The ongoing Tales by the Sea programs, held four times a year at the Malibu West Swim Club, consistently draw a “sold-out” crowd (technically not “sold” out, because the events are free). What started off as a much smaller and more sporadic event at the Malibu United Methodist Church in 1995 has evolved greatly over the years, thanks to organizer Ann Buxie.
“I asked myself, ‘Am I doing all I can for the community?’” she said in a recent interview with The Malibu Times. “I decided that storytelling matters and I’m making a difference.”
“Tales” is now held in a much larger venue, which literally is “by the Sea.” When the doors open, there are always three or four free homemade soups to enjoy while socializing. With Buxie as master of ceremonies, the official program generally begins with live music. Last Sunday, long-time blues musicians Al Blake and Fred Kaplan performed.
The main program consists of six or seven adult story tellers from the LA area, one at a time telling a 10-minute-long true story from his or her own life. Each teller is introduced with a famous quote. There’s always a theme for each event; last Sunday’s theme was “Forgiveness.” There’s always a mix of humorous stories from some tellers and serious stories from others.
“Forgiveness” turned out to be a particularly dark theme—because something bad has to happen for forgiveness to be necessary. One storyteller talked about trying to forgive herself for causing something terrible to happen. Others talked about their need to forgive a slave owner, a bully, a stepfather or a parent or grandparent through sad and heart-wrenching true stories.
“I changed things early on when I began inviting local tellers [instead of national tellers], and I keep doing it because it’s one way I can serve the community,” Buxie said.
“Nationally known tellers used to come in and it was fabulous, because it was one teller for a whole hour,” she continued. But she learned that “People don’t want to listen to one teller talk for an entire hour.” That’s how the show evolved to inviting six or more tellers to talk for shorter lengths of time.
The tellers are always a diverse mix of different kinds of people from varied backgrounds that Buxie chooses for each event, based on recommendations or attending events in other communities, including the Crenshaw District in South LA and in Compton.
The stories she heard from tellers in those mostly black neighborhoods were so far out of her own experience, that she thought bringing them in would help create more understanding between cultures. One woman she heard talked about how, when she sent her son off to school each day, she didn’t know if she would see him again. Buxie couldn’t imagine living that way.
Last Sunday, there were seven tellers: three black and four white; four females and three males; one not born in the U.S. That’s the kind of diversity she strives to bring to “Tales.”
“I keep doing it because we so need to know and understand each other as people and it’s so easy to get wrapped up in our own lives,” Buxie said.
“We need to listen to understand, and we need to heal and bear each other’s joys as well as grief. How can we heal as a community unless we know each other?” she asked. “Storytelling primes the pump, so people are more likely to talk to each other at a storytelling event. There’s no agenda to storytelling. It brings people together for a while in a good way.”
Buxie first got interested in storytelling when she was growing up in Arizona, and her family was in the newspaper business. Her father and brother were both great natural storytellers—a skill she greatly admired.
As to how storytelling affects the storytellers themselves, Buxie has tried her hand at it. “People say it’s not therapy, but it is,” she reflected. “We don’t often take the time to say, ‘How did I get here?’”
“I wrote a story about my dad passing, and three years later, I went back and relearned it, and I got more out of it,” she added. “These stories help us mirror our own lives and get a better grip on who we are. They make you feel whole again as we reclaim parts of ourselves. There’s value in it for the individual.”
To be put on the email list for upcoming events or ask a question, contact Ann Buxie at firstname.lastname@example.org.