Nearly at the center of Athens-Clarke County, but removed from the concrete bustle of downtown, sits the imaginative haven of Rabbit Hole Studios at 1001 Winterville Road. When turning into the compound, several things might catch your eye: the colorful burst of striped paintings marking the front entrance, the trailers covered in murals parked on one side of the building, or the green space where a garden grows on the opposite side. If that wasn’t enough to spark curiosity, entering the building transports visitors into an artistically decked-out grand hall space full of musical instruments, comfy furniture, a self-serve consignment shop and a decorated stage.
The Southeastern Library Association has honored the Athens-Clarke County Library for its recent One Book Athens series. The program won the Association’s Outstanding Program Award for 2022.
“Some people think it’s like a comedy story in that they’re professional telling canned stories,” Priest said. “These are just people getting up, sometimes in a nervous way, genuinely saying what’s happened to them. It’s not an act.”
Rabbit Box organizers have worked to connect storytelling to public spaces and recreation, and in pursuit of that goal, have hosted two shows at the county’s Sandy Creek Park. The Arts in Community grant will support the cost of hosting Rabbit Box in an outdoor venue, and will ensure that the public will pay no more than the $2 entrance fee at Sandy Creek Park to attend Rabbit Box events held there.
Rabbit Box is a storytelling collective that provides space and support for amateur storytellers from Athens, hosting monthly gatherings open to the public for a small fee. For the last few years, in an effort to connect storytelling to public space and recreation, the group has partnered with Sandy Creek Park to provide two shows on park grounds. Grant funds will support the additional costs of hosting the event in an outdoor venue and will ensure the two events (hosted April 7 and October 12) are open to the public at the cost of only the park entrance fee, $2.00.
“Marci White was the original founder, and she saw storytelling in other communities and thought Athens was a great place to bring it back and start a storytelling organization,” said Elise Stangle, director of Rabbit Box and Athens Native. “She started a group together and, at first, they met pretty informally in places like Avid [Bookshop] and The Globe, and that was in 2012.”
Lauren Fancher, a digital media artist and a confident storyteller with a wry voice, displayed her jaded humor in a story about a grant-funded art exhibit in Augusta which was censored. The show’s content, which included a bible with a nail through it, inspired a minor uproar in the local press. She ended the tale by saying, “We’re not a bunch of drug-crazed artists. We’re just artists. And we need your attention.”
The event was incredible. People kept filing in and soon the cozy Foundry venue was packed with people enjoying dinner or a cocktail while chattering excitedly. The room was beautiful, the atmosphere was buzzing and the stories were wonderful. Some made me laugh, some made me cry but all made me fall in love with Athens, Georgia.
“… do you really know your fellow Athenians? Just try to count the times you’ve stood idle at any given millisecond and watched those around you watch their phones. What are we missing? Deeper appreciation, possible opportunities, and countless friendships and relationships are all to be gained from hearing the stories of the people right in front of you.”
“A group of students were preparing to showcase their photography, stories and poems in a Rabbit Box presentation that’s been an ongoing project since October. Whether stories of heroism or heartbreak, the sixth-, seventh- and eighth- grade students all had something important to say.”
“Rabbit Box normally traffics in words, stories, memories and emotions. But lately, the live personal storytelling experience is talking numbers: a two-year anniversary, 23 shows, 170 individual storytellers, participants aged 11 to 85, 200 to 250 regular patrons, and a collection of 181 stories told (many available online).“
“It was by far the scariest thing I have ever done in my life. I am used to telling stories to my friends and family; I am comfortable in that element. But to stand on stage in a room full of strangers is an entirely different thing. I got through it; I made the audience laugh and I felt really empowered afterwards. It was just an AWESOME experience all around.”
“Whether you’re the storyteller or a member of the audience, Rabbit Box is a revelation.”
Several of the raconteurs are icons in Athens history. Reverend A.R. Killian served as a leader in the Civil Rights movement in town. His restaurant served as a meeting place for civil rights activists, and he risked his life so that the University of Georgia could become racially integrated. Homer Wilson and his family have played a major role in the development of African-American businesses in Athens, particularly Hot Corner downtown.
“I was seventh in the lineup, and as the sixth storyteller finished, my heart raced; its beat becoming audible in its intensity. I began my story at approximately 8:40 p.m., and my eight minutes flew by in a blur; I’m almost certain I was afforded leeway by the sympathetic timekeeper, a storyteller himself at Rabbit Box 5. When it was over, I found myself embracing a whole mess of people who had been completely unknown to me just weeks, days, hours before. I was abuzz for the rest of the night and into the following day, high on performance adrenaline and warmed by an overwhelming sense of community.”
“With Rabbit Box, there is virtually no divide between speakers and those observing. The cozy setup combined with the nature of storytelling creates a tangible connection between performer and audience. There is also a fantastic call-and-response in storytelling, as the performer’s trajectory is spurred by the raucous laughter and enthusiasm of the crowd.”
“This is Rabbit Box — a monthly night of story sharing with a community spin. Whether it’s Athens natives with tales of world travels or newcomers relaying their journey to the Classic City, each story is another step towards the ultimate goal — bringing citizens closer to each other.”
“Social media allows its users to tell their stories to more people…Yet this convenience of communication comes at the cost of quality… A good story cannot be distilled in a text message or a tweet. The magic of storytelling lies with the storyteller…I applaud Athens’ reversion to the simpler act of live storytelling. Storytelling illustrates the past in a way that cannot always be conveyed online, and in that way it informs our future. Turn up the mike. We have a lot to learn from each other.”