Monday, January 16, 2012

Always the Breath... Always the Story: A Quest on the "touchy feely" side

The Preamble

I've just spent what could have been a nothing-to-do weekend at a work-sponsored class on storytelling. Having known about it for a month or so, I have been living in anticipatory dread the entire time. I didn't really know what I thought was going to happen. On reflection, it was a problem I have been dancing around all year. I'm scared to let myself down. If I don't blow away expectations, I feel like a failure. No pressure there.

To combat this problem, my usual solution is to lower expectations so that it is easy to surpass them. That is likely familiar to some of you. Perhaps you are someone who eats expectations for breakfast. I'm working on it. For right now, I lost not a few nights of sleep worrying about what story I might do and thinking more than once about giving a co-worker, Jim, my spot in the workshop. I'm sure he wishes he could have taken part. Having managed to go, in the end, I wouldn't trade it for anything. And I didn't lower my lofty goals.

What was it like? Two facilitators and twelve participants, sharing their stories over the course of two days. Those are the barest bones of the weekend. As with a good story, the tale is in the telling.

At the end of the weekend, I feel both drained and revitalized. I invested everything I had emotionally and physically in the weekend to try and make it a success. It was.

Stuff I learned

I am a powerful storyteller. My body and voice are well trained. It's a little discouraging sometimes just how often I have to learn this one. Wendy forgives my forgetfulness with respect to shopping and house cleaning because she can see that it is in my very being. I don't just forget the bad stuff. I also forget the very best.

I'm afraid to let the audience be a part of my story. I've trained myself, through doing theatre, that letting the audience distract me is dangerous and to be avoided at all costs. In our storytelling, I learned that the audience wants me to succeed and wants to make a connection with the story through me -- not from me. What does this look like? Anyone who is familiar with performing for an audience is aware of what we call 'the 4th wall.' In your house it would be a wall, but on stage it's where the audience is sitting. The concept is a bit fuzzy. You have to be aware of your audience, but at the same time you pretend that they aren't really there. I was challenged in the workshop to really look at my audience and share directly to them. I found it quite hard to do. When I was actually able to not just look at the audience, but to let them really see me (vs the performer), I was told it was forceful and compelling.

I don't need to memorize words in order to know a story. Hard for me. English degree. Love Shakespeare. Words. I'll have to keep working on this one :)

Going on and on

Some of what I've said may seem incredibly obvious to you. Some, might sound like complete nonsense. I'm okay with that. The nice thing was that everyone at the workshop was at a different place in their storytelling, just as we all are in our lives, and yet, we all managed to give important gifts of story and feedback to one another. I was pleased to share my style of very physical performance with people, just as I was astounded by people who could hold me rapt for ten minutes, tears in my eyes, and they never left their seat, barely moved a hand. I was impressed by the number of people who had brought their own story to the sessions and at how interesting those stories were. I was delighted by the people I met.


I've done enough classes and workshops to know that what we managed to accomplish in two days was nothing short of amazing. Credit has to go, in part, to us as participants. We came ready for a challenge and for change. But the real magic was from our facilitators, Jan Andrews and Jennifer Caley. Trust is a huge part of making one of these workshops a success. Everyone comes scared, or why bother. Through the course of the weekend, we were asked continually (and oh, so politely) to open up to strangers, try new things and take some risks. When they asked, we did. I always felt safe and knew that my effort would be rewarded. Jan and Jennifer are shrewd, kind, and powerful women -- all in the best sense of those words.

Into my breath, blood and bones you have come.

Some contact info:
2 women productions -
Jan's storytelling club (podcast) -