Storytellers compete to be Philly’s finest

R. Eric Thomas will co-host the First Person Arts contest. Credit: Ben Droz
R. Eric Thomas will co-host the First Person Arts contest.
Credit: Ben Droz

Everyone’s got a story to tell. But some are better at it than others. The winners of First Person Arts’ monthly StorySlams will gather for the Grand Slam at Underground Arts on Friday to compete for the title of Best Storyteller in Philadelphia.

They’re a diverse crew, with a private investigator, a museum educator and a professional mime — speaking this time, we assume — among the group. Martha Cooney, founder of StoryUP!, and R. Eric Thomas, known in storytelling circles for his one-man show “Will You Accept This Friend Request?” will host the contest, which focuses on a single theme: power.

Andrew Panebianco, a former English professor turned advertising copywriter, will be vying for best storyteller bragging rights. He loves the danger inherent in storytelling.

“There is something thrilling about potentially making a fool out of yourself,” Panebianco says. “The reason that I get up and tell a story is the same reason that people get up and do karaoke.”

Panebianco believes he inherited his ability to tell stories, growing up in a “gratuitously Italian-American family” where there was “no such thing as a short answer. Everything is an epic.”

The Grand Slam’s five-minute limit is no match for his stories. In fact, he swears he’s never told a story that short. A  true tale about his cat drowning, for a danger-themed StorySlam, got him to this final round.

“The sink was overflowing in the dentist’s office below my apartment. In a whisper-down-the-lane panic, the landlord convinced me that my cat would drown in the flood,” Panebianco says. “I was so worried as I hurried home on the train. When I arrived, it was clear that my cat was never in danger. The only danger was in my mind.”


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