The Austinites Behind the Curtain: Hyde Park Storytelling

Previously in this series:
Wishing Horse Productions
Tiny Minotaur
Art Island
Erica Lies
Mike Stefanik
Ron Berry
Hyperreal Film Club
Gino Scaramuzza

We love spotlighting local creatives who are responsible for the events that we list. Remember, there would be no pig parades, facial hair competitions, dance shows in quarries, or sound installations in tree houses without the individual people who organize and promote them. In January 2024, we spoke with Matthew Stoner and Erin Givarz, the producers behind Hyde Park Storytelling.

L+B: How would you describe Hyde Park Storytelling to someone who’s never been?
HPS: Hyde Park Storytelling is a free cozy community event that feels like you’re in someone’s backyard. It’s a great place to meet friends or strangers as you listen to true personal stories told live on stage. It feels like old Austin: charming, friendly, and unique.

L+B: When and why did Hyde Park Storytelling start? 
Erin: Hyde Park Storytelling started in 2014 in a backyard in Hyde Park. At the time Matthew and I were roommates and our first show had an audience of 30 people. Now, a decade later, we generally see crowds of up to 200-300 people and the event is held outside at Batch Craft Beer & in East Austin. We started HPS because of our shared interest in The Moth, and other media showcasing vulnerability and humanity, and we wanted to create a similar local experience bringing community together. 

L+B: Every time we’ve been to a Hyde Park Storytelling event, it’s been packed. As event producers and promoters ourselves, we find that incredibly impressive. What’s your secret to getting a good audience turnout time after time?
HPS: Well, for one, our event is always free and open to the public. But I think anyone that has been to an event will tell you that it’s always our mission to create a welcoming, captivating, and inclusive vibe. We love providing the stripped-down experience of connecting storyteller and audience and we have learned to do that with a decade of experience. More than that, we believe every story matters and I think people crave the authenticity of everyday people telling sometimes banal stories about their lives—it’s in direct opposition to the over-filtered “best trip ever” social media posts we see.
We’ve never bought ads or put much effort into marketing. However, we’ve been fortunate to be tagged by prominent Instagram pages like When Where What, which has helped us reach new people and attract new storytellers. 

L+B: What’s the most memorable or unexpected thing to ever happen at a Hyde Park Storytelling event?
HPS: Something we do before the show starts is try to go around and meet people. We ask them their names, how they found out about the show, and tell them where the bathrooms are. You know, hosts have to host! One thing led to another, and it turned out that an audience member was affiliated with Casey’s Snowballs. A few months later, Casey’s Snowballs was in our backyard in Hyde Park, selling and giving away their delicious shaved ice treats!

L+B: You don’t do much vetting of stories before they’re presented, right? You don’t do rehearsals with the storytellers, for example. Why did you make that choice, and how do you react when that results in stories being told that maybe you’re not personally so thrilled with (either in terms of topic or delivery)?
HPS: That’s correct! We don’t rehearse or even know what the stories will be about. The stories are always a surprise to us and the audience. We chose not to curate the stories to make our stage more accessible. Curating and rehearsing takes a lot of time, and in this go go go world, peoples time (and ours) is important!
We do offer tips to storytellers when they ask, and we know they often rehearse their stories themselves. However, we want the messiness of life to be reflected in their stories because life and all of its experiences are not curated, know what I mean?
We want regular people sharing their stories! Nothing brings us more joy than someone telling their story for the very first time in front of 250+ strangers. 
When a story does eventually broach a sensitive topic, that’s an assumed risk we take. Sometimes, that’s just life, you know? If a story crosses a line, we have procedures in place to address it. We talk to all storytellers before the show and explain how much we and the audience are trusting them. 99.9% of people honor that trust and deliver great stories!

L+B: What makes for a good/successful story at one of your events?
HPS: A good story comes from a true experience that has changed you in some way, whether positively or negatively, and is something you still think about. Do you already have a story in your head? Yeah, that one! Those stories and experiences that come to you instinctively are the ones that show up on stage. In short, the best stories are true stories. 
More specifically, a successful story at our events is one that lasts between 5 to 7 minutes, is delivered without notes, and has the storyteller making eye contact with the audience.

L+B: How do the two of you divide up the event production and promotion responsibilities? 
HPS: It’s actually not just the two of us! We have a whole team helping us too! 
Casie Luong helps with setup, teardown, and creates the playlist to set the right vibe and tone. 
Waverly helps us with setup, sound, and lighting.
Erin handles a lot of the behind-the-scenes logistics, including communicating our expectations, values, and providing directions to the venue. 
Matthew is responsible for creating videos on social media and writing copy. 
Both Matthew and Erin share producer and hosting duties and make a concerted effort to connect and welcome audience members.

L+B: If money and logistics were no object, what would be your dream event to organize?
Matthew: Our dream event would be to host Hyde Park Storytelling at the Moody Amphitheater in Waterloo Park. The evening would feature storytelling by Sabrina Ellis from A Giant Dog, Aaron Franklin of Franklin BBQ, Gary Clark Jr., along with four new storytellers who have never graced our stage before. [Editor’s note: We saw Sabrina Ellis star in the Museum of Human Achievement’s Christmas show “Edward Normalhands”, and now we, too, are huge fans.] I’m really keen on having regular people share their stories alongside some of Austin’s greats. I want regular folks to share their story, no matter how simple or intense, and feel like rockstars!

L+B: What’s next for Hyde Park Storytelling?
HPS: Our next event is March 30th at Batch, 7pm! Also we are planning our 10 Year (!!) Anniversary show later this year!

L+B: What are some of your favorite Austin events or experiences that you don’t produce?
HPS: We love Mortified, TestifyStories on the Lawn, Bluegrass Night at Radio, Austin Studio Tour, HONK! TX, Bedpost Confessions, Waterloo Creek Show, Rock the Park, and so many more!