Guess who’s coming to dinner

Picture a group of strangers, bonded not through the invisibility of computer networking, but through the telling of their stories over dinner.

Local actor

Local actor

Picture a group of strangers, bonded not through the invisibility of computer networking, but through the telling of their stories over dinner.

In a study of human interaction, and the love of a good story and meal, Vernon’s Gabe Newman is inviting all walks of life to his table for a project he calls the Social Potluck.

“It will be a glimpse into each other’s lives, and should be fascinating,” he said. “This will be like a community play, but it will be at the dinner table.”

Newman is currently working on his master’s degree in performance at UBC Okanagan, and the Social Potluck is his thesis.

“Most of our stories now come from film, books and TV. My study instead focusses on them being told around the dinner table… This is how stories were told back to when the cavemen were sitting around the fire,” he said.

To take part in the project, participants have to be willing to tell one story in public at a dinner party Newman will host at a yet undisclosed location. Guests will pay for their meal, prepared by Newman, by sharing their story with everyone at the table.

“It can be any story they want. It can be true or false. It can be about them, or it can be a fairy tale, but they have to be willing to have anything they contribute be used in a performance,” he said.

Newman will take the stories he has recorded, as well as some of the casual conversations that occur after dinner, and combine them to make a performance that will be presented to everyone who has participated, along with their guests.

He will look for themes or patterns, or stories that strike a cord, to come up with the end result, and he is willing to take the good with the bad –– stories about successes and failures –– which he says will help him develop a strong sense of character when it comes to tying them all together.

“That is why this project is in two parts. The first part is a true community play where participants portray themselves. The second part is what happens when a performer gets his hands on these stories,” he said. “What is interesting is that every dinner will be different, and I could do a hundred of these projects in Vernon and every show would be different.”

A theatre actor, writer and academic, Newman is probably best known about town as the host of those titular Ghost Tours of Vernon. He has also produced performances and storytelling projects such as Rumours of a House at the historic Caetani house and Farm Tales, Tall Tales and Other Yarns with the Okanagan Science Centre, and says he has been struck by how many interesting stories he has heard in this community.

“I always felt that the most interesting part of my job was meeting people and listening to their stories. This made me realize that everyone was performer. We are all storytellers, (and) it is at the dinner table that we test out our material and master it,” he said.

“This will be about me shutting up and listening and watching a community play unfold.”

Newman is now collecting names of prospective participants, and the deadline for his first dinner is Friday, however, he will collect names thereafter for future dinners.

“Anyone can take part, the young, the old or the newly arrived as I want a wide cross section of people,” he said.

Dinners will take place Jan. 29, 30 and Feb. 4 to 6. A complete description of the project with frequently asked questions is available at the Social Potluck blog at socialpotluck.blogspot.com.

To contact Newman in order to get your name added to the list, call 250-260-8757 or email socialpotluck@gmail.com.