by Norah Dooley
Theory and Practice for Storytelling as a 21st Century Skill
I intend to make my reflections on the art of storytelling and an exercise a weekly feature here. And I welcome comments and lively discussion. Please join in!
Think&Do 1.0 "Time+tragedy=comedy. Or does it?
I loved this bromide since I first heard it from Laura Love, a singer-songwriter in her introduction to Voices, a beautiful song about her mother's mental illness. Time+tragedy = comedy. Is this more cliché than true? Or is comedy the surest indicator that we are on the other side of tragedy? I just finished a workshop for a nonprofit group that wants to work with victims of domestic violence. This workshop naturally raised the issue that often comes up at our story slams. Can I tell a sad story? Can I tell my sad story? Yes! Does my story need to be funny? No. Do you need to have distance from your pain? Yes. And, have you gained something from the experience that you choose to share that makes it worth listening to? Oh, yes.
In many situations it is wonderful and healing to work through our stories together but as an art or as paid entertainment it is a huge no-no. In fact anywhere your listener has not agreed to the role of a caring and patient listener, this kind of storytelling is discouraged.
In a story slam situation I ask the storyteller ‘Do you bring something to the audience or are you asking them for something?’ People get paid big bucks to listen to you ramble – they are trained therapists. But an audience expects a work of art and should never be asked to try to make sense out of your life. That is your job. As human beings we make sense of our experience through story. An artist/storyteller does this work BEFORE they take the stage. Often, with each telling our own understanding and insight into our experience deepens. This is the beauty of any true art for…the practitioner gains as well as the recipient.
Writer Judith Barrington acknowledges this experience in the quote below. Judith teaches memoir writing and her Lifesaving: A Memoir, is an award wining book. In it she reflects on the accidental death of both her parents when she was 19 years old and how as a young woman she dealt with sudden loss and coming of age. When asked how she worked through difficult emotions on the page Judith Barrington said:
“ I didn’t work through the emotions on the page; I worked through them before I started to write the book. It took years for me to be ready. I don’t believe that writing in any genre is a substitute for therapy (or deep thought or journaling or however you deal with life’s blows)—even though you may get new insights into your experience in the process of writing the memoir.”
For her readers and for Judith the resulting work of art was worth the wait.
Exercise: Think&Do 1.0 The 5 Whys
State what your story is about in one or two sentences. Ask yourself or have a friend ask you why (are you telling me this?) The WHYS should come in rapid succession – speak your thoughts. You will answer with the 1st thing that comes into to your head, 5 times. You may also try this as a writing exercise. Once you have done this a few times, it will be easier to know if you are ready to tell your story.
Adapted from from The Five Whys Technique by Olivier Serrat “ three key elements to effective use of the Five Whys technique: (i) accurate and complete statements of problems,5 (ii) complete honesty in answering the questions, (iii) the determination to get to the bottom of problems and resolve them. The technique was developed by Sakichi Toyoda for the Toyota Industries Corporation.” www.adb.org/publications/five-whys-technique
Great 50 minute live set of Laura Love Band here: http://youtu.be/BxroVyOi5eQ
Thanks to Annette’s Paper Trail blog at www.annettefix.com for the Judith Barrington material