Q&A with Jenna Tico

We were excited to be able to chat a little more with OUT LOUD reader Jenna Tico, who performed her poem Call Your Mother at our January reading, particularly because Jenna is starting her own storytelling series! Backbone Storytelling is open for submissions through the end of February, and their first event is March 21st. Read more about Jenna's series below, and follow Backbone Storytelling @backbonestorytelling to stay up to date on calls for submissions and forthcoming events.

Tell us a little bit about Backbone Storytelling, and your upcoming event. What inspired you to start this up?

When it comes down to it, I am just a huge geek for Storytelling! For its ancient heart, for its power to unite communities and generations, and its ALIVENESS...storytelling is real-life magic. Having grown up in Santa Barbara, and participated in a whole spectrum of art opportunities, I saw what felt like a gap in the space between living-room style, super casual storytelling and more formal performance spaces...I wanted to see something in the spirit of "The Moth" spring up here. And with the events of last year, and all of the ways our community has come together over collective healing, it really felt like the right time to offer a new space for people to share personal stories. Where it's casual enough for everyone to feel welcomed and sparked into "hmm, maybe I could do this..." but also curated enough to be beautiful and enriching for anyone who just wants to come listen. When it comes down to it, I finally ran out of excuses for not making the opportunity that I was wishing to see, so I decided to give it a go.

And here we are! Backbone is designed to be an accessible, inclusive, diverse, and funky new storytelling series, where -- once per season -- we will curate  a show of personal stories... all centered around themes that are inspired by the human body. Ideally, over time, I'd like to see this be a space where verbal AND nonverbal storytelling can occur together, interchangeably...hopefully breaking down some of the false barriers between words & movement as means of telling a narrative. As a dancer, I've always felt writing and dance are inextricably linked in processing and healing emotions, and did my thesis work on women's life stories that blended the two mediums together. I'm hoping that others in our community can come out and witness that intersection, and maybe even find inspiration to tell their own stories in a new, previously untapped way. 

Similar to The Moth, storytellers are asked to submit a story "pitch" in the month beforehand: as in, not a piece of polished writing. Just a roadmap for where the story begins, peaks, and ends; knowing, fully, that the story itself will take shape at the actual event itself. The first theme in the lineup is "Gut Instinct," where participants will be telling stories about their relationship to intuition, instinct, decision-making, etc ... and the submissions so far have been INCREDIBLE. You'll really have to hear them to believe them. The last piece of the puzzle is that this is a COMMUNITY event... meaning, it will be FUN! Oreana Winery has graciously offered to host us, and there will be an assortment of goodies available in the hour before the storytelling performance starts, including: live music by Sio Tepper, wine tasting, snacks, and herbal elixirs by Elena Shelton. It's going to be a stellar night.


What informs your own creativity that you hope to bring to Backbone Storytelling?

Like I mentioned, I'm really fascinated by the intersection between spoken word & movement as means for telling a story. Throughout my life, I've considered/called myself both "writer" and "dancer," depending on the day, and depending on which form seems to be more present in allowing me to access my own truth. I've made my career a mishmash of both, and it's taken me many years to realize that the two don't really need to be separated... in fact, what they have in common is one major thing: storytelling. So here I am, a student of storytelling. As an art form-- particularly oral storytelling, which I am increasingly fascinated by -- storytelling pushes all my edges. There's no choreography. There's no place to hide behind pretty words. It's an in-the-moment, alive, breathing, ever-changing thing, and it involves a commitment to RELATIONSHIP: both to the story and the teller's experience, but also to the origins of the story, the future of it, and each and every person who is taking it in.

So much of the unforgettable energy in the poem you shared at Out Loud, "Call Your Mother", was generated in the performance itself, the cadence of words and deliberate pauses. What was writing this poem like, your process and vision?

Honestly, "Call Your Mother" started out as a life raft. I never imagined that I'd read it out loud, or that it would WANT to be "performed"... I wrote it out of necessity during what was an extremely painful moment in my personal life. This time last year, I was doing some SUPER fun trauma therapy (highly recommended - being a human being is no joke), and that inspired some new insight and reckoning with my family of origin... and late one night, the poem just poured out of me. Note: I usually roll my eyes when someone says that writing happens this way - like, "the muse just STRUCK me, and suddenly I had a NOVEL!" - because I am a huge advocate for doing 10,000 drafts of something before it is ever ready for human eyes. Truly. I believe one of the most damaging myths we tell young artists is that inspiration is a lightning bolt, as opposed to a natural extension of a relaxed mind and discipline. And a willingness to stick with it, even when nothing comes. So - that said - this particular poem did happen to just flow out of me, which almost caused me not to trust it at first... but then I shared it at another monthly storytelling night, "Nook," that some friends and I started a couple years back. The impact it made on the people there, the way they connected to it, made me realize I wanted to tell it again. For me, that's the best thing about art - when it serves the double purpose of healing the artist AND others who come in contact with it. 

And I'm grateful for the feedback that the performance itself felt compelling! My theatre kid background definitely comes in handy when I'm doing a reading... that, combined with the fact that I work with teenagers, and have to do mini-performances all the time. Teenagers are the biggest drama queens on the planet, so amping up the drama is usually the best way to get - and keep - their attention. I'm grateful for the way that skill has shaped my ability to perform my own work, especially when the content is so vulnerable. 

Are you currently working on anything you’d like to give us a little preview of or splash about?

At the moment, Backbone is the biggest creative endeavor I'm working on! Other than that, I continue to participate in local performances anytime I can... in fact, I will be performing in the upcoming "Anima" show at Center Stage Theater on March 6, which is aptly subtitled: "Theatre of the Feminine Underground." It's my fourth time in one of these shows, and I'm really excited about the new piece I made... it's called "Woman," and is an intergenerational take on what it means, and can mean, to be in a female body. To reclaim and integrate all the various stages that we are. This show is always a huge treat, so I officially want to invite anyone and everyone in the community to come check it out!

If you were stuck on a desert island with only one book for the rest of your life, what would you want that book to be?

What a question! I'd have to duke it out between "Dream of a Common Language," by Adrienne Rich, and the Essential Calvin & Hobbes. 

Any words of wisdom for writers who are considering submitting to Out Loud, or other opportunities (like Backbone Storytelling!)?

If you have to make a choice between "sounds pretty" and "feels RIGHT," go with the second. Trust your gut. If it feels like truth, and you feel the delicious truthi-ness of it running through your veins and out of your hands and mouth as you share it, then... trust it. Chances are, it will feel that way to at least one other person, too.... and you never know just who you stand to connect with, or change, as a result of sharing that raw, sparkly, totally YOU thing. Honor that. Risk that. As I once saw a glorious bumper sticker say (which lived on my wall for many years): "The spirit you save may be your own."

Photo by Lerina Winter

Jenna Tico is a ninth-generation Santa Barbarian, storyteller, mischief maker, and student of change. When she's not writing stories, she's writing grants and wrangling teenagers at AHA! (Attitude. Harmony. Achievement.) or facilitating weirdness at Yoga Soup's Movement Lab. Jenna is a lifetime collaborator with Santa Barbara Summer Solstice, and Backbone Storytelling (@backbonestorytelling) is the next project in a lifelong mission to give back to the community that has nurtured her. She has taught and performed the "Thriller" dance on 3 continents, is mother to a black cat, and continues to till the rich soil between dance and writing for healing, transformation, and growth.