by Elyse Wild
Failure:Lab took over the historic stage at Fountain Street Church for the internationally celebrated storytelling experience’s signature event. The evening brought together six local individuals to share stories not of their achievements, but of times in their lives when they fell short on their way to success.
Four years ago, Failure:Lab co-founder Jordan O’Neil was attending an all-day storytelling event in Detroit, listening to tale after tale of accomplishment, until one speaker took the stage and shattered the trend.
“A 73-year-old man walked on stage and said, ‘I am going to tell you how I failed.’” O’Neil recalled.
He described being enraptured, along with the rest of the audience, as the man told a story of life not working out the way he wanted it to. O’Neil was inspired by this profound experience that stood in stark contrast with popular storytelling platforms that celebrate people’s success, sugarcoating the tumultuous road that often lies behind us.
Upon returning to Grand Rapids, he partnered with Jonathan Williams to create an event that would allow audiences to celebrate the universal and innately human experience of failure, and Failure:Lab was born.
The evening is thoughtfully curated to fit exactly into the two-hour time frame. Six storytellers are allotted ten-minutes each, with seven different musical acts performing for four-minutes between each story, providing a “palate cleanser” for the audience. There is never a theme to the event, and the speakers are chosen with diversity in mind.
“They all tell such different stories,” O’Niel said. “They are young, old, artists, entrepreneurs, politicians — people at all different points in their lives. We want to make sure everyone in the audiences connects with one of the stories.”
The venue itself is important and couldn’t be more fitting; legendary guest speakers and performers have graced the stage at Fountain Street Church, including Susan B. Anthony, Helen Keller, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and Amelia Earhart.
“This is where people have historically gone to share their stories in West Michigan,” O’Neil said.