We have stories to tell

Mother and daughter Liz and Katie Liesener are so good at storytelling that they combined to create a two-person show

Liz Liesener of Belgium and her daughter Katie collaborated for a two-person storytelling show about them and Liz’s mother and Katie’s grandmother Bee. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

A semicircle of relatives often forms around Liz Liesener at family gatherings.

They want to listen to her tell a story, and the Belgium resident loves spinning tales.         

“It’s something we used to do growing up. All the meals were around the big table. Even after the meals were done you stayed around the table telling stories,” Liz said.

Her daughter Katie took to storytelling as well, so much so that she became president of Massmouth, a Boston-based nonprofit storytelling organization.

She has won storytelling contests, called slams, and coaches other storytellers.

Katie remembers her first story in front of an audience. It was in a jazz club.

She talked about her first day of teaching.

She went to write her name the white board and it turned out to be the projection screen.

It was a hit, and from there Katie began taking notes when she watched storytelling shows, figuring out what elements worked and what didn’t.

Katie, who grew up in Peoria, Ill., before moving to Boston, worked at the craft and started winning story slams and began getting booked for shows.

She has done more than 100 in nine different states and has appeared on TV.

Getting her mother to join her was another story. Liz finally got up enough courage to put her name in a fish bowl at a place in Madison a couple of years ago during an event run by The Moth, a nonprofit storytelling organization based in New York.

Her name wasn’t chosen, but everyone not selected got to give a one-sentence summary of their story. Liz regaled the audience with a story about once aspiring to be a hairdresser after visits to a salon with her mother and cutting a neighbor girl’s long hair.

Although she was nervous—she hadn’t told a story in front of hundreds of strangers before —Liz got through it just fine.

“When I walked up to that microphone, when I looked out at that audience, I felt I was at home,” she said.

That caught Katie’s attention.

“She brought the house down,” she said, and told her, ‘Mom, you should do this.’ She’s a total natural.”

Fast forward to Sunday night. Katie and Liz combined for a show at the Jackson Community Center. Called “You & Me & Bee,” the show featured stories of Katie and Liz interacting with Liz’s mother and Katie’s grandmother, the late Bee.

 Many family members were among the 60-plus in attendance. The only equipment required was a microphone, and it turns out they didn’t even need that since it wasn’t working, which added intimacy to the atmosphere.

Liz and Katie worked for several months from their homes 1,l00 miles apart to put the 90-minute show together. Stories could each stand on their own but also built on one another. They listened to each other and provided feedback.

Stories were five to six minutes each. Liz said she could have gone on and on. “You learn to condense but still put the important things in there,” she said.

They wrote their stories, or at least bullet points, but storytellers don’t use notes.

“There’s no way I’m going to remember a written script because it’s going to sound like a written script,” Liz said. She gets asked how she remembers the things she tells stories about.

‘Well, I’ve lived them,” she said. “I lived this good story and let me tell it to you.”

Topics for the show ranged from humorous—Liz sneakily painting her nails and spilling red nail polish on white bed sheets—to serious—Liz’s father verbally abusing her mother.

Liz said rehearsing her stories was difficult, because “every time we practice it we relive it.” There’s a lot of emotion there. I can still see the rooms, see my mom and dad, feel what I felt back then,” she said.

Liz prefers the funny tales and will adjust on the fly.

“Looking out and seeing all the people with big smiles or laughing, I would add a sentence or two,” she said.

Katie, who got over any fear of public speaking a long time ago, has had a career in communication. She is communications manager for the Office of Workforce Development in Boston, worked as a journalist and still freelances. Some of her articles have been published in the New York Times.

She pointed out the difference between print and live storytelling.

“I’m not there with them at the breakfast table with the paper,” she said of print. But with storytelling, “I get an immediate feedback look. It’s very grounding.”

She used her skill and passion in college teaching. “You have to tell stories to keep the attention of 18-year-olds at 8 in the morning,” she said.

Storytelling can create connections between people that would never have come about otherwise. “You tell a story that is deeply personal, and someone comes up to you and says the same thing happened to me,” Katie said.

While many of the storytelling opportunities are in big cities, Katie said “You can do this anywhere. It doesn’t take any special talent or investment.”

Liz and Katie are to perform their show once more in Boston. They hope the show in Jackson inspires others to get involved in storytelling.

“These stories,” Liz said, “help make us who we are.”

For more information, visit http://www.katieliesener.com.



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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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