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Story League sings ... And you can too

Thursday - 8/8/2013, 9:00am  ET

'Story League Sings! 2: Bad Girls' combines live-band karaoke with storytelling to great effect. The show will take place at the Black Cat on Friday, Aug. 9. (Courtesy Story League, photo by Rachel Eisley)

Dana Gooley, special to

WASHINGTON - Half rock star fantasy, half hilarious confessional, Story League Sings! 2: Bad Girls combines live-band karaoke with storytelling to great effect.

The show is wildly popular. The first-ever Story League Sings! drew over 350 people to the Black Cat in Northwest D.C., and the upcoming second edition, this Friday, Aug. 9, promises a packed house, as well.

So what, exactly, is Story League?

Co-founded by SM Shrake and Cathy Alter in 2010, Story League bridges the gap between D.C.'s theater and nightlife scenes.

According to Shrake, storytelling appeals to fans of both.

"It's true personal stories for adults told in a bar, with drinks available at night, on stage. Or some variation on the order of those terms," he says.

The best part? It could be you up there next time. Anyone is welcome to submit a story idea for the group's monthly contests or tryout for the group's curated shows.

It's an accessible art form.

"You can't just say ‘Hey, I'm going to do stand-up comedy tonight' because they'll eat you alive," Shrake says. "You also can't say ‘I've decided I'm going to play bass with this band tonight.' Or, ‘I'm going to go onstage at the Shakespeare Theatre and play the role of Macbeth.' But, you can tell a story."

At Story League Sings!, performers do more than just tell stories.

Each narrative ends in a song, with musical accompaniment from the HariKaraoke Band.

The idea for this unique mix came from Shrake, himself.

"It's a pretty simple concept that grew out of my own personal dream, really, to be a singer," Shrake says. "We all want to be a rock star, right?"

Kenny Lewis, the HariKaraoke band leader and drummer, definitely agrees.

His band plays every Wednesday and Thursday at bars in D.C. and Virginia, and the sign-up lists to sing fill up fast.

Some people do better than others, and the unlucky or tone-deaf get "gonged" -- the band travels with a giant gong that allows the audience to end bad performances.

For Story League Sings!, the gong is present, but rarely used.

"Most of them [the performers in the show] can sing," says Lewis. "I think it kind of goes with the territory of being a storyteller. You're in the acting world and I think that if you can't sing you might not be telling stories that night."

Despite the excitement of live music, the focus is still on the stories.

For Story League Sings! cast member Diane Ivey, the key to a well-told tale is being a bit self-centered.

"I think it can seem selfish, talking about yourself, but in doing so you reveal some very universal human truths that are relatable to everyone there," Ivey says. "The story has to be about you and how you've changed."

Another word to the wise: Immerse the reader in the story.

"If you tell a story and you end it with ‘You had to be there,' you have not done your job," says Ivey. "It shouldn't be dependent on other people or other characters, it needs to be dependent on you."

That doesn't mean it has to be serious. On the contrary, Story League shows are anything but.

While the subject matter of this edition's performances remains under wraps, past topics include history crushes, getting kicked off Facebook and poorly timed bodily functions.

Sometimes the best stories are the hardest ones to tell. Embarrassing childhood memories are a good place to start.

"From the ages of 10-14, my hobby was collecting Barbra Streisand memorabilia. And the fact that everyone laughs at that sentence when I say it means that there's something interesting about it," Shrake says.

Everyone has a story to tell.

"Even the dullest person that you work with tends to tell stories to people. It's relateable," Shrake says.

Based off the success of Story League's monthly non-musical story contests, Shrake is considering adapting Story League Sings! as a competition open to the public.

"I'd like to experiment with an open mic version of it," he says. "It seems like a tall order, doesn't it? Imagine doubling the ante of regular storytelling. You have to tell a good story and then you have to carry off a song."

You can't play Macbeth for a night, and you can't do stand-up on a whim. But you can tell a story, and now you might rock out as well.

"Most people dream, at some point, of singing with a real band," Shrake says. "So we're just living the dream."

Check out a previous performance of Story League Sings! at the Black Cat.

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