Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Telling Life: Vulnerability

Performance storytelling, at its best, is about connection. It's about creating a piece where the teller can say here is something I know to be true and the audience can sigh back in recognition of their own truth. Whether it's a fairy tale, a personal story, a historical yarn, something else entirely, storytellers, when we are at our best, are bearers of truth even if it's through metaphor. When we connect with the audience and share that truth we together become something greater than a narrative, a voice, listeners.

But how does this happen? In my experience it's a combination of skill, practice, passion, talent, authenticity and vulnerability. It's this last that I want to talk about in #tellinglife today.

Brené Brown has an amazing TED talk about the power of vulnerability. If you haven't seen it, go here and take 20 minutes. I'll wait.

Welcome back. One of the things Brown talks about is how connection gives meaning and purpose to our lives. As I said above, it's the storyteller's job to build connection. I've written before about the story triangle; this is really just a way to describe a set of relationships that, at our best, becomes as easy and as necessary as breathing. We are connected. She goes on to say (essentially and among other things) that when we embrace vulnerability, when we allow the imperfect self and yet still are compassionate with ourselves, we become more connected to one another and are more alive.

This is the heart of my art.

When I stand on stage and tell you stories about Eve loving her flawed husband, about Ys drowning in the waves, about Jack loving the Giantess, about Crazy Jane embracing her madness, about love and fear, about my own struggles with depression, about Kevin's death, about the things I did as a little girl, I am vulnerable. The story may be funny or poignant, I am revealing myself to you, my audience. And I embrace that. It is the revelatory moment that allows us to connect.

When I tell, when I'm in the vulnerable state, if there is a particularly visceral image I let it wash over us both. Each and every one of you. I trust you to go there with me, so sometimes I might close my eyes for a moment. I perform barefoot, so I can feel the world beneath me, but this leaves me vulnerable to physical harm. It's worth the risk to open the door for connection.

You, too, become vulnerable when you are in the audience. You are being asked to open up enough to let the story mean something to you, so as you laugh or sigh or gasp, I am breathing in your vulnerability and using it as a tool to be more open in turn.

I think this is part of what made Brother Blue such a transformational storyteller; when he was in the room there was no one wilder, so that meant it was safe for everyone to experience their own wildness. No one would notice when Blue was there. When I tell and reveal myself it becomes safe for your to do so, too.

I'm not suggesting storytellers use the stage as personal therapy. This is the opposite. It's what happens when we know who we are, understand and still love our own flaws, and accept what our story means enough (at a deep level) that we can offer it whole-heartedly. Once I have worked through the parts of a story that scare me the most and I understand its meaning to me, I can be vulnerable and remain safe as I perform. I can give my audience permission to feel whatever they need to, be as vulnerable as they wish as they sit in the dark and listen.

Together we create connection. Together, we can be imperfect and still whole. Together, for the duration of the story, the world holds its breath and sighs with us.

(c)2015 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License


  1. thank you, that is beautiful and true

  2. really nicely said all the way through

    1. Thank you Kiran, that means a lot coming from you. You know a thing or two about vulnerability.

    2. would you be interested in a guest post?

  3. Replies
    1. Yay! Would you be interested in writing a guest post?


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