At the Michigan Theater this past Sunday, a group of diverse and inspiring women transported the city of Ann Arbor to a rare and beautiful place. Every space was a woman’s space at the Hello Sunshine X Together Live event.
Together Live is a traveling storytelling organization that partnered with Reese Witherspoon’s media brand, Hello Sunshine, to bring authentic storytelling to spaces worldwide in order to help amplify diverse and inclusive female voices. Among the voices heard at Sunday’s event were comedian Cameron Esposito, soccer player Abby Wambach, journalist Noor Tagouri and Together Live co-founders Glennon Doyle and Jennifer Rudolph Walsh. These women, and many other well-known feminists, are traveling to cities around the U.S. and splitting their hearts open — telling vulnerable stories of love, loss and their authentic journeys navigating the world. The women at Sunday’s event handed each of us a magnifying glass that allowed us to look into both their lives and our own.
An immediate observation upon my entrance into the theater was that the audience was mostly women. This for me is always super empowering; but lately, I’ve been wondering why spaces created to amplify women can’t attract more men. I wonder if they feel excluded themselves. Or maybe they feel as though they do not need to be informed about this community and don’t think twice about attending a women’s empowerment event at all.
Patriarchal systems dominate in all spheres of American life, including business, entertainment and media, and we all need to hear the unfiltered and empowering stories of women, regardless of who we are. There’s something so important and so rare about men genuinely looking to hear these female empowerment stories. Despite my love for the girl-power sentiment filling the theater, I wished for more male desire to learn from the event in order to be an allied force to the women’s empowerment and rights movement going forward. An important piece to the women’s rights movement is informed listening from those who have the power in exclusive spaces in order to help keep the door open for those of us trying to get through.
Kicking off the evening of girl power storytelling was vocalist and songwriter MILCK, whose brassy, clear voice established the evening as a warm, welcoming and, most of all, interactive space. The stage was set up like a boho-chic living room, which gave the impression of a private conversation between the women on stage and the entire, quieted audience. As MILCK’s voice bounced off the walls, everyone looked on with admiration. It was an emotional moment as she sang: “Ooh-ooh child / things are gonna get easier / Ooh-ooh child / things’ll get brighter / Ooh-ooh child / things’ll get brighter.” Halfway through her opening song, she took a pause to look at everyone in the audience and speak to us directly.
“Ann Arbor … is gorgeous,” MILCK said before picking back up with her song. With her compliment to our precious little city, we all swelled with pride, even more excited for what the rest of the evening entailed.
Jennifer Rudolph Walsh (Together Live Co-Founder) took over as the crowd cheered and whistled for MILCK and the rest of the guests flooded the stage.
“We are using the power of authentic storytelling to transform ourselves and the world around us,” Walsh said, which brought about a roar of applause from the audience. “Loneliness. Anxiety. Rage. Addiction. Depression. The cure … The antidote to all of this is storytelling. Especially in the disconnected times we’re living in.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Rudolph Walsh prior to the event and was thrilled to directly speak to her about something as important and life-changing as storytelling.
“Storytelling is our magic superpower. It connects, elevates and heals us. It’s a salve to bring us together during these divided times,” Walsh said when asked why she felt inclined to turn storytelling into her full-time job.
During the event, Priya Parker, the founder of “Thrive Labs,” also shared some beautiful words about the importance of storytelling and gathering together as a community.
“There’s an element of heat, risk and intimacy when we gather together to tell stories,” Parker said.
This really resonates, because I feel that when students who come from different backgrounds and have diverging opinions gather together to talk about something that makes us uncomfortable, we can make real breakthroughs.
Abby Wambach, a professional soccer player, shared a bit about her own personal breakthrough, which I haven’t stopped thinking about since.
“We all know the story of Red Riding Hood, right?” Wambach asked the audience, who nodded in agreement. “Well, Red Riding Hood is told to stay on the path or else the big bad wolf will get her. She’s told stay on the path and only on the path. But I’ve sort of found in my life that when I’m off the path, is when the best opportunities and moments come my way. So my mantra is to go off the path, and I sort of had to look at myself and say ‘Oh Abby, you weren’t Red Riding Hood. You were the wolf all along.’”
With that, a rush of energy filled the theater and suddenly we were all on our feet, yelling and cheering with enthusiasm and a new mantra: Be the wolf. As the evening progressed, I felt as though I was at a TED Talk — but subtract any morsel of toxic masculinity and add the most kickass, incredible women I had ever been in the presence of.
“I think a lot of people think gays and minorities and liberals only live on the coasts but all I have to say is that we are everywhere. We are your fucking neighbors. We are HERE, ” said comedian Cameron Esposito following her stand-up set.
We are here. So many voices are ready to be heard.
When I asked Rudolph Walsh what she hoped people take away from the event, she said, “That everyone has a story and that it matters!” Gathering up stories and inhaling their themes and messages is the most incredible way to mend wounds, part seas and bring even the most diverging opinions together. What Rudolph Wash is seeking to do through Together Live X Hello Sunshine is something that should not only be celebrated but replicated, worldwide, by everyone — not just women.
I wanted to go and use my voice too. I wanted to listen. I wanted to stop strangers on the street and tell them stories. I wanted to hear theirs too. Two words that are part of the Together Live X Hello Sunshine mantra were etched into my head: Stories travel.
Stories do travel. They travel from coast to coast. Across the world. Across your dorm room hallway, next door to your neighbors, all the way to the city you were born. Stories travel great lengths and distances, across time and space. They traveled to Ann Arbor. I put the ones I heard in my pocket as the shiny tools of the work yet to be done. And what a joy it is to know we’ll always have stories, they will never go out of style. They will never run out.