Storytellers in Focus: Victoria Rocha
What brought you to SpeakeasyDC?
I heard about SpeakeasyDC from a guy that I had gone on a few dates with, and the most I got out of those dates was getting connected to SpeakeasyDC… big payoff, but it wasn't going happen with us. I hadn't done too much onstage since graduating with a degree in theater. I thought, “Well, I've seen the show… I know I want to perform!” February, 2013 rolled around, and the theme was “Tales of Dominance, Submission, Pain and Pleasure,” and I figured I had somewhat of a chance getting into the show because most people aren't willing to tell BDSM stories on stage. It was pretty ballsy to lead with that in the storytelling community, and it's been good to me ever since. Storytelling is a great merging of all my interests of being onstage -- feeling like I can impact people in a short span of time and having the opportunity to be so genuine.
How does storytelling play into your career?
The theater training assisted [with] public speaking and engaging people. As the media representative for my AmeriCorps team, I did TV interviews, and radio interviews, and that kind of thing. Now in my work with Best Buddies, we talk about [storytelling] with people with disabilities. We train people on how to be better self-advocates through personal story. When you go and you talk to a legislator, a business, or a group of Rotarians about the impact of what it means to have friends, that leads into [a discussion about] an overall level of happiness and success later in life. Personal stories are what makes people listen. I can tell you no legislator wants to sit there and listen to you say “90% of people with disabilities aren't employed.” No, they want to hear someone with Down Syndrome say to you, “I don't have a job, and it affects my family because they have to take care of me, and I feel like I can contribute to society if given these opportunities.” That's a way more impactful statement.
Your experience as a storyteller?
SpeakeasyDC was a huge catalyst for my storytelling. I did my first show and was like, “Well this is going to be my new hobby.” I've done stuff with Story League, Bear, Mortified, 8x8, and I went up to Philly and did First Person Arts. I have pitched for Risk! a few times, but he wants a very specific kind of story. It's a little hard to get into. Eventually I'll get the guts to try a solo show. I think that would be great. The terrible thing, and the great thing, is the more storytelling becomes a thing, the more wealth of stories there are, and it's so much harder to get into shows because people have a lot of interesting things to say. SpeakeasyDC's mission is looking to bring to life community voices that range from different backgrounds and different socio-economic status, and everything else. Other groups it’s more on being funny and having the competition element, and it's something that draws a different crowd. I wouldn't say there's any group that’s giving the exact same journey. They are all looking to provide an audience with different experiences, and I think that's good. That's what makes it so rich within this community. And DC has a lot.
What's the strangest story experience you've either seen or performed in DC?
I've performed with another group called “Naked Girls Reading,” which is reading when you're naked, which is what brings people back! If we were clothed I don't think people would pay to see us! You go to see storytelling because there’s a connection. I believe that as we have more things with anonymity, like reddit, where all these people are talking and seeking connection, you are losing the kind of connection you get through being there. So it's not about just hearing a story, it's about someone being physically vulnerable in front of you. As an audience member you really connect with them even more because you realize they are making this sacrifice for me to be entertained and to connect. I think there's something very special about it. People are re-seeking the connection through interaction that gets lost without the physicality of the interaction. Plus, people just have an interest in stories. It's a condensed space of just so many freakin' talented people.
Do you have any advice for aspiring storytellers?
A lot of people think that they don't have stories, which is always really interesting to me because part of what makes a good story successful is finding connectivity which comes through empathy. People relate to other people’s stories in some way because they find empathy experience, because they experience something similar in a different light. So when people say they don't have stories, they really do because someone has had an experience similar to yours. So I think a lot of it's finding the confidence to say, “I have something interesting to say,” and knowing people want to listen. Now, with that being said, if you're not overly inclined to be a public speaker or an attention seeker, I think taking a class is always recommended. If you're looking for confidence in storytelling, writing your stories can really flesh things out. With me, it's writing my stories down and seeing what I can do with them in terms of, I don't know, trying to get them into a magazine or something. Storytelling is within everything in the arts, which I think makes it a lot more cool.