“Welcome to Backyard Story Night!” shouted John Brewster alongside his co-host Meg Mattingly in front of nearly 400 people at the Historic Scoot Inn in East Austin.
Story by Ethan Elkins
Photos by Malayna Ellis
A crowd assembled around the outdoor stage to hear diverse people share personal anecdotes on Sunday, August 28 at 8 p.m. Since all proceeds benefit a different charity at each event, Backyard Story Night gives back to the community by providing more than entertainment.
Mattingly and Brewster met at their faith community, Vox Veniae, and bonded over their mutual love for storytelling. The two friends have been hosting the event for three and a half years since its genesis in Mattingly’s own backyard. The original event was only meant to take place once, but a turnout of more than 40 guests called for an encore. Backyard Story Night continued to grow every two months into a Sunday night occasion for hundreds of people, or “as many people that can fit in the venue,” Brewster says. Brewster and Mattingly have a friend at the Historic Scoot Inn who invited the event to the venue in January. It has been home to the storytelling ever since.
Each night has a loose theme. The theme at this event was “alter-egos.” The eleven speakers, who applied to speak weeks in advance, were given five minutes to tell any story, without filters or taboos. “We do not know whether the stories are going to be intense, funny or sad,” Mattingly says.
From comedian Lashonda Lester’s tale of her business partner being accused of murder to Adrian Patenaude’s account of making sense of her multiple identities as a missionary child in Thailand, the night was filled with a variety of narratives. The event also provided a platform for local food truck vendors to be exhibited. The food truck, Melted Grilled Cheese, and a popsicle stand named Cold Ones were present on this occasion.
This specific event supported Old Books for New Teachers, a non-profit organization launched by storyteller Stephanie Noll. The organization fulfills its namesake by providing old books to new teachers attempting to build their classroom libraries. Noll, a Penn State graduate who went on to join the prestigious Teach for America, has a goal to instill a love of reading in kids that “seem tired of the classic Gatsby or Shakespeare reading assignment.” Book donations were accepted along with monetary contributions donated as a token of appreciation for the free event. All event proceeds were donated to Noll’s organization. “We never wanted to sell tickets,” Brewster says.
When she is not telling stories in front of hundreds of people, Mattingly works for Austin Independent School District as an advocate for homeless children. She is also a graduate student at Seminary of the Southwest, working to obtain her master’s degree in counseling. Brewster works at Sherry Matthews Advocacy Marketing, which does marketing work for nonprofit and government organizations.
Backyard Story Night’s legacy is not over, and the storytelling duo believes the event can continue to expand. “We have a great friendship with other storytelling events in Austin,” Mattingly says, addressing the “co-op” of storytellers she and Brewster helped create. They want to continue to support their friends’ events and encourage people to begin their own storytelling gatherings. In the future, the duo hopes to host multiple pop-up storytelling nights during South by Southwest that would pay homage to their original “backyard” story event.
The next Backyard Story Night will be on Sunday, Oct. 16 at 8 p.m. at the Historic Scoot Inn in East Austin.