From P-Town… Breaking the Rules with Back Fence PDX

1. Vanessa and Lyzz are diehard fans of storytelling and advocate joint custody for umbrellas. 2. Anna, Mieke, and Nicole were excited to see Joy Bryant.

The Breaking the Rules edition of Back Fence PDX, produced by B. Frayn Masters, featured ten-minute, never-been-told stories by Joy Bryant, Ted Douglass, Brian Finkelstein, Lauren Goche, Vin Shambry and Peter Zuckerman. It’s kind of like The Moth, except they also pick three audience members to tell one-minute stories and give everyone cupcakes.

1. Colt and Jarrett were excited to support the girl who could skin a squirrel. 2. Matt Mount and Heather Hawksford of Merit Badge shared a stranger’s umbrella while in line and considered testing out Portland generosity by cutting in the food line.

If there is a sold-out show at the Mission Theater, get there by 6:30pm in order to get a decent seat. Most of the crowd will be on their second drink and first slice of pizza. If you are lucky, you’ll sit at a table with people who smuggled in a huge box of chocolate and offer to share it with you.

1. Sam Adams maybe reading my tweet, maybe texting Peter Zuckerman about it. 2. Rodrigo, Sarah, Vin Shambry, and Jake formed a friend oasis in the crowd.

I had plenty of time to take my beer for a walk before banter, led by Jason Rouse, brought a quick story by Masters to start the show. Three hundred people ended two hundred conversations and listened.

Here is a one-sentence summary of the six stories:

  1. Ted Douglass: Indiana tried to kill him at least three times, but in the end, he marries the girl.
  2. Vin Shambry: A football loving, Liza Minnelli straight man proves that gay before May isn’t always the AMDA way.
  3. Lauren Goche: She cut her sister’s umbilical cord as a four-year-old and found out that broken heart cakes cannot save a marriage.
  4. Brian Finkelstein: Eating sleep for dinner and carrying a non-suicide note will not protect anyone from taking bad friend advice.
  5. Joy Bryant: Pulled a Naomi Campbell to get a seat on a plane to Bora Bora, then flew the damn plane while smoking cigarettes with the pilot.
  6. Peter Zuckerman: Yasa Gumba and healer rituals cost fifty cents each, but a Russian helicopter is priceless.

1. Former Portland Mayor, Sam Adams. 2. Mindy Nettifee and B. Frayn Masters holding still for five seconds before the show.

My favorite part of the storytelling was thinking about why this particular person wanted to share this particular story. Were they surprised at a new detail or insight mid-story? Did they get more energy as they told the story?

In keeping with the Break the Rules theme, the three one-minute storytellers selected from the crowd included a miraculous fourth — a woman fresh from the gym whose name sounded like one of the names that had been selected and wasn’t going to leave the stage without her spotlit minute. Masters rightly assessed this woman probably broke the rules 80% of the time. It was both awkward and perfect.

When a story takes shape, the details get a little closer or further from the truth, depending on the teller’s relationship to the audience. Not sure which one it was for each of the Back Fence PDX storytellers, but all of them demonstrated a masterful range of intimacy and control.


— Judith Ossello currently lives and writes in Portland, Oregon. Find her at

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