Storytelling Matters

The Live Art and the Power of Words

Archive for the tag “audience”

Two Ways Storytelling and Yoga are Alike

Blogger Tresca Weinstein wonders why she can’t do her yoga practice at home. In a thoughtful gem of an article, she examines this question. Her intriguing insights about yoga are also super relevant to the power of storytelling.

With over 20 years of yoga classes under her agile belt, Tresca finds that the group class experience is starkly different from solo practice. Whenever she tries to practice at home, she feels empty and unengaged. But in group classes, Tresca feels the buzz – she bends and twists into vibrant shapes with more power and ease than she can at home. One might say that when she is in yoga class, her stretching is, well, stretched.

She explains it this way:

…yogis have known forever that something magical happens when people move, breathe, or meditate in sync. It’s an effect sometimes called entraining—when a group’s energy aligns, heightening the focus and awareness in the room. (A yoga teacher might call it “raising the vibration.”)

I love her explanation. It parallels how storytelling works. Magic really does happen when stories are told live in groups. The community of listeners is aligned in their emotional response to the story being told. Heightened awareness of other listeners and the emotional resonance impacts the way the story is told and heard. Listening to a story together raises the vibration of the storytelling experience.

It is not the same experience to listen to stories alone on headphones or to watch stories online. Even if the experience of online or digital storytelling is creative, interactive, and gorgeously artistic, it is different from listening live with others.

Imagine sitting by yourself at a table in a cafe watching a video on your phone or taking in a multimedia narrative on your computer. Imagine sucking in your breath at a tense or surprising moment in that digital story. Remember, you are the only one in that cafe experiencing that story – although there are other people in real space all around you, you are alone in that story world. Because of your solitary experience of the story, you are not as likely to suck in that breath as you might be if everyone else in the cafe were involved along with you.

So what happens if you bravely suck in your breath anyway? The resonance of that “sucking in moment” will be diminished because you are the only one doing it.

In an audience of one there is no one else to raise the vibration.

Tresca interviews a yoga teacher, and together, they share this meaty tidbit:

Among the “three jewels” of Buddhist mindfulness teachings—buddha (awakening), dharma (the path, or teachings), and sangha (a community of like-minded practitioners)—“the Buddha taught that the most important was sangha,” she said. “We’re part of a 2,500-year-old tradition of gathering together to practice.”

Storytelling, like yoga, is an old tradition built on gathering together. The “sangha” of storytelling – experiencing a story in the same time and space as others – is an experience that elevates narrative and community. I mean if the Buddha thinks this is important…

So does this mean that solitary consumption of online storytelling is no good? No way! Human beings want and need stories in all forms and forums. The creative doorways that technology have opened for us are groundbreaking and brilliant. We can and should embrace narrative online, onscreen, on paper, and wherever else we find it – including onstage or in the living room, with a storyteller and other listeners.

If you haven’t done it lately, jump into an audience and listen to stories told live. Remind yourself how it feels to raise the vibration and revel in the sangha of storytelling.

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

Photo Attribution: By Jessmcintyre (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Beauty and the Branding Beast

Let’s face it. Faces matter. But why must they matter so much?

The actor Renee Zellweger is facing the music because her face looks different. This has ignited a bonfire of speculation about whether she had “work” done; Ms. Zellwegger indicates that her changed look reflects nothing more than a healthy change in her lifestyle. Jennifer Gerson Uffalossy of The Guardian doesn’t wonder what is wrong with Ms. Zellweger’s appearance, but rather what is wrong with us for making such a big deal of it. Good question.

THE PROBLEM

Steve Rose suggests that a performer’s face can be his or her brand. Consumers expect predictability about brands. We want that boxed cereal to taste exactly the same every time we eat it.

So, generally speaking, by branding actors’ faces, it suggests that those faces mustn’t change.

The only problem with this is that human beings are designed to shift and morph. Change is a biological imperative. The world marches on. And the passage of time is etched into our souls and onto our faces.

I’m on the brandwagon about this celebrity issue because branding performers bothers me in certain contexts. Expecting actors to remain youthful and unchanging saturates society with a desire to freeze the world at the age of 26. The personal and societal consequences of this addiction to perpetual youth, not to mention Photoshopped standards of beauty, has been expressed a thousand times over. The fountain of youth is an unattainable holy grail that distracts us from what is really important. We all know that.

But branding does something more. It can handcuff performing artists by preventing them from exploring new terrain and growing their art.

I know a marvelous storyteller who shares funny tales about his life as a kid. He performs semi-regularly at a particular storytelling festival. One year, he told a serious, long form story about an important historical figure. Though it was a beautifully crafted piece with golden thematic threads linking past and present, the audience didn’t accept it. They couldn’t hear it for the art it was. Not because it wasn’t good, but because it wasn’t his brand. His trademark goofball antics (aka “LOL” moments) were not part of that piece. The storyteller was stuck with his brand, whether he liked it or not. A humorist doing drama? It takes time for audiences to warm up to that, if they accept it at all.

