Philly Creative Guide

Creative Personality

Ruth Weisberg | Founder and President of First Person Arts

Interview :: Vicki Solot
by Ruth Weisberg, 1 Oct 2007

This month's Creative Personality is Vicki Solot, founder and president of First Person Arts, which develops and presents arts programs based on real-life stories. She is the founder and president of Collaborations, Inc., a public relations firm specializing in the arts and social causes that she ran for 20 years. She played a central role in branding South Broad Street as the Avenue of the Arts and was part of the original creative team at The Philadelphia Theater Company. She has a B.A. in Psychology and English from University of Michigan and received director training in the MFA program at University of Wisconsin.

Vicki Solot can be reached at: [email protected]

The First Person Arts Festival takes place November 7-11, 2007 at 2111 Sansom Street in Philadelphia. It'll feature a variety of presentations by nationally-known memoir and documentary artists and emerging, local artists. The unifying theme of the First Person Arts Festival is people's real life stories—transformed into art of all kinds. For more information and to purchase tickets to the festival, go to or call (888) 838-3006.

PCG: Whether it's listening to or telling one, stories help people relate to each other, build bridges and unite the community. What is it about storytelling that's so simple yet so profound?

VS: At their core, our stories are our lives, which are endlessly fascinating! When they're crafted and presented in a certain way, we see the beauty, pain, drama, and hilarity of our lives. Stories have always had an extraordinary potency for me. I'm genuinely interested in people, and I tend to ask them questions that peel away at certain layers. I think that achieving emotional intimacy with another person – even a stranger – is OK. It's actually desirable. To me, people's life stories tell me who they are, and what makes them tick.

PCG: It's been said that everyone's got a story. What's yours?

VS: My dad was a twin. When I was a child, I thought that his being a twin was undeniably exotic. I was mesmerized by his stories of growing up with a twin brother, playing pranks, or conducting science experiments gone amiss. His childhood stories were something straight out of the pages of the Hardy Boys! My dad grew up one block away from where I grew up, so there was this proximity and yet this mystery of his life to mine. Meanwhile, my mother came from this nutty family, and at a fairly early age, I was cut off from her side of the family. The stories from my mom's side of the family were a mystery and a fairy tale, all rolled into one. Only they were all real! I was enthralled by those kinds of stories more than I was with fiction. I was not only spellbound by the stories, but with the artifacts that went with them—the clothes they wore in the 30's, or by my dad's Boy Scout badges. They were emotional triggers that brought the stories that went with them to life.

Vicki Solot, Founder and President of First Person Arts

PCG: Would you rather listen to a story, or tell one?

VS: I enjoy listening to them more. Then again, I'm a talker, so you'd think I'd get more enjoyment out of telling one. Frankly, I like the emotional jolt you get from listening to a well-crafted story, and the vicarious thrill you get by stepping into someone else's thoughts, perspectives, and life experiences. Their stories can take you to a wonderful or terrifying place, and it's all so engaging – even a little voyeuristic!

PCG: With such a range of story topics and ways to tell them, what's the prevailing DNA of a good story?

VS: When you listen to people who spin stories, it really has to do with where the story is going. Is it driving you toward something meaningful, poignant, revealing, or hilarious? The central arc of a story is what remains important. You want to build interest and intrigue, and that's in the accumulation of details. It's those details that build drama, add interest and suspense, and builds on the humor or excitement of the situation. Then you add in the quirky or stylistic way someone tells the story—is there a distinctive voice, or an odd way of interpreting the situation, their uncanny viewpoint, or an unusual or offbeat edge? The unifying thread of all stories is that the topic is interesting, and makes you see something or someone in a whole new way.

"[Philadelphia] is positively brimming and ripe for so many life stories. Philadelphia is a physical crucible for intimate exchange."

PCG: What is it about Philadelphia that makes our city so ripe for a storytelling festival such as this one?

VS: You're right. Philadelphia is an ideal city to host the First Person Arts Festival, now in its 6th year here. Philadelphia is a city that is more intimate than other places. It's a stoop city, a front porch city with an active and vibrant street life. It's positively brimming and ripe for so many life stories. Philadelphia is a physical crucible for intimate exchange.

PCG: The First Person Arts Festival has a storied history itself.

VS: Our collective stories are the building blocks of our organization, and the heart and mission of who we are and what we do via the First Person Arts Festival and, more recently, many other programs. It's amazing how much has happened in the last seven years since we got started here. For example, our First Person Story Slams have developed a cult following with standing-room-only audiences each month. Our first First Voices Fellow completed her documentary project in Ghana, and her photographs will be exhibited at this year's Festival. We completed our first full year of memoir and documentary course offerings in partnership with The University of the Arts Continuing Education Division. We launched the First Person Community Writing Project, which brings free, eight-week writing workshops to underserved communities. And this month we are taking to the streets on the First Person Story Tour, which is a guerrilla story-gathering blitz to collect personal stories, which will then be posted in store windows and on our new video web site and featured at the festival.

Vicki Solot, Founder and President of First Person Arts

PCG: What can people expect to hear, see and experience at this year's First Person Festival?

VS: Audiences will be able to get inside someone's interesting experience. The stories are quite diverse—they're about the old, the young, people who've been thrust outside their comfort zone, or had to cope with big changes in their life. The festival is a conduit for the stories of our lives, revealed and presented in compelling styles and varied forms. As I like to say, "Hear stories, see life."

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