Similar to a live version of National Public Radio’s weekly storytelling series and podcast, “Snap Judgment,” First Person Arts (FPA) celebrates the power of storytelling.
The nonprofit’s mission is to connect artists with audiences through writing classes, its annual First Person Arts Festival and regularly hosted StorySlam, a series of storytelling competitions.
It is the latter that may be the most entertaining and engaging, and Chris Lundy is the reason why.
“FPA feels like family,” said Lundy, the StorySlams at World Cafe Live host. “There are no strangers at FPA StorySlams, just friends and family. If you happen to spot a stranger, report them immediately … or buy them a drink. Either is fine.”
From performing in FPA monthly StorySlams to main stages like the BEyond Expectations: Engaging Males of Color, Lundy is a hit with audiences, and a natural performer.
“What most people don’t know is that I stumbled upon a flier in Whole Foods one night and decided to give it [StorySlams] a try,” said Lundy. Winning Audience Favorite at every FPA StorySlam contest he entered, “it took off from there.”
A tennis-playing student-athlete while attending one of Maryland’s Historically Black Universities, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Lundy has made Philadelphia his home.
While earning a master’s degree in communications from Temple, Lundy worked with the Philadelphia Eagles public relations department.
With his successful showings in StorySlam and shortly after sharing a heartfelt tale about growing up with a father in prison and rebuilding his life after losing his mother, Lundy became the dedicated host for all of FPA’s StorySlams at World Cafe Live.
“Chris is a natural-born performer and is right at home on the big stage. He’s brought a new level of energy, laughter, and love to the First Person Arts community. We’re so happy he’s here as the official host of First Person Arts StorySlams at World Cafe Live,” said FPA Executive Director Jamie J. Brunson. “He has certainly shined in the First Person Arts family since his very first StorySlam.”
“I’ve hosted special events with the Curtis Institute of Music and others. I’ve seen the crowds grow in size over time, which is extremely exciting, Lundy said. “I enjoy holding court and sharing stories with people. The [FPA] family culture breeds loyalty. If this were ‘Game of Thrones,’ I’d be Lord Lundy of House FPA.”
For Lundy, last week’s StorySlam at World Cafe Live was truly a family affair.
Following his progress from her home in Brooklyn, N.Y., Lundy’s cousin Gabby Shea was inspired to make the trip from the bustling New York borough and test her storytelling skills.
“Last fall a friend asked what I would do if i could do anything,” Shea shared during an interview. “I had no clue. I pondered the question for weeks and beat myself up because I couldn’t come up with the answer.”
A wife to Frank and mother of three girls — Marley, Maya and McKenna — Shea knew that she loved being a mom and knew her dream had to be associated with motherhood. She started thersdays.com, a blog that “shows how much of a mommy expert I am.”
Contemplating her next move, Shea didn’t think she had what it took to be a StorySlam contestant. “Nerves got the best of me but when [Lundy] mentioned that one of the themes was ‘little white lies’ I couldn’t deny fate.”
Shea wasn’t short of stories, but needed to figure out which story she would tell her in line with the theme.
“My kids are great and provide hilarious content. ‘Little white lies’ was the perfect theme for my perfect story. I was psyched but also terrified,” Shea said. “I love to talk and tell stories, however it’s definitely easier to do so with my inner circle. I didn’t know how I’d fare in front of a bunch of strangers.”
“I read, re-read, practiced my story on the train, in the shower, before bedtime, while washing dishes and on my bus ride to Philly. All I kept thinking was ‘if I can remember my first sentence, I’m golden.’ When I stepped on the stage and it rolled off my tongue, I knew there was no turning back. Feeding off of the audience’s laughter and energy took me over the edge. It was an amazing and extremely exhilarating experience.”
Like her cousin Lundy, Shea won Audience Favorite in her first FPA StorySlam. She also one the competition, which is determined by three randomly picked judges.
As a result of her performance, Shea has been invited by FPA to participate in the City’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy performance series, “Culture in the Courtyard,” this October.
“My blog is very important to me and I hope that this opportunity helps take it to the next level,” Shea said. “I plan on participating in many more storytelling competitions. I don’t know where this will eventually take me but I’m going to enjoy the ride.”
First Person Arts presents Philadelphia’s premier StorySlams every second Monday at World Cafe Live at 3025 Walnut St. and every fourth Tuesday at L’Etage at 624 S. 6th St.