Tenx9 is a storytelling night where nine people each have ten minutes to tell a true story
from their own life. Founded in 2011 by Paul Doran and Pádraig Ó Tuama, the regular
Belfast event has become so popular that it has spread to several other countries. There is a
Tenx9 in Nashville, one in London, Glasgow, Adelaide and more. Recently, Radio 4 produced
an hour long broadcast about the event (you can find it on BBC Sounds under ‘Telling Tales –
Tenx9 Storytelling’). Despite all this, Tenx9 in Belfast has remained true to its roots; the
format is the same (nine stories, ten minutes each) and anyone can submit a true life story
based on a theme which changes monthly. First time story-tellers are as welcome as
published writers and journalists. The event is always free and it is usually on the 3 rd or 4 th
Wednesday of the month.
The Belfast Tenx9 event is normally at the Black Box, but last week I attended a special
event at Accidental Theatre as part of the Belfast Human Rights Festival. The theme was
Change. Accidental Theatre is a lovely venue- it’s very small and, like the Black Box, it is
minimalist- there is a stage, and that is all. Chairs/tables can be arranged as necessary. In my
opinion venues like this really suit Tenx9; the story is the important thing and the story is all
there is – no other distractions.
So, in the small theatre, we had stories of change which made us laugh (Dave Thompson’s
tour guide from hell and Walker Ewart’s school exchange where he found himself
challenged by living with a Catholic nun). There were bravely-related stories of bravery
(Doris Gentemann’s story of how she confronted her childhood abuser); stories of heroism
(Maria McCloskey told how she helped a woman seeking asylum in NI to win her case); and
a couple of stories about motherhood (Roisin Erskine told how having a baby deepened her
understanding of Yoga and Meditation practice, and David Braziel related a moving tribute
to his mother’s persistence and the effect it had on his childhood).
My favourite stories of the night came from the Tenx9 founders. Pádraig’s opening tale was
of coming out in a religious organisation, the subsequent quest for change via ‘reparative’
therapy in Dublin in the 1990’s, and how the peacemaking work that he now does affects
change in those who might defend such practices. Pádraig is one of the few people in the
world who manages to be liked by everyone- you’d like him too- he and Paul embody the
spirit of Tenx9 in their intentional honesty and self-reflection. If the event is a success I think
it because people crave this kind of vulnerability in a society which has been built on
defending our own way of life and attacking other people’s.
Paul’s story was of the change that meeting Pádraig had brought to his life, how finding love
positively affected his problem with anxiety. I don’t know if the two of them deliberately
planned a storyarc for their tales, but it struck me that ‘Change’ regarding gay relationships
is often spoken about in Ireland in terms of the hope for eradication that Pádraig
encountered in attempts to make him straight, rather than a focus on how good
relationships and love can begin to heal pain. What would it be like if, instead of seeing
homosexual relationships as the cause of pain, religious figures began to see the solution to
pain as homosexual relationships? (And now I’m imagining the pro-gay residential camps
which might ensue. One can dream.)
It’s always a pleasure to attend Tenx9. You never know what you’re going to get but there
will always be humour and something to think about. If you’re interested please check out
the Tenx9 podcast, or why not think about getting a license to set up a Tenx9 in your area?
There are details about this on the Tenx9 website, as well as links to the podcast which is
also available on itunes etc. and details of upcoming events: tenx9.com
Thanks to all the storytellers for a lovely evening!