The Rapidian

Story Cafe builds community through storytelling

Billy and Marcia Angel bring community drama and storytelling to Grand Rapids using their coffeehouse, Story Cafe, for a stage.
The Playback Improv group performs at the Story Cafe.

The Playback Improv group performs at the Story Cafe. /Courtesy of Billy Angel

Story Cafe Events

Open Mic: Thursday, August 15, 7 p.m.

Holy Ground: Sunday, August 18, 4 p.m.

Playback Improv: Saturday, August 24, 7 p.m.

Poetry Night: Tuesday, August 20, 7 p.m.

 

Want to perform at an event?

Contact Story Cafe on their website, by email or

phone: (616) 635-2257

 

Billy and Marcia Angel

Billy and Marcia Angel /Courtesy of Billy Angel

Billy Angel behind the counter at Story Cafe

Billy Angel behind the counter at Story Cafe /Michael Walton

Billy and Marcia Angel's love of storytelling has followed them across oceans and continents. The couple has been hosting an evening called Story Rounds in the houses where they've lived in London, Whales and Florida. They would invite friends and community members to their living room to perform for one another. And now they've brought that invitation to participate in community storytelling experiences to Grand Rapids- at their coffeehouse, Story Cafe (444 Leonard Street NW).

The events they hold at Story Cafe are not passive experiences, explains Billy Angel. They encourage patrons to become directly involved at the events. This could mean performing during the open mic and poetry nights or merely sharing stories and impressions for the Playback Improv group to act out.

Playback Improv is an improvisation group the Angels put together that performs every other Saturday at the Story Cafe. Billy Angel says their improvisation differs from something like Whose Line is it Anyway? in that it's not strictly comedy and not strictly language based, although both can certainly be part of it. He says it's closer to physical theater that can sometimes even become serious.

Billy Angel says the event relies on a good audience to succeed. Billy Angel says his wife Marcia, who conducts the group, is skilled at pulling stories from reluctant crowds. 

"Like last night the audience was kind of unwilling for a while," says Billy Angel. "So then my wife, as the conductor, she says 'Well okay. Let's play back what we sense the audience is doing at the moment or how they're feeling.' And we had them in stitches. So then all of a sudden they relaxed."

Marcia Angel has trained in improvisational theater and studied under Jonathan Fox, creator of the original Playback Theater in upstate New York. She's also a therapist who specializes in pediatric therapy and psychodramatics, a technique that uses dramatic exercises to work through problematic issues.

Billy Angel is a filmmaker by trade who has studied acting and theater. He shares his wife's love of drama and storytelling. He was born in Amsterdam and moved to London, where he met the Detroit-born Marcia, to pursue a job offer.

The couple has lived in London, South Wales and Florida before moving to Grand Rapids. In each of those places they held their community Story Rounds. In Wales, they lived in a large house that was able to accommodate the production of Jacob's Ladder, a Biblical television series Billy Angel worked on. They were able to seat 75 people in the living room. This experience allowed them to perfect their performance formats and dessert recipes before deciding to open a full-time entertainment establishment.

"I like the word 'entertainment' because it covers the food side [as well]," Billy Angel says.

Billy Angel says that keeping the food and drink high quality is important to them. The pastries are their own recipes and he says they strive to serve the best coffees and teas. On the entertainment side, Story Cafe offers poetry nights, where writers can read their work for an audience, and open mic nights that include a variety of performance opportunities, including music, storytelling and physical theater.

One Sunday a month, Billy Angel hosts a unique storytelling experience called Holy Ground, which focuses on Biblical stories. He specialized in Biblical stories as a filmmaker and says he loves presenting them through vocal storytelling. These events typically end with songs Billy Angel wrote with his friends.

Billy Angel says he strives to present Biblical stories as quality drama rather than something religious. He avoids the term "religious" and wants people to see the tales simply as good stories.

"I wanted the Biblical stories to be recognized as drama," Billy Angel says. "Because they are quality stories. Just like Shakespeare or anything else."

The Angels are currently working to expand their community nights and film nights to hold them on a more regular basis. The community nights invite leaders in the community to talk for an hour about their vision and what needs to be done in the community. The film nights would feature a short film by a local filmmaker and facilitate a discussion on it.

The Angels say that the Story Cafe is what they want to do and that Grand Rapids is the place to do it.

"I like being here. It's an interesting place with lots of interesting people," Billy Angel says. "I also sense that Grand Rapids has a real community spirit. People really know how to work together, how to find each other, how to have fun together and how to connect with each other. There's loads going on. And that, I think, is so valuable. That creates community, doesn't it? That makes life worthwhile for me."

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