Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Telling Life: Dancing on the edge

I was working with a coaching client yesterday and he commented that storytelling is dancing on the edge. This man is inventive and courageous in his life and purpose, so I found it interesting that storytelling in particular puts him on the edge of terror and creation that can drive us to new and interesting work.

As I thought about this further I realized that the edge is part of what I love most about storytelling. From the creative process to the performance to analysis to the kind of stories I tell to the vulnerability I see as essential in my work to the ways I help others develop as storytellers, the edge forces me to dance constantly in the moment.

  1. My storytelling creative process is based largely in imagery and improvisation. I do not write my performance pieces before they are told; they require an audience for the very act of creation. I usually start with an image, play with it on my own, maybe talk it through with a trusted ally (though not always) and then simply tell the damned thing to an audience, unsure if it is yet coherent, precisely how long it will be and sometimes not even knowing the entire plot. This process is risky, there is always a chance of failure, but I think it was my early nurturing by Brother Blue that gave me this tolerance for risk.
    I LOVE this uncertainty. I love how the audience is a necessary part of the creative process for me. Storytelling requires listeners and I need someone to listen the story out of me. Their reaction will not only shape every performance, it gives the story form and structure from the start. 
  2. I do not memorize the stories I perform. I have a general sense of their shape and structure with a few crucial phrases perhaps committed to memory, but I want there to be room to dance with the audience. Well beyond initial creation, storytelling requires being attuned to the listeners and their reactions. It is a constant dance of creation and destruction, choosing in the moment what to expand upon and what to leave out. When I perform I am an avatar of Shiva, dancing out creation and destruction over and over again. 
  3. As part of my artistic practice, I revisit my performances and stories on a regular basis, analyzing and honing the work. This, too, is a dance on the edge because it requires me to question everything I do. It can easily spiral into great self-doubt and paralysis (and often does) but it may also lead to insight and deeper work. If I don't take the risk of analysis I may never improve upon existing work.
  4. When I first began performance storytelling I was in love with telling risky stories, those that pushed me and my audiences to an edge. I reveled in discomfort. I still do, though I am more thoughtful in the choices I make about the stories I develop and tell. My earlier determination to go where others did not was a reflection of who I was then. I am now far more comfortable with myself and my art, so I am willing to tell stories that reflect that comfort, but I still delve into discomfort on a regular basis. It makes me stretch as an artist, as a creator and as a performer who cares about her audience. When I choose to tell those stories to appropriate audiences who expect discomfort, it makes my listeners stretch.
    For example, I am currently working on a fact-based piece about a serial killer. This is deeply uncomfortable work, however it's forcing me to think intensely about story structure, boundaries, appropriateness and more. I need to consider all of this in the creation and then in the performance. This is not a story for children or for adults who do not have the advance option of not hearing it.
    It's a dance with discomfort and I am learning a great deal about myself and my process.
  5. Regardless of the material I am telling, I allow myself to be vulnerable in every performance, consultation and coaching session. While vulnerability is an edge state, it allows a greater connection with my audience and clients. Storytelling is all about that connection, the dance with the listeners because listening is not passive; it's about the moment on the edge when we open up and hold each other in balance. 
  6. Lastly, when I coach I am dancing on the edge with my client. Good coaching requires me to be absolutely present, to be listening with full attention and to be thinking furiously, all at the same time. It is a delicate balance between support and constructive feedback. New storytellers or new stories are like toddlers; you want to encourage them, not push them over in your eagerness to help yet you want to let the client take advantage of your greater experience.

Creative endeavors are always risky. They require vulnerability, honesty and a willingness to take the next step forward into the unknown. If we don't risk, we don't grow. This is the #tellinglife.

Let's dance.

(c)2015 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

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True Stories, Honest Lies by Laura S. Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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