Interview: Campfire creator Steven Harowitz

If someone walked up to you in the street and asked you to get on a stage in front of strangers and tell your story, what would you say?

Campfire aims to bring interesting people with unique stories and project their tales onto others with the hopes of creating something amazing. You can find their action at the St. Louis Public Library, where they combine improvisational skills with their pasts and purge their demons in the hope of connection. 

Director and Creator of Campfire Steven Harowitz is the bold soul who organizes and runs this community organization. He brings the lonely souls together, gives them the tools to be brave, and has helped many people find something in themselves that may have stayed hidden if it weren't for the right navigator and coach. 

I spoke with Steven about Campfire's endeavors and hopes on Friday. Here is what transpired.

Buffa: How did Campfire get started?

Harowitz: We did a test run during St. Louis design week during October of last year. We wanted to do something where we brought components of people's lives and connected the storyteller to the audience. We took a pause from it for a while afterwards. Some life stuff happened. I then wanted to play with the concept again and the St. Louis Public Library reached out to collaborate. We did it the way I'd always dreamed it would be.

Buffa: Rafe Williams is a comic on the rise in St. Louis and one of your coaches at Campfire. What makes him an asset to your team? 

Harowitz: He's a stellar presence and a good person. You want people who are going to be great team members. He has a ton of experience and knows the technical skills it takes to be on stage. He's got a good blend of being a good human also what it takes to be on stage. 

Buffa: What do you expect to gain from this long term?

Harowitz: I'm one of those people who is very future thinking but with this I have tried my hardest to turn that off and just enjoy it. Let it grow as it might. There's still things we can do to bring it more to life. Workshops and sharing it with the community. Honestly, I don't know and I kind of love that.

Buffa: I spoke with Bronwyn Ritchie and she told me Campfire was similar to theater because it was cathartic. 

Harowitz: They are supposed to feel whatever the story wanted to make them feel. With each storyteller, we chose one main statement. For Bronwyn, it was how to build a home. I want the audience to find themselves through someone's narrative. Everybody takes it differently because we don't force a perspective. Everything has a falling action and there are no answers.

Buffa: If you are on the street and trying to sell this to them, how do you get them in the door?

Harowitz: It's hard to explain. That is something the team is really working on. How to explain it. A storyteller's friend told us that it defies definition. It's like a church without the religion. A tech spot without data. We are figuring it out as we go. 

Buffa: Is it engineered towards a 62 year old man or towards the younger crowd?

Harowitz: It started out as something targeted towards the millennial crowd, but it's become something that anybody can come to. If you boil it down past details, it's the same struggles. These people are regular people and not trained speakers. They are the people in the car next to you at a stop light. While we have a target audience that we like, at the same time things cross generational boundaries. 

Buffa: When I saw the Facebook page, I saw something that reminds me of improv as well as what actors define as "method" approaches. 

Harowitz: Team members have backgrounds in improv. The vague discipline that we've blended together was journalism on the front, wrap in production, and then we put in some of the improv pieces as well. It also becomes guest services. We blend a lot of random stuff into this thing. 

Buffa: What's one of the memorable stories you've heard?

Harowitz: It's hard to pick one. I'll pick one from the original story. The first time we ever test ran the event. A story about name and identity. A story from Cintas. Someone saw the speaker's name, which was Keisha Mabry, and made a huge snap judgement. They immediately asked her how many kids she had and are you on welfare? If you know this person, that is her name. You make snap judgements and they have no idea. That name was given to her. 

Buffa: St. Louis is going through a harsh phase with all the violence and turmoil. Is Campfire something that can balance it out and give people an escape?

Harowitz: Hopefully. When folks have seen it, they say that it can be something that works towards creative change. If you give people an hour to make the best version of themselves, I think you can help people change from an individual level. That can maybe spurn more change. You can help on an individual level and hope it grows. 

Steven Harowitz is trying to change the world, one person at a time and it's working. Speaking to Bronwyn Ritchie a couple days before my chat with Steven, one could tell she was enlightened and bolstered by a newfound purpose. Something that she may have found on the stage downtown at Campfire. An organization that tries to mend the broken wings of people with a story to tell but no place to purge. 

Keep an eye on Campfire by liking their Facebook page and reaching out to connect with its creators and members. Some things are slow moving yet change lives one soul at a time. Campfire is trying to do something incredible and the more people who know about it, the faster those baby steps become a steady strut towards positive outcomes.