James Keck and Tara Loyd read an article in the newspaper in February about a young Anchorage man, Nathan Miller, whose afternoon stroll near Kincaid Park Chalet suddenly became a near-death experience. The tide came in and left him stranded on a shelf of ice.
If circumstances were different, the couple would have read the article, put down the paper and gone to work; they both have jobs in the public health field. But Keck and Loyd tracked Miller down.
The couple moved to Anchorage from Atlanta less than two years ago. On their drive north, Loyd suggested the two create their own version of a storytelling show, "Stoop Stories," they had become fond of while at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
"I thought it would be good for our relationship to agree," Keck said.
The two started Arctic Entries, an event in which seven people tell seven stories and the audience pays seven dollars ($10 at the door).
"Stories are such a powerful way of connecting people and it's rare that we are quiet enough in our lives to really listen to one another," Loyd said.
And though Keck was nervous at first, the success of the event has been contagious. The first Arctic Entries show was in February 2010. Since then, the show has gained popularity and the 99 seats available at Cyrano's have been selling-out online within as little as 10 hours. They save a few tickets to sell at the door for the Cyrano's regulars and last-minute guests. All the proceeds from the event go to the Rural CAP's Homeward Bound, a facility in Mountain View that helps people transition out of homelessness.
"I like to look (at the audience) and see who is liking the story and who is maybe bored," Keck said. "But everyone is listening, eyes on the storyteller, no fiddling with their phones or anything."
The couple now co-host Arctic Entries once a month but take the summer off.
"It has me evaluating my connections with people a little differently" Keck said. "Because, in the back of my mind, I'm always looking for a good storyteller."
Last Sunday night, the young man stranded near Kincaid, Miller, told his frigid, death-defying story to a group of strangers in Keck's and Loyd's downtown living room. He was rehearsing for Monday's "Fear Factor" themed production. Miller and a group of hand-picked Anchorage residents will tell stories on being fearless, fear of rejection and people who are just plain scary. The storytellers aren't professionals; they're community members.
"We're looking for people who are willing, interested and have something that we think the audience will enjoy that relates to our theme," Keck said.
Upcoming show themes include "Roots" in April and "Road Trips" in May.
Members of the Storytellers' Guild in Anchorage, a collection of local performers, have been supportive of the event and in awe of its success.
"I think seven minutes is a magical number," said Linda Benson, a long-time Storytellers' Guild member. "Anyone can sit through anything for seven minutes."
One of the objectives Keck and Loyd had when they started Arctic Entries was to build community, to give an audience the chance to listen to people they might not otherwise hear from. That's what they saw in Baltimore, people from different parts of society coming together to share a stage.
"I just always left there feeling like, 'Wow, that was a really unique moment in the history of this city,' " Loyd said.
Keck and Loyd say they think that could be the case in Anchorage as well.
"People call us, text us or e-mail us and say, 'That is the best I have felt about Anchorage as a community in a long time,' " Loyd said.
By Rosey Robards
Daily News correspondent