All good things must come to an end. But in the case of Lip Service, the beloved celebration of storytelling, at least there’s a chance to say goodbye. After nine years leading one of Miami’s most popular literary events, co-founder Andrea Askowitz is leaving Lip Service following her final show on October 24.
Askowitz and co-founder Esther Martinez Kenniff began Lip Service in 2006 as a small gathering at Books & Books. Nine years later, the program receives up to 80 submissions for each show. Four times a year, hundreds of people gather to watch eight storytellers speak for eight minutes each. Sometimes the stories are funny; sometimes they leave audiences in tears. Regardless of the subject, Lip Service fosters a level of intimacy between speakers and audience members that seems implausible for such a large-scale event.
“Once people come to Lip Service, they fall in love,” Askowitz says. “I really believe that this is the best possible experience that anyone could have. It’s such a feeling of connectedness to the people around us. Where else do you get that sense of community here in Miami?”
Askowitz says that performing at Lip Service can be a life-changing experience. Since most of the performers are not professional writers, many of the stories submitted are incomplete. After Askowitz and her selection committee duke it out over which submissions will be accepted, the next three weeks are an intense period of gathering more information, refining the writing and practicing for the stage. Askowitz’s main job is to pull the full story out, which is often an unexpected emotional experience for the performers.
“I love the storytellers so much,” she says. “I feel so thankful to them for opening up and being brave. They are the most open and honest people in the world.”
If Askowitz feels so strongly about her creation, why leave? A big factor in her decision to move on is how much Lip Service has grown since its inception in 2006. Through word-of-mouth, Lip Service has gained a strong following, and in 2012, Lip Service received a three-year, $50,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. While this was an incredible accomplishment for the once-small storytelling group, it also had a major downside: paper work, and lots of it.
“I started thinking a year ago that I didn’t want to do all of this administrative work,” Askowitz says, noting that her true passion lies in creating, not administrating. “It’s hard to say goodbye, but I’m ready.”
Her departure leaves future of Lip Service very much up in the air. Askowitz played an integral role in Lip Service, so her absence will leave a void that, as of yet, nobody has stepped in to fill. Her co-founder, Kenniff, is busy with her family (including a young set of twins) and nobody else seems willing to take on Askowitz’s role. While Askowitz says she thinks this might be the end for Lip Service, she acknowledges that it is no longer her responsibility to keep the project afloat. In stepping down, she has announced her next project: Writing Class Radio, a podcast of the writing class she teaches, which began as an offshoot of Lip Service.
“Podcasts are so much fun– not easy to make, but the result is so intimate,” she says. “Writing Class Radio is kind of my way of reshaping what I love.”
Askowitz’s final Lip Service will be on Oct. 24 at the Miracle Theater. The theme is “Truth or Dare,” and the audience can expect performers to bare their souls about times they lied, were lied to, took a dare or took a risk in telling the truth. In honor of the event’s ninth year, the selection committee has chosen nine stories, instead of the usual eight. Though she has made it clear she is ready to move on to her next project, Askowitz still holds Lip Service close to her heart, and encourages everyone to check out her last show.
“You’ll feel so connected to yourself and to other people,” Askowitz says. “This is going to be two hours that you do not want to be anywhere else.”
If you’re interested in attending, “Lip Service-Truth or Dare” will be held on Saturday, Oct. 24 @ 8 p.m. at the Miracle Theater (280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables, FL, 33134). Tickets are $15 general admission, $30 preferred seating. For more info, visit lipservicestories.com
Lexi Williams is a senior majoring in journalism. As the Executive Editor of Distraction, she spends most of her time sniffing out new stories, crying about copy edits and drinking copious amounts of caffeine or wine (depending on whether we’re on deadline). She has big dreams of taking the editorial world by storm, but for now, you can find her on Instagram straight flexin’ (@lexi_foxie).