Old-world art of storytelling makes a comeback in Queens and across New York City

David Lawson (PHOTO CREDIT Cait Reilly Goat Rodeo)
Photo: Cait Reilly Goat Rodeo


Storytelling may have been a lost art, but one Astoria resident is bringing it back with a vengeance!

Who doesn’t like listening to a good story, no matter the topic? As kids, most people enjoyed being read to, and it seems that feeling of wonder never really goes away, no matter how old you are.

Performing one-man shows for over a decade, while constantly honing his unique craft, David Lawson has been busy keeping his audiences throughout New York City and across the country, captivated, as he gets folks re-acquainted with an ancient art form.

One day, the talented creative had an “aha” moment.

“About five years ago, I discovered that a lot of places typically associated with stand-up comedy had storytelling shows with performers doing 5- to 10-minute sets that looked and sounded a lot like the work I had been doing in the one-person show world,” said the story wizard, who is excited about hosting an intriguing new show called “Queens Storytellers” at Queens Theatre on Sept. 28. 

Part of a series of free programs through the theater’s new Community Engagement Department, it’s an evening of multi-cultural storytelling about the borough told by locals, who will be sharing interesting narratives about their personal experiences, adventures and more with the audience. This fascinating event will feature performers from varying backgrounds who were born and raised in Queens or longtime residents. There will also be an open mic portion of the show where members of the audience can perform. [RSVP at: https://queenstheatre.org/queens-storytellers].

“My goal with Queens Storytellers is to have a storytelling show equivalent of overhearing a really great conversation on the [No.] 7 train with the opportunity for audience members to join in on the conversation themselves. The Queens Theatre gives me the chance to do exactly that … but just off the 7 train instead of on it,” Lawson noted. 

While there are many storytelling styles and techniques, great tellers of tales, like Lawson, know how to bring them to life in a compelling way, thus creating images in his listeners’ brains and grabbing their attention.

He got the “World’s Borough” interested and folks here were getting curious.

“Two huge events for me personally, in terms of storytelling in Queens, were when The Astoria Bookshop opened in the summer of 2013 and when the performing space, Q.E.D., opened off the Ditmars stop in the fall of 2014,” he said, recalling a Valentine’s Day event at the bookshop that year, where he asked Lexi Beach, the owner, if he could run a monthly storytelling open mic there. “March 2014 was the first installment of The Astoria Bookshop Storytelling Show and in the five-plus years since, the show has been profiled in The New York Times and has had performances from authors with big book deals, standup comics with national TV credits, and complete and total strangers who had a story to tell,” Lawson explained. The show goes up the first Thursday of every month at 7 p.m., and anybody can drop their name in the basket and tell whatever true, no theme, 5-minute story they want, and it’s always free.

Q.E.D. provided a real destination for comedy and storytelling shows featuring bigger name talent, such as performers who have been on Comedy Central’s storytelling show “This Is Not Happening” and “The Moth Radio Hour,” according to the popular storyteller, who added, “Q.E.D. is one of my favorite places in the city to perform.”

Lawson emphasized that he sees his craft as a “direct branch-off” of solo shows and the theater world. 

“I think one person, alone onstage, talking to a crowd, has the ability to elevate the life experience of the individuals in that crowd like nothing else in any other medium can,” he said. “Storytelling can make audiences think my two favorite things to think when I am at a show: One, ‘Something like that happened to me once.’ Two, ‘I never thought of it that way.’”

It’s interesting to note that many of the storytelling techniques used thousands of years ago are surprisingly, still applicable today. They are indispensable tools for writers and novelists, and quite useful for marketers, presenters, business leaders and journalists.

Someone once said, “Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world.”

Lawson has performed on the popular storytelling shows, “Mortified,” Kevin Allison’s “RISK!,” and Mara Wilson’s “What Are You Afraid Of?” His latest, “Nazis and Me,” is about his encounters with hate groups: https://youtu.be/P-2KHkMu7qc  He also runs a solo show intensive, teaching students how to write and perform one-person shows.

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