What’s Too Much Information? Depending on the context, it could range from a graphic description of what happened in the bathroom after one helping of baked beans too many to a graphic description of a childhood containing more trauma than a box set of Dickens to a quick way to cut people off from telling you things you know you never want to hear. For the purposes of this story, however, it’s the TMI Project, an non-profit artistic endeavor to help people share some of their most interesting, vulnerable and educational moments in their life and to develop skills in that most venerable of human communication practices — telling stories.
The project, started in Rosendale in 2010, has recently moved to a site on Sterling Street in Midtown. This Sunday, May 3, at 2 p.m. at SUNY Ulster’s Quimby Theater, the project will, in conjunction with local rock academician Paul Green, stage The Rock Project, where six readers will talk about how music changed their lives. (Tickets are $20; click here to purchase.)
I posed some questions to TMI founders Eva Tenuto and Julie Novak. Tenuto is an actor, director and writer who serves as TMI’s executive director. Novak is a writer, actor and stand-up comedian. The two collaborated on Novak’s recent hit one-woman show, America’s Next Top. Both work with author, journalist and TMI editorial director Sari Botton to keep the project going.
Dan Barton: What’s the concept behind TMI?
Eva Tenuto: The concept behind TMI Project is that if we identify the stories we most need to tell, then write and share them in a compelling, satisfying way that allows others to identify, even if the specific details of their experiences have been nothing like ours, we can change the world, one story at a time. By sharing bravely and candidly, storytellers become agents of change, fostering compassion, understanding and public awareness.
Julie Novak: I echo Eva’s answer here.
DB: How did you decide to locate in Kingston?
ET: We felt Kingston was an ideal location as it’s easily accessible from Rosendale, New Paltz, Woodstock and Rhinebeck. It’s at the center of it all. Midtown has been coined the Arts District of Kingston and we are proud to be a part of it.
JN: Eva answered this.
DB: Is there a “typical” person who participates in the project? A thread of some kind which ties them all (or most) together?
ET: We appeal to people from such varying backgrounds. The commonality among them is that they are people who want to write and share, are interested in learning more about themselves and can look at their issues inquisitively.
JN: As far as our general workshops open to the community, we have appealed not only to writers looking to expand their work, but also individuals who are intrigued by the concept and want to dig deeper into their own secrets. Often they are audience members. I think that witnessing the culmination of the process on stage is very palpable and the transformation of the reader very evident. Often people are telling their stories for the first time in public. Stories that they came into the workshop feeling a sense of deep shame about. As soon as they share their experience, however, they are met with love and acceptance and validation. This changes their feeling about themselves and the story. Often they walk away with pride and a deeper sense of themselves as a strong and courageous individual. We also do workshops for specific populations, usually those who are seldom heard in the wide world: victims of domestic violence, at-risk teenagers, people working on mental health issues. For those groups, we are usually hired by the representing organization to do a residency. Those workshops do not always end in a large public performance.
DB: Is coming up with a self-revelatory monologue the only way to participate?
ET: We are mainly interested in self-revelatory stories. We want stories about the writer, not the writers brother, sister, ex or mom. The writer should be willing to look at themselves above all else. Not all of these stories are created within the context of one of our workshops. We have story slams in which people sign up and read without us seeing or hearing a word beforehand. Those readings are fun competitions. We also just generated a body of work for The Rock Project by a call for submissions.
JN: I echo Eva’s answer.
DB: What, have you observed, can composing and reading a monologue do for the writer? What does it do for the audience?
ET: It has been incredible to be witness to so many personal transformations. Readers come to understand their own experiences differently. The participants who have endured a lot in their lives start to identify themselves as survivors instead of victims. Compassion and a deeper understanding of one another increases. The stories people have been holding onto for a lifetime because of shame can be shared and not only let go of, but now utilized as sources of inspiration for the audience. The audience upon hearing these stories feels they’ve been given permission to share things too and we can practically see a contagious truth-telling ripple through our community. It’s amazing!
JN: See question two.
DB: What’s the concept behind the The Rock Project?
ET: Songs are storytelling to music. They touch us in the same way. In our workshops, we often use a writing prompt asking about the songs that have had an impact on people’s lives — the songs that always bring to mind key personal experiences and great stories have resulted. I love bringing these stories to life on stage for the audience to experience with the storyteller and bringing the music to the stage is a way to deepen the experience for everyone. I also love working with younger people and collaborating with other great organizations. Seems a win-win all around!
JN: I echo Eva’s answer here.
DB: What’s the most important thing for a participant to bring to the process?