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Building Community Through Stories

Two Portland creative endeavors, Telltale and the nobodies project, build artistic networks fostering inclusion and sharing.

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Carlos Kareem Windham shared their story with the Telltale audience at the Chapel Theatre in Milwaukie last summer. Photo courtesy of Telltale.

The house lights settled; the stage lights came up. Jasmine Nothing, the founder of Telltale, a Portland-based monthly live storytelling series, welcomed the audience. For every other Telltale event, Nothing (her artist name) invites individuals — comedians, storytellers, and others — to present. But for this night, Thursday, March 2, the audience would be treated to something different. Participants in the nobodies project would be on stage. The nobodies project, a Portland-based podcast, features interviews of local creatives, a term the podcast defines loosely—from animator to teacher or chef. The one-night partnership made a lot of sense. Though both Telltale and the nobodies project offer stories and entertainment, the heart of both is community, which is the genesis and the goal of both their programs.

Telltale’s beginnings

On stage at Alberta Abbey, an affordable arts event space in NE Portland, Nothing described how Telltale originated after the 2016 presidential election. She felt sad, alone, and anxious — traumatized by what had happened and what she then feared was on the horizon. She began to seek the support of others. 

As a substance abuse counselor for homeless youth for more than 16 years, Nothing is familiar with approaching trauma head-on, and she knew “only one thing counteracts trauma, and that is community.” 

Telltale founder Jasmine Nothing introduces the evening’s participants. Photo courtesy of Telltale.

Unlike many other storytelling series, Telltale is neither a contest nor a place to show off the most polished of work — the latter might end up happening, but perfection is definitely not required. Nothing herself doesn’t write except to produce a story a month for Telltale, and she usually does that right on deadline.

The beginnings of the nobodies projects

In his introduction of the nobodies project, founder Ryan Markiewicz, who goes by Markie, welcomed audience members to enjoy the show — but as important, to later submit their creative work to the nobodies project for review and feedback. His words echoed the introduction he gives each podcast episode, in which he says, “bigger than [our interviews], this is a community, so we want you to be involved.” 

Ryan Markiewicz, aka Markie, discusses the philosophy that led to the founding of the nobodies project. Video courtesy of the nobodies project.

Brand manager for a Portland brewery by day and filming comedy shorts and other artistic endeavors the rest of the time, Markiewicz founded the nobodies project when he realized he’d spent his whole life craving, but not finding, peer-level artistic support. While attending a friend’s artist accountability group, he spit-balled his podcast idea, which would get to that need, and they encouraged him to explore it — exactly the kind of response he would later hope to pass on to others in the nobodies project. 

The nobodies project “Talent Show,” hosted by Telltale

In the March 2 “talent show,” as Markiewicz called it, 10 individuals, all of whom were featured on last year’s inaugural season of the nobodies project podcast or will be on this year’s Season Two, took the stage one by one. The evening’s participants included animators, filmmakers, comedians, and a skateboarder. After all, Markiewicz said, if someone approaches what they do creatively, passionately, they fit the nobodies project’s definition of “creative.” 

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Markie interviews filmmaker Karlee Boon during the inaugural podcast of the nobodies project. Video courtesy of the nobodies project.

Some balance managing a day job with steadily pursuing their creative work; one is a member of Willamette Week’s Funniest Five 2023. Some showed short films they had produced for that night, while others dusted off work from their archives or debuted longer pieces they would officially screen in the future. Two told prepared jokes, one a TEDTalk-esque speech, and one read a genre-blending essay-story-review about an imaginary horror movie: Supreme Court Summer Camp, with the tagline “Abort the Court.”  

Commitment to community drives both Telltale and the nobodies project

Though Nothing didn’t handpick the participants of the nobodies project-Telltale blended event, as she normally would for Telltale events, the evening still followed Telltale’s spirit. And that spirit is one of community. It’s about welcoming others to join in and speak up, without judgment. 

Rapper and comedian Zane Thomas on stage at Telltale. Photo courtesy of Telltale.

