A Thing You Should Go To: Refresh Refresh Refresh

A breeze and a good memory ago, I went to the third installment of Refresh Refresh Refresh at the bar Happy Ending in the Lower East Side, organized by Leon Neyfakh. The lineup then included Simon Rich, Emily Gould, Das Racist, and David Shapiro Jr.. David, in his own humorous way, told a story that a movie producer, who was also in the audience that night, thought would make for a great screenplay. A handful of meetings and three years later, development was underway and well, wouldn’t you know, it was only last week that both Leon and I got to check out a scene from the actual film shoot, titled Unreachable by Conventional Means, which is officially in production! While this particular case had quite the trajectory, the spirit of Refresh Refresh Refresh boils down to simple, good storytelling: Leon invites great talent, an evening of readings commences, grip a few cold beverages, get introduced to some fresh voices, and buzzy energy abounds. The series was on hiatus when Leon moved to Boston for a gig at the Globe (he also took RRR to Cambridge), but he’s since relocated back to work remote for the Beantown paper. Good thing for us in NYC, Leon continues to hold down his hosting duties for Refresh Refresh Refresh, which now finds home at Cake Shop. The next event is this Sunday, September 15!

What was the impetus for starting your reading/storytelling series? How did your first one come together?
The original thought process was: I have a bunch of funny, cool friends, and it would be great to put their names on a poster and have people come to a party to watch them be funny and cool.

It wouldn’t have occurred to me start it if not for my friend Lisa Locascio, who was hosting a reading series where the theme was people talking about their crushes. She asked me to tell a story at one of those, and it made me want to put my own show together. So I approached the manager of the bar where it was held, Happy Ending, and was astonished to find they were open to it right away. We had to promote it as being internet-themed at first — hence the name Refresh — because the bar said there needed to be some kind of theme, but that went by the wayside pretty quickly.

How do you go about finding new voices to showcase? Do you meet them through your own literary/journalism community or do you also find them online?
Both! After I booked the space that first time and got a few of my closest friends to commit to being on the bill, I realized that if I was officially the host of a thing, and that gave me an excuse to email people who weren’t even my friends and ask them to participate. So for that first one I approached Alex Carnevale from This Recording and Gabe Delahaye from Videogum. It felt like everyone I knew read those blogs and loved them, and it seemed obvious to me that it would be a huge thrill to see those guys be themselves into a microphone. That has ended up being the principle behind putting together the bills ever since — the desired reaction is basically, “I can’t believe X person, who does not normally tell stories in little rooms, is going to be telling a story in a little room!”

What do you look for when you invite someone to come tell a story? Do you give them any guidelines or let them run with whatever they got?
I used to say “do whatever you want” but as I’ve done more of them I’ve gotten a taste for what works really well, so now I nudge people in that direction, and even help with editing. I generally say funny is better than serious and short is better than long.

How did you go about promoting your events, especially in the beginning? Or did you find yourself relying on good old “word-of-social-media”?
I was lucky enough to have friends who could make beautiful posters for me. A lot of them ended up being done by the artist Aurora Andrews, and they were just so eye-catching and pretty that it wasn’t hard to get people’s attention. So I just posted them on my tumblr and hoped they’d get passed around. I also just emailed everyone I knew and asked them to come.

Do you find there’s a difference between the writers of NYC and Boston, and those respective scenes? 
I wish I had a good answer to this but I don’t. I guess the one difference is there are just more people whose job it is to write things for magazines and newspapers in New York than in Boston. But that actually made the Boston shows extra-strong, I think, because it meant more of the performers were just cool, charismatic people trying their hand at something they didn’t normally do. And those always work out the best I think.

What do you see for the future of RRR?
I don’t know. Lately every time I do it I assume it’s the last one, but then every time it goes really well and I want to do it again. For a while I was talking to my friend Fran Harlow, who is a radio producer, about making a Refresh website, where we’d post people’s stories as mp3s, but I never got my act together to do that, and the truth is I probably never will. (If anyone reading this wants to help make a Refresh website, please let me know!) One thing I’ve always wanted to do is come up with a special show built around some unusual format, like a fake debate or a set of interviews or something.

I know that you’re also a fan of music! What bands or albums are piquing your interest right now?
Well, at the last Refresh I had my friend Teddy Blanks perform a bunch of songs from his new album “Therapy,” which I love and recommend to everyone. I have been listening to “Acid Rap” by Chance the Rapper a lot, and I am very excited about the upcoming Drake album.