Flatball Radio: Ultimate Frisbee's First Live Storytelling Series

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Matt Mastrantuono didn't just set out to mash together two ideas. He set out to mash together two communities.

I'm pretty familiar with the first one — the live storytelling community.

Go with me for a second.

You're sitting in a dark room. There's a woman alone on a brightly lit stage. She's nervous at first — she doesn't know anyone here, and the people in the audience are all different ages, from different backgrounds, different occupations. But she's not nervous for long, because all night, she's been listening to other people's stories and laughing at their bad jokes. And now they're listening to her story and laughing at her bad jokes.

Matt Mastrantuono is part of a different community.

"I mean, the Ultimate Frisbee community is just so much more than a sport," he says. "All of my best friends are there."

Ultimate is a pretty new sport, and it's deeply loved by people of all different ages, from different backgrounds, different occupations — you see where I'm going here. The game plays out a bit like football, except with a disc instead of a ball. You're not allowed to run with the disc, you have to throw it, and there's no tackling. So…not really like football at all.

I would like to think that our project is finding those stories that can connect with people regardless of your familiarity with Ultimate Frisbee.

Matt Mastrantuono

Ultimate players and fans are super-welcoming. They're like a bunch of misfits who've found each other, and in finding each other, they've found a place to belong.

"We have kind of this common bond and just a common ethos among all of us," Mastrantuono says. "It's an un-officiated sport, so the players on the field — even at some of the highest level of competition — have to call their own fouls, have to regulate game play, and I think that that ethic has allowed us create a community that values certain thing and attracts certain people."

The Birth Of Flatball Radio  

A few years back, Mastrantuono was in Amsterdam showing a documentary he made about Ultimate at an international conference and clinic devoted to the sport. And after watching an entire day of slick PowerPoint presentations, one guy got up and started telling a personal story about one of his Ultimate experiences. And Mastrantuono was hooked.

"I thought, 'Man, I need to find a way to bring this to a stage and do these types of stories for a live audience,'" Mastrantuono says.

So Mastrantuono founded Flatball Radio: a live storytelling series centered around Ultimate. But he had a problem. Most of the live storytelling crowd doesn't know a lot about Ultimate.

And that wasn't all...

"If I have a stereotype of Ultimate Frisbee," I tell Mastrantuono, "it is that they only do Ultimate Frisbee."

He laughs.

"I think there are stereotypes about Ultimate Frisbee for a reason,"  Mastrantuono says. "We're a goofy bunch. Some of the smartest, most interesting people that I know come from this community, so I think that, you know, I think we're able to get them to branch out to do more than just things with a little plastic Frisbee."

Finding 'True Human Connections'

In December, 2013, Flatball Radio held its first event in Seattle. The room wasn't full, but it was full enough.

The night unfolds the way people who attend live storytelling events expect these evenings to unfold. Someone starts off telling a joke about a teammate who pees when she laughs too hard, and then you learn that the storyteller is really an ER doctor who spends more time than she'd like explaining to families that their loved one has died.

And that guy who always jokes around on the field? It turns out he had a dark childhood.

Some of the stories are dark — but they all link back to Ultimate in some way.

"I don't want to just be telling a bunch of fart jokes and laughing for two hours," Mastrantuono says. "I want to go deeper and I want to find these true human connections. I think that's a huge thing that surprised people at our first show up in Seattle is that they thought it was going to be kind of just some thrown-together stories — maybe just like humorous, off-the-cuff anecdotes — and I'm really interested in deep, personal, human stories."

By the time Mastrantuono had pulled together Flatball Radio's second event — in Portland, Oregon last May — the room was sold out and the stories were flowing.

"I would like to think that this project makes us less insular," Mastrantuono says. "We've had people at both shows who have actually never heard of Ultimate Frisbee, and they were able to connect with the stories and said that they had a great time. So I would like to think that our project is finding those stories that can connect with people regardless of your familiarity with Ultimate Frisbee."

What's Next?

So, success, right? Well, yeah. But is this a way to making a living? Not quite yet. Matt's taken a job outside of Ultimate — with a live video production company — and so, for now, Flatball Radio is on an indefinite hiatus.

"But I think we have a proof of concept, and I think we have a shell of something that can take this a step further," Mastrantuono says.

Hmm … a guy starts off with what sounds like a crazy idea, pulls together all his friends, and together they manage to do something nobody ever thought they could? Sounds like the next time Flatball Radio puts on a show, Mastrantuono will have a story of his own to tell.

This segment aired on April 16, 2016.


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Karen Given Executive Producer/Interim Host, Only A Game
Karen is the executive producer for WBUR's Only A Game.



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