For example, the people behind both programs vet participants based as much on their openness to community as their interest in sharing a story.

Nothing often invites people to tell a story at Telltale simply because they’re holding a microphone in their Instagram profile picture. As she told Markiewicz during her own interview with the nobodies project podcast (she’s the “story teller, vulnerable human, ghost enthusiast” of Season One, below), she figures that if they’re putting out creative vibes like that, they might want to say something on Telltale’s stage. She doesn’t review what they decide to present and is as much an audience member that night as anyone else. 

Telltale’s founder (Jasmine) Nothing appeared on Season One of the nobodies project. Video courtesy of the nobodies project.

Markiewicz has structured the nobodies project similarly. He and the rest of the team — Mollie Dorna, photographer and designer; Bradley Heathman, sound engineer; Michael Masson, video editor; Chris Sturner, illustrator; and Kyle Roscamp, copywriter — collectively vote on people to interview. Often, interviewees will also suggest potential subjects. Though some are dream interviews and others are unknown to Markiewicz until their nomination, Markiewicz never knows exactly what will come up when he asks them about their creative process, their successes, and their “ruts.” He wants to be, he said, “a part of the community as opposed to presenting it, as opposed to ‘this is my thing; how do you react to it?’”

The team behind the creativity podcast, the nobodies project. Photo courtesy of the nobodies project.

Telltale is going where it’s always wanted to be

After six years of monthly events, even during the pandemic when they moved from their usual home of Chapel Theater in Milwaukie to Zoom, Telltale remains a nonjudgmental place for established, emerging, and even one-time-only any-medium-allowed storytellers. Scroll to What? at the bottom of Telltale’s website, and you’ll find snapshots of past participants holding the ribbon everyone who steps on stage receives; it reads, “I got vulnerable and took no shit.” Their expressions are, as Nothing said she hopes participants always feel, “quite victorious.” In the future, Nothing said, she hopes to have Telltale events in other cities, growing the community there.

Storyteller, standup comedian, and improv artist Bui on stage at Telltale. Photo courtesy of Telltale.

The nobodies project: Broadcast the podcast’s spirit wider

The nobodies project may have a ringleader in Markiewicz, but it is really an “everybody’s project” of people striving to be driven not by ego, but, again, by community. After just over a year of production, the podcast continues to flourish as its own thing, but, more importantly, as a growing support system for other creatives. The nobodies project team doesn’t just choose interesting creatives who want to be interviewed, but those want to share their expertise directly with another individual. 

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When someone submits their art to the project, not only Markiewicz, but two to four others on the team or from the podcast, review it, as well, and offer their feedback. Being willing to accept that is part of the requirement of being on the podcast; in exchange, that podcast participant’s own community also grows.

the nobodies project’s Markie interviews standup comedian Imani Denae. Photo courtesy of the nobodies project.

They also receive permission to freely use the professional headshots and other collateral from the podcast. The professionals on the nobodies project team have also been happy to assist their podcast interviewees by updating their website and other support. And they plan to help Nothing translate Telltale recordings into a podcast. In short, they try to act like the community they say they are. 

Upcoming Telltale and nobodies project events

Telltale’s next show is March 16, 7:30 pm (doors at 7:00 pm) at Chapel Theater, 4107 SE Harrison, Milwaukie. The theme — which storytellers can follow, use as inspiration, or ignore — is Would I Lie to You? Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 at the door (suggested donation). To learn more about getting up on that storytelling stage, contact Nothing.

The second season of the nobodies project podcast drops later this spring. You can get a sense of it by watching or listening to Season One, Episode Nine, which has both lots of laughter and plenty of vulnerability, with animator/illustrator Titus, below.

Titus, an animator, illustrator, and motion designer, was a guest on Season One of the nobodies project. Video courtesy of the nobodies project.

In the meantime, the nobodies project always encourages artists of all kinds to submit their art for honest, hopefully helpful, feedback — and to take another step toward a new community.

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