Fearless Femme is taking storytelling from the Zeph to your headphones

Fearless Femme creator Suzy D’Enbeau said she started her live storytelling shows to get to know more people in the community outside of her job teaching at Kent State. Michael Indriolo/The Portager
Fearless Femme creator Suzy D’Enbeau said she started her live storytelling shows to get to know more people in the community outside of her job teaching at Kent State. Michael Indriolo/The Portager

Fearless Femme is taking storytelling from the Zeph to your headphones

The live storytelling show’s creator took up podcasting to keep it alive during the pandemic. ‘I really want women to have a chance to get up there and tell a story.’

Once a month, dozens of people of all ages, genders and sexes crowded into The Zephyr Pub in Kent to listen to five women take turns sharing stories based on that night’s theme. In this way, Fearless Femme has been fostering empathy and understanding though storytelling since 2019.

“I’d see the same people over and over again, and I kind of was thinking, ‘I want to know more about that person,’” said Fearless Femme creator Suzy D’Enbeau. “Of course, we can informally make those connections. And that’s great, but I was like, I really want women to have a chance to get up there and tell a story and share part of themselves so that we can cultivate more community. That was part of it, and I think that’s what makes it really meaningful.”

Then the pandemic stalled the project until D’Enbeau found a way to keep her passion project alive: podcasting.

And in some ways, the new podcast has opened up new possibilities, offering crowd-averse storytellers the opportunity to comfortably share their stories alongside the under-21 fans who can’t get into the Zephyr.

Fearless Femme’s first podcast episode dropped in December, and there have been two more since. Each episode features five women storytellers (including at least one young woman) speaking on a given theme, like “I will survive” and “lost and found.” The live shows will return as soon as possible. But the show’s growing audience has exceeded the Zephyr’s capacity, so North Water Brewing Co. will host future shows.

Fearless Femme creator Suzy D’Enbeau said she started her live storytelling shows to get to know more people in the community outside of her job teaching at Kent State. Michael Indriolo/The Portager

Derek Christian, a manager at North Water Brewing Co., said hosting Fearless Femme falls in line with the brewery’s ethos: “This is supposed to be a place where people can come and speak their mind and share ideas,” he said.

D’Enbeau, a Kent State communication studies professor who created Fearless Femme (with the help of many friends and supporters, she emphasized), found in storytelling a way to connect with her community outside of her job, she said.

D’Enbeau said she designed Fearless Femme for ordinary individuals. Storytellers can bring notes with them or memorize their story, and she’s willing to help them prepare as much or as little as they’d like.

“I want them to feel really positive about that experience,” she said. “I’ve had so many storytellers say, ‘I never would have done that, and I got up there, and I have never felt so amazing in that eight to 10 minutes I was up on stage.’”

Fearless Femme has gained a solid fan base, D’Enbeau said, but she wasn’t so sure when she first started. A manager at Zephyr Pub gave her one hour on a dead Tuesday night to test out her idea that was inspired by a similar storytelling event she attended in Wyoming.

“That Tuesday, I was there at like 6:45 p.m., and not very many people were there,” she said. “And I’m like, ‘I’m sorry, this might be a bust, but you know, thank you for letting me try it.’ And five [minutes] to 7 p.m., you just saw hordes of women coming into Zephyr. From Day One, you couldn’t get in the door every month. It was totally unexpected.”

Jennifer Cunningham, an associate professor in Kent State’s English department, has attended every Fearless Femme night, even that first one, and shared stories of her own. She hasn’t missed a podcast episode. She loves them, she said, but they’re different from the in-person shows. They’re missing the in-person audience interaction she’d felt during live shows.

The live shows intersected university staff with the local Kent community, drawing people who identify as women, men and nonbinary people of all ages together in one space, she said. They provide women with a space to share and normalize their experiences through a feminist lens, relatively free from hetero-normative and patriarchical pressures, she said.

“I think that participating and listening and learning from each other is empowering, but also humbling,” she said. “It’s how we connect. I think overall, in general, it’s important for marginalized, minority people to support each other, but with Fearless Femme in particular, for women to support other women. Sometimes the best way to empathize with somebody is just to listen.”

Longtime Kent resident Frances Penney, who used to work at the Zephyr, said she experienced that empathy when she shared a story about her parents’ more-than-50-year marriage at a Fearless Femme show. Her mother had been experiencing memory issues associated with dementia and was diagnosed earlier that same day with ALS, a neurodegenerative disease that attacks the brain’s nerve cells.

It wasn’t something she normally talked to people about, she said. She didn’t realize how many people her story would touch that night. One friend she’d known for decades, among others, told her he’d been going through something similar with his parents.

“It affected other people in the room that also had to deal with aging parents and who experienced dementia with their parents,” Penney said. “I didn’t realize, and I think he didn’t realize, that we have been going through something similar. So things like that. I think that’s important. We all kind of assume things about other people. And when you go off and express yourself and tell them something really personal, I think you get that, ‘Oh, wow, I just thought you were the bartender who worked here.’”

Her father sat next to her on stage while she told the story. His max-volume ringtone cut her off at one point. It was her mom calling, by chance, in the middle of her story.

“It was this moment that I could never replicate,” she said. “It was so dear to me, and so important that, you know, my mom was there, in a way, when she called. I love looking back on that, because again, it was such a difficult day that morning, hearing about her diagnosis, and the fact that she has since passed. But I have that experience. I got to read that to my dad. And my mom got to call. We got to have a laugh, you know, with the both of them. That was extremely important to me.”

This article was produced through a reporting partnership with the Collaborative News Lab @ Kent State University.

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