From stories about transgender dating to stories about almost missing out on the love of your life, The Monti is celebrating the best storytellers of 2014 with their seventh annual Hippo Awards at the ArtsCenter tonight.
The Monti is a nonprofit organization that creates an open, fun atmosphere where people can share their personal stories. Anyone from the community is welcome to come and participate — the only rule is that no notes are allowed.
Jeff Polish, executive director of the Monti, said the nonprofit is a necessary part of the community, especially today.
“We’ve traveled away from one another and the Monti brings us closer back together,” Polish said.
The Hippo awards will play out like one of the Monti’s regularly-curated events. Selected performers will tell their stories without notes for up to 12 minutes. But on Friday, awards will be given out for the categories of comedy, drama and “Overall Best” in between each set.
Polish chose the finalists because of the quality of their stories as well as their ability to be vulnerable and honest on stage. Then the Monti fan base voted on the finalists based on their uploaded performance on the Monti’s website. Those votes will determine who wins.
Still, some of the finalists can’t believe that they have a message that people want to hear.
Finalist Leslie Williams is a radiology nurse at UNC Health Care and said she thought it was a joke when Polish told her she was a finalist.
“It really took me a while to wrap my head around it, and I really thought for the longest time that he was just being nice,” Williams said. “Let’s just say I was blown away.”
Another finalist, Jujube restaurant owner Charlie Deal, said a lot of people may feel like they don’t have an amazing story, but it’s about recognizing that every story is important. As a restaurant owner who employs a lot of college students, Deal said students are finding their own way and their own story a lot earlier than his generation might have.
“It’s really amazing for me to live vicariously through their successes and know how much more passionate and interesting they are than I feel somebody my generation was when I was that age,” he said.
Sam Peterson, who graduated from UNC in 2013, is another finalist in the show. He said there’s definitely a space for UNC students at the Monti. His work with seniors, especially in his playwriting classes at UNC, showed him that students have a story and that they should share.
“Students have really complicated and important stories, whether they have parents who are ambassadors, had a death in the family or witnessed a violent crime,” Peterson said.
“It’s stuff that we all go through — students have those experiences too.”