Bronwyn Ritchie is just like you. She is a vulnerable yet talented human being with a story to tell. Campfire, a community organization in downtown St. Louis that treats the Public Library like a confessional, gave her that opportunity.
Getting up in front of people on a stage and talking about yourself is a form of therapy, but for Bronwyn Ritchie, it was more of a purge. She hasn't had an easy life, and grew up this "awkward genius", but couldn't find the platform to properly tell her story before she found this community.
Campfire is designed to do two things. Bring different types of people together through their stories and create not just one line of communication, but various links that can spread around the entire city.
I spoke to Ritchie this week about her experiences, conquering the fear of public speech, and what Campfire can do for all the wandering souls out there who need to get a few things off their chest.
Buffa: Tell me about Campfire. What does it mean to you?
Ritchie: It's an immersive storytelling experience. The goal is to take people who don't normally do these things a chance to share their experiences. Having a larger conversation instead of someone talking at you. They try and do stuff with music and touch.
Buffa: You were one of the storytellers.
Ritchie: I just told a story. I'm a nobody. I was the season finale. The fourth person to do it, all time. I got an email that said, "Do you want to tell a story? You don't have to be good at it." They let me get on a stage for an hour.
Buffa: What is the allure of a live Campfire event?
Ritchie: There wasn't a dry eye in the house. If you want to feel the feels, it draws the feels out of you. Plus, it's for free. We sat down for an hour while I rambled for my life. They record it and look for a theme. For me, it was home. We then work on for two weeks, and build the spine of the story. They coach you.
Buffa: They take a person and basically direct them. You are the script.
Ritchie: They direct you about your life story. Your car crash wasn't sad enough. Make it worse.
Buffa: What do you gain from something like this?
Ritchie: I've gotten several date offers out of it. Somebody hears your entire life story and wants to get a cocktail with you. Otherwise, there's no agenda behind it. It's been a really intense process. Being on a stage has made me reevaluate my entire life. There's been a positive growth in my life due to this experience.
Buffa: How many times did you want to run off the stage?
Ritchie: Frequently. The people who work on the project are dudes, so I didn't want to cry. There's some pretty emotional stuff in my story. The day of, I didn't even want to leave the house. Someone called me and kind of helped me get there.
Buffa: Rafe Williams is a coach there. How was it leaning from him?
Ritchie: Super fantastic. He knows his stuff. He gives good feedback. He means it. If there is a suggestion, you should take it. He's very funny. He told me about points in my story where I could tell jokes. I actually told my own jokes and he was proud of me. He's impressive.
Buffa: Do you think this kind of upstart thing can truly help people? Is it an escape or more of a rebirth?
Ritchie: For audience members, it's more of a rebirth. The thing about St. Louis is that it's a segregated town. People in Dogtown only want to go to bars in Dogtown, for example. You put them in a room in downtown St. Louis, and there's a lot of renewed hope. It's this really unique thing that Steven(the creator) has done. Very positive for folks.
Buffa: What's some of the saddest stories you've heard?
Ritchie: I've never been to any of them before my own speaker session, so anything I say is going to be about my life. I skipped the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh grade. I ran my car into a telephone pole at 80 mph, and flipped it 97 yards. Then, my whole life got better. I was an awkward smart kid, so it wasn't easy. That's pretty crazy, right?
Buffa: If I'm a 62 year old man, does this appeal to me or is it mostly for younger people?
Ritchie: Steven told me it was something for millennials made by millennials since the library is trying to reach the millennial crowd.
Buffa: You need to sell Campfire to a stranger on the street. What do you tell them?
Ritchie: The original point of theater was catharsis for the audience. An escape and place to release. That is exactly what Campfire is. If you are sad and lonely, you can come be sad and lonely with others.
What you see with Bronwyn is what you get. She wears her vulnerability like a shield covering her innocence but through Campfire was willing to lower her guard and help others with her stories.
Think about the places you go to for escape. The movies. A concert. The bar. All those things cost you and never really help. Campfire is free and real, and it heals. Give it a shot and you may meet another Bronwyn Ritchie.