Stories on Stage celebrates 10 years of bringing the written word to life in Sacramento

Tobias Wolff speaks at Stories on Stage in 2015.
Tobias Wolff speaks at Stories on Stage in 2015.

When Valerie Fioravanti moved to Sacramento, she had one question: Where are my people?

A native New Yorker and award-winning fiction writer, she missed a writing community, its stimulating friendships and shared life. She’d bounced around before landing in Sacramento, earning a master’s degree, spending time in Italy on a Fulbright Scholarship. And while she found an affinity for Sacramento, especially downtown, she felt a need for the company of other fiction writers.

So she began “looking for my people.”

Thus Stories on Stage Sacramento was born, shows which offer literary works interpreted and performed by local actors. Each show highlights a featured writer and an emerging writer.

On the last Friday of each month, the words of two authors come to life before like-minded literary enthusiasts in the auditorium of the E. Claire Raley Studios for Performing Arts.

This Friday’s event features the work of Tom Barbash, author of the novel The Last Good Chance.

At the shows, the featured writer is already established, widely published, and in some cases, a household name. The emerging writer is usually a local talent, sometimes published, often not.

Fioravanti modeled Stories on Stage Sacramento as an homage to her favorite city — New York — and her favorite series, National Public Radio’s “Selected Shorts”, in which actors give live presentations of works of fiction.

Fioravanti draws on the talents of two other women, Peggi Wood and Sue Staats, to produce Stories on Stage Sacramento. Fioravanti herself has stepped into more of an advisory role.

Long involved in the Sacramento theater community, Peggi Wood is casting director. She studies the literary selections for each show and then chooses an actor to voice an author’s words. Often, she knows exactly the person for the role. Other times, she rounds up a handful of actors for a read-through audition.

Wood also acts as an acting coach. The actors practice their readings for her, sometimes over the phone. “They have to be able to hold my interest,” she said.

Sue Staats serves as program coordinator, a role she assumed in 2013. She has booked such talents as Tobias Wolf, Anthony Marra, and Ann Packer.

She partners with the Los Rios community colleges to find works by emerging writers. All of the community colleges have creative writing programs and literary journals; each year, Stories on Stage Sacramento solicits the best stories from the advisers of the literary journals.

“We pick one of the stories and we invite those four writers to come, and we read their pieces at a special event that honors the writing of the community colleges,” Staats said.

Stories on Stage Sacramento tends to attract the same audience as theater in Sacramento, often an older demographic. But the partnership with Los Rios expands the audience, bringing in younger people.

For Fioravanti, each crowd represents a kind of justification.

Before she started the series nearly 10 years ago, everyone told her, “Sacramento’s a poetry town. Go to the Bay Area. If you want to meet fiction writers, you have to go to Berkeley.”

“I just had this feeling that it couldn’t possibly be true, that a city this large had to have a thriving fiction community,” Fioravanti said.

If you go

What: Stories on Stage featuring Tom Barbash with Shelley Blanton-Stroud

Where: Auditorium at CLARA, 1425 24th Street, Sacramento

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday (doors open at 7)

Cost: a $10 donation is suggested