Tucson Women on the Mic: A FST! Storyteller’s First Year

September 5, 2014 |

This September, FST! Female StoryTellers observes its second birthday on Wednesday, Sept. 10, and I’m so happy to celebrate with them.

When FST! (pronounced “Fist!”) began in September 2012, I wasn’t aware of it. I didn’t know any of the women involved. I’d only been in Tucson a month, a California transplant newly arrived to work on a two-year graduate degree at UofA. I had no ties to the local community, no connections outside the insular world of my MFA cohorts. I had no idea that right across Downtown, somewhere beyond all that street car construction, the girl gang I’d been looking for all my life was being conceived and born.

I wouldn’t learn about FST! until June 2013, when the guy I was dating invited me to my first show, “A Letter to Anyone” at LoveSmack, a warehouse gallery on Toole Avenue next to the railroad tracks.

FST web“You’re going to love it,” he said. He was right. I was immediately delighted, and confused. An open forum, just for women to tell their stories? An at-capacity paying audience who listens? When James described it to me as “feminist storytelling,” I imagined the most sparsely attended poetry readings I’d ever uncomfortably sat though. When we arrived, and I saw so many folding chairs set up, filling the empty gallery space, I worried these poor gals were kidding themselves. Then people came and claimed all those seats, and I wondered if I had stumbled into a dream.

Comic Lauren Wiggins founded FST! for a simple reason: she likes doing stand-up, but was getting tired of rape jokes. As a middle finger to the stand-up world’s open hostility to women, Wiggins set out to create an alternative space where women could take the mic, and only women (on the gender spectrum, not as half of a binary—transwomen and transmen are FST!ers, too) would be invited onto the stage.

Two years later, FST! has featured 44 unique storytellers, hosted 22 shows, and raised over $5,000 for local nonprofits and community organizations. It is independent, all-volunteer, grass-roots, and community-based. It has moved from LoveSmack in the Warehouse Arts District, to (now defunct) Beowulf Alley Downtown, to its present longstanding 4th Avenue venue, The Flycatcher (formerly Plush). There is a website: Fstorytellers.com. I proudly show my affiliation with a bright pink FST! button I wear on my purse, and FST! T-shirts are designed by local artist Donovan White. What I’m trying to say is this: FST! is legit.

As I watched the seats at LoveSmack fill up on that sweltering Saturday night in June 2013, and not with the gray-haired second-wavers in tie-dyed sundresses that I expected (no disrespect, I’ve got mad love for the tie-dyed second wavers, some of whom are great supporters of FST! – thank you! Please tell stories with us!), but with punks and hipsters and bright-lipped, tattooed chicks. Where were the NPR tote bags? Where were the Birkenstocks with organic cotton socks? What were these cool people going to do when the women got on stage and started telling stories?

It’s like I said: they listened. And we laughed. And we were moved.

I knew right away I wanted in.

I submitted my first story for the August 2013 show, “Shameless,” at Beowulf Alley Theatre. In the year that followed, I took the stage six more times, telling stories for “Never Say Never,” “Next Chapter,” “I Fought the Law,” “Best Summer Ever,” “ . . . And I’m an Adult!” and celebrated my first FST!iversary in August, with “More than Meets the Eye.”

I’ve grown a lot as a performer, and as a writer, thanks to FST! My fellow FST!ers are so good they inspire and challenge me to get better. Recently, I joined FST!’s storytelling committee, helping to give feedback on the story drafts we see each month. FST! provides more than just a platform for women to share their stories – it offers resources to make those stories more powerful. At rehearsal, when FST!ers give each other tips on how to tweak a story or its delivery, the conversations are always constructive and supportive. We encourage one another, believe in one another, and always leave rehearsal pumped about our next show.

As the organization celebrates its second birthday this September on Wednesday, Sept. 10, there are still people in Tucson who’ve never been to a FST! show, or still aren’t sure what it’s all about. It isn’t about any one thing, except this: women’s lives. Since women’s lives are made up of all kinds of different experiences, it’s tough to summarize just what kind of stories will show up on the FST! stage on any given month. But here are some traits that FST!’s most moving and memorable stories have in common.

Sure, we may change names to protect the innocent. We may embellish, exaggerate, and employ hyperbole – it’s not like we’re being held to the same standard of truth as witnesses in federal court. But the power of FST! stories comes from the fact that they are based on our storytellers’ lived experience.

Of course none of us would be standing under the spotlight with a mic in our hands, demanding the attention of a roomful of people, without some measure of ego – but the best FST! storytellers understand that a good performance serves the story, and the goal of the story is to share some little measure of wisdom that can benefit the audience (even if it’s just to make them laugh). On the FST! stage, storytellers check their egos at the door.

The best stories teach the audience something, but they aren’t lectures. They are smart, but don’t talk down to us. They are enlightening without preaching, vulnerable without self-pitying, touching but unsentimental.

Underrepresented Voices/Breaking Stigma/Confronting Taboos
FST! strives to be a diverse and inclusive space for women and transfolk. To become a space that better represents all women’s stories, we would like to welcome more FST!ers who are 40+, women of color, queer and/or genderqueer, and disabled. FST! storytellers are often incredibly courageous, telling stories that the mainstream media and culture thinks we should be ashamed of. We want more of the voices that aren’t being heard.

On the FST! stage, topics have included sex, chronic illness, mental illness, plastic surgery, domestic violence, abortion, teen motherhood, and sex work. It might sound, on the whole, like a lot of uncomfortable material, but the stories come with humor and personality and presence, and every time, I am amazed to see audiences go there with us and leave just a little bit wiser having been part of the journey.

I suppose “community” is the word for what we have – this space where we support each other and work so hard to craft our stories into an experience we can laugh about together – but I prefer “girl gang,” because there’s something edgy about us gals on the mic, fists in the air, challenging the status quo. Being funny, and feminists, at the same time. FST! shows always entertain, and the audience always has our back – no judgment. It’s a beautiful thing.

The next event happens at Flycatcher, 340 E. 6th St., on Wednesday, Sept. 10 at 7 p.m. Get more information at FSTorytellers.com.

Category: Arts, Community, DOWNTOWN / UNIVERSITY / 4TH AVE, Entertainment, Events