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‘Risk!’ stages local showcase for storytellers

Steven Sonoras
Special to The Detroit News

Kevin Allison doesn’t just host and curate “Risk!” He lives it.

Allison, whose live show and weekly podcast allows people to “tell true stories they never thought they’d dare to share in public,” encourages the 1.5 million listeners of New York City-based broadcast to “take a risk.” It’s a challenge he makes a habit of taking himself.

Kevin Allison, known for his stint at MTV, encourages listeners take risks, and also challenges himself to do the same.

Two weeks ago, Allison stepped away from his day job to spend 12 days, 10 in total silence, at the Dhamma Dhara Vipassana Meditation Center in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts. He says that while it was difficult to unplug for so long, both he and his audience will benefit from the experience.

“It was kind of brutal, but I was very glad I did it,” Allison says. “It’s very, very surreal. Real life comes back at you super hard and super quick. You are immediately back in the waterfall of too much information and too much to be aware about. I’m planning on creating a story about the whole experience.”

Allison, who first made his name in the ’90s as a cast member on MTV’s sketch comedy show “The State,” will bring “Risk!” to Ferndale’s The Magic Bag on Thursday night. Allison will tell a true, uncensored story of his own alongside four local storytellers — Edward Hejka, Jonelle Bowers, Patti Smith and Ted Olds.

The show’s slogan is, “The show where people tell true stories they never thought they’d dare to share in public,” and Allison expects his second Metro Detroit show (the first being last April, also at The Magic Bag) to be the kind emotional roller coaster his fans have come to expect. Unlike “The Moth,” the show’s storytellers are locked in before the event begins, and no topic, no matter how taboo, is off-limits.

“An evening of ‘Risk!’ usually works best when there’s one story that’s completely hilarious, and one that’s totally bizarre and odd, one that’s really heavy, and maybe one that’s super beautiful,” Allison says.

Patti Smith, an Ann Arbor-based special education teacher and freelance journalist, first heard “Risk!” was coming to Detroit through a call for pitches sent to the Ann Arbor Storytellers Guild, of which she is an active member.

“I like the whole concept of ‘Risk!,’ ” Smith says. “When I do storytelling in the Storytellers Guild, it’s lighthearted. It’s nothing really deep. It’s just kind of fun and funny.”

Smith’s “Risk!” story is anything but lighthearted. It concerns the unexpected consequences of her and her junior high girlfriends omitting a girl from their social circle in the mid-’80s.

“I remember it happening, but it didn’t seem awful,” Smith recalls. “Come to find out, this seriously affected this person’s life. And I found out through social media. I was in touch with a relative of hers, and apparently this seriously affected this person. Hearing that affected me in ways I hopefully can get across in the story.”

She says her story is a good fit for “Risk!” not only because it deals with difficult themes, but also because it forces her to portray herself negatively.

“It really is something I never thought I would tell out loud,” Smith says. “Most of us don’t like to get up there and cast ourselves in not the best light, and that’s what I’m doing. I’m really confessing to this thing, and I don’t look awesome in it, but this needs to get out in the universe.”

Jonelle Bowers, an advancement assistant at Interlochen Center for the Arts, who regularly performs at “Here: Say Storytelling” in Traverse City, says she’s been a fan of “Risk!” for several years. Her style of storytelling is bold, she says, and often jarring to the “Here:Say” audience.

Jonelle Bowers, one of four regional storytellers performing Thursday at “Risk!,” says her stories often shock audiences.

At “Risk!” she will tell the story of the night 11 years ago that led to her breaking years of opiate abuse. Bowers has told this story in a live setting before, but she’s excited to finally be able to perform it without restraint at “Risk!.”

“I kind of have to deal with the subject matter with kid gloves here in Traverse City,” she admits. “The difference between that and the ‘Risk!’ stage is that ‘Risk!’ really wants you to be super raw about it. Their feedback to me was, ‘I don't wanted any poetic language. This is a f----- up thing, and I want to hear about it.’”

Steven Sonoras is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

Kevin Allison and ‘Risk!’ Live

8 p.m. Thurs.

The Magic Bag

22920 Woodward, Ferndale


(248) 544-3030

The Tour

12 / 16

Milwaukee, WI

Theme: "Eye-opening"

Venues: Collectivo Coffee

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Hollywood, CA

Theme: "The Holidays”

Stories presented by Lena Waithe and more! Hosted by Beowulf Jones.

Venues: Bootleg Theater

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1 / 18

Austin, TX

Theme: "The Real Deal"

Venues: Stateside at the Paramount

Address: 719 Congress Ave

Show: 8 p.m.

1 / 19

Houston, TX

Theme: "Unbelievable"

Venues: White Oak Music Hall

Address: 2915 N Main St

Show 8 p.m.

1 / 20

Dallas, TX

Theme: "Adventure"

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Address: 3414 Elm St

Show: 9 p.m.

1 / 27

San Francisco, CA

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Address: 2174 Market Street

Show: 7:30 p.m.