Natasha Markov-Riss, a 2023 graduate of the Salt program, performs at a previous Storytelling Night. Students will take to the stage with their stories Thursday at SPACE Gallery in Portland. Contributed / Isaac Kestenbaum

Students of the Salt documentary program at the Maine College of Art and Design spend 15 weeks learning to tell other people’s stories, through audio, film or writing. Storytelling Night is an opportunity for those students to tell their own stories, live and unscripted on stage.

This year’s storytelling cohort of seven students, who have spent three weeks workshopping and rehearsing, will present their 5- to-6 minute stories for the first time in front of a live audience at 7 p.m. Thursday at SPACE Gallery in Portland.

“When they put their own stories on stage, they understand on a different level what it’s like to put your story out there and the responsibility that comes with that,” said Isaac Kestenbaum, director of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. “They can go from not being sure if they want to do it, to telling a really good story on stage in a few weeks.

“Some stories are funny, some are surprising and some are touching,” he said.

Micaela Blei, who hosts the Storytelling Night and coaches students as they develop their stories, said “it’s really a crash course in vulnerability. Everyone is challenging themselves in different ways.”

For some, she said, the challenge is just getting on stage, and for others it may be pushing themselves to tell a more emotional story when they’re used to leaning on humor.


A good story is one that they’re curious about and has changed something about them or their life, and that they enjoy telling,” she said.

Katie Irwin, who graduated from the program in 2021, said that the cohort did a lot of brainstorming exercises to find the stories they wanted to share.

“Anything can become a story. It’s all about how you changed throughout the experience,” said Irwin, who uses they/them pronouns. The stories “don’t have to be some big dramatic thing, but it’s more about your experience of a moment in time.”

Irwin’s story was about a whale-watching date gone wrong.

“There’s such a human thing of loving to listen to stories and it’s such a nourishing experience. And the audiences that come are very engaged and present,” they said.

Natasha Markov-Riss, a graduate of the 2023 program, said that Blei’s process helps students feel confident in their stories by the end of the three weeks.


One strategy they used was “social editing,” where they would tell their stories over and over again and “intuitively pick up on how people responded,” she said, adjusting each time based on the response.

Markov-Riss told her story about a gossip Twitter account she ran for four days in high school.

She said it’s a journey of finding the balance between a story you enjoy telling, and also being vulnerable and allowing for honest emotion.

“A big part of the experience is just being really truthful about whatever it is you’re talking about,” said Maddy King, a graduate from the 2021 program. Her story was about her relationship with her siblings, through the focus of a Wii game they used to play together often.

She was very nervous, but ended up enjoying the experience more than she had expected.

Blei said Storytelling Night is a wonderful experience.

I had just moved to Portland when I started working for Salt, and Salt and the SPACE nights have become an anchor for me of people getting together and listening to each other,” she said. “I have a hard time communicating just how much I love that night.”

Tickets for Storytelling Night are free and available at

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