s no way I would ever get up there to speak,’” Summer said.

October Story Slam winners: from left, first place, Summer Keown, second place, Suzi Keown and third place, Henry Russell. (Submitted photo)

Yet, after repeated requests at Indy Story Slam for audience members to share a story, Summer found herself onstage. Suzi told a story as well. After all storytellers were finished, judges from the audience selected three winners from the competition. Summer won first place, and Suzi placed second.

“One of the things I’ve thought through going to the storytelling events is that we all have stories, even if we don’t think our lives are all that exciting,” Summer said. “They can be really interesting too, depending on the way that you tell them.”

“You don’t have to feel like you’re an expert or you’re good at it,” added Suzi. “Enjoy it for fun and each time you tell it, it becomes a little bit more interesting, I think.”

Indy Story Slams will be held through spring at Garfield Park Arts Center. (Submitted photo)

Sander, a full-time professional storyteller, has performed for schoolchildren, in children’s libraries, at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, retirement homes, hospitals, prisons, festivals and more. “What I personally favor is I like to tell stories I’m really enthralled with,” he said. “If you’re not 100 percent behind them or it doesn’t move me, you will do an adequate job. You want the right story for the right audience at the right time. The storytellers that move me, they love their story.

“The main thing to know is this: everybody in the audience wants to hear a good story. They want you to do well, they’re all on your side. You can get up there and make mistakes, forget a word, but if you love the story you brought to them, you can go, ‘I forgot to tell you something’ and they will forgive you because they want the story. That goes a long way to make you feel comfortable in front of a group.”


Storytellers are asked to base their stories on the theme, “Alone or Lonely,” which can be interpreted narrowly or broadly. The stories just have to be true, told in first-person and up to five minutes long. Prizes will be awarded to the top three tellers.

If you go…

Indy Story Slam

Feb. 19, 7-8:30 p.m.

Theme: “Alone or Lonely”

Stories must be true and told in first person.

Length: up to five minutes

Prizes awarded to the top three tellers

Garfield Park Arts Center

2432 Conservatory Drive

Indianapolis, IN  46203

Tickets: $10

Buy at storytellingarts.org or at the door




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