Old-fashioned public telephone booths with rotary phones are back in Spokane as part of the West Central Dial-A-Story project. But these are no ordinary phone booths. They transport you to a different place and time, with pre-recorded stories and tales from the often overlooked neighborhood of West Central.
Members of the public walking by any one of the three rotary phone booths installed on the streets near Batch Bakeshop, Indaba Coffee, and at the West Central Community Center are encouraged to lift the handsets from their cradles and listen in. Each phone offers a variety of true stories, as told by local residents.
The idea behind the Dial-a-Story project was to offer a creative outlet for the West Central community to share personal stories about their unique and historic area.
“Sharing stories about West Central seemed a natural way to bring the neighborhood together,” said Brooke Matson, executive director of the nonprofit creative learning center Spark Central. “There are many great stories – funny, heartbreaking, whimsical, sad – all of them bring something to the table.”
A local teen shares a sad but inspiring tale about getting kicked out of his house by his mother. A West Central resident tells about befriending a young skateboarder until the family moves away. Another memorable story, read by the dynamic award-winning actress Tricia Bart, (wife of new Spokane Civic Theatre artistic director Lenny Bart), is about the time a moose appeared on the grounds of Holmes Elementary School, to the delight of local children.
Spokane Civic Theatre provided a cast of experienced actors to give voice to the stories. The stories are true, but performed by actors in order to encourage participation by those who wish to remain anonymous.
“The one that stands out to me the most was the story of a woman who was proposed to as they sat in the car … and then went on a walk around this neighborhood, happily proclaiming their engagement and the different encounters they had,” said Civic Theatre’s community relations administrator Kearney Jordan. “It gave me a real sense of community.”
Matson was inspired to launch Dial-a-Story after finding an old rotary phone in her basement. She undertook the collaborative project with several local nonprofits and a $3,000 sponsorship by STCU. Spokane Arts worked with Matson to choose submitted stories and hired local sculptor Rick Davis to construct the kiosks.
Alan Chatham, director of Laboratory, which provides support for interactive, digital and performance art, put together the circuitry and programmed the equipment so the phones can play recorded stories when dialed. Chatham, who experienced building a “choose-your-own-adventure payphone” in the past for a different project, said his interest in West Central’s Dial-a-Story stems from his love of magical realism.
“I’m really excited for opportunities to augment our day-to-day world in ways that seem out of the ordinary,” Chatham said. “Or to make people feel like they’ve stepped into a place where normal isn’t normal anymore.”
“I like how it helps create a community narrative in the neighborhood, sharing stories you’d tell your friends to the entire area,” Chatham added.
There are 17 stories that can be accessed at the booths so far. Dial-a-Story is looking for more real stories about first-hand experiences within the West Central neighborhood, and you don’t have to live in the area to share a neighborhood tale. To be a part of the interactive storytelling project, go to tinyurl.com/dialastory and submit a 300-500 word first-person narrative online. The story should take no longer than three minutes to read aloud, and the content has be to be PG-13 or below.