Audiences are powerful. That is why artists strive to connect with their audience. But here is the heart of my concern: Do artists connect to audiences as brands or as people? Can artists be authentic if they are hog-tied to a brand?

It is certainly true that branding is important in business. And the performing arts are a business. Still, while branding can help a performing artist connect with the right audiences, it can also be limiting.

Creativity needs to exist outside the box, inside the box, without the box, and anywhere else it wants to be. If branding locks people up in a box, creativity may not thrive. And if artists are hampered, then what they bring to their audiences suffers.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

Whether people are celebrities or not, we can applaud the changes that life brings instead of sniggering at them.

We can fashion brands for performing artists that incorporate change as part of the brand, so that life and artistic transformations are anticipated and appreciated.

Even though the arts are a product and art is a business, artists are not boxes of cereal. The signature of the arts is growth, development, and change. If artists don’t try new things, their work suffers. So does art. Branding can stifle creativity. It certainly caused quite an uproar when one woman was altered by time, surgery, or lifestyle changes.

Let’s allow Ms. Zellweger, other performing artists, and everyone else to be who they need to be. There’s no need to brand them like cattle. We can remain open to what they have to offer. There is beauty in change and delicious depth in the lines that mark the passage of time. C’mon society! Let’s do an about face and applaud for that.

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Copyright 2014 The Storycrafters

Photo Credit: By Billy Hathorn (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Branding is a hot topic (no pun intended). I was recently on a Twitter chat with independent artists. The topic of branding came up and it sparked a lively debate. What do you think? How do we brand performing artists? Should the arts be branded at all? Any artists out there with an opinion on this? Love to have a conversation…share your thoughts in the comment box down below.

The Power of the Verbal Delete Button

During a kindergarten residency at a school recently, we visited individual classrooms many times. On one visit, we noticed an injured child. It was hard NOT to notice. Laced with lacerations, one side of his face was every shade of the red spectrum, from pink to purple. Greeting us, he cocked his head to show us the palette of pain that marked his cheek.

“Did you fall on the playground?” we asked.

He shook his head.

Then his teacher approached us and gently set a hand on his shoulder.

“He was bitten by a dog,” she explained.

The boy nodded sadly.

We said something soothing and then headed over to the story corner where all of his classmates were sitting in a cozy semi-circle on the alphabet rug. Finding his place at the letter Q, he joined them and we began the session.

Our presentation carried everyone away from the plastic, primary colors of the classroom into the lush, tropical fruit colors of Southeast Asia and Indonesia. One of our stories was crafted specifically for the residency. Not only was it age appropriate, it fit our curricular goals, and it represented the culture of one of the minority students in the class. For all those reasons, it was important to tell that tale that day.

As we were telling it, we came to the moment when an old woman is threatened by a snarling, sharp-toothed wolf. We thought immediately about the injured, little boy. This was not the sort of image he needed. But there was no way around it. The woman had to be threatened by the animal or the story would no longer make sense.

Such a dilemma is exactly when in-person, live storytelling has one of its many moments of glory.

Because live storytelling is not hardcore and scripted, storytellers have freedom. Because live storytelling has improvisational aspects, it is possible to make shifts in text and image on the fly. So we changed the way we described the threat to the old woman. Instead of telling the story as we usually do (by focusing on a kindergarten-appropriate scary description of the wolf’s teeth), we dropped it completely. By “deleting” all references to the animal’s mouth, we pulled the teeth out of the image, so to speak. We kept the story integrity intact and also preserved our integrity as caring people.

While deleting phrases may sound insignificant, it is not. It is what live storytelling is all about.

Storytellers often change their work in response to their audience. It is part of the magic and allure of live performance art – it is also its brand. Instead of stiffly adhering to a script and leaving the boy with a reminder of a dark memory, we left him laughing and happy like the other kids.

Live storytelling can bring the needs of audience members into sharp focus. Take your eyes off the text and put them on those who might listen to you. You can learn a lot by watching them. Parents, teachers, and therapists are lucky because they know their audiences intimately. But even if you don’t know yours, you can ask about them before you perform. And whether you know them beforehand or not, watch them.

Could the old woman be a role model for the boy, showing him that it is possible to overcome a scary canine? Quite possibly. At the very least, we avoided salting a wound in the service of a script by invoking the verbal delete button.

If you heed your audience, you honor them. And maybe, you will offer the balm of blissful forgetting graced with healing.

Do you have moments where the power of your writing or speaking is amplified by what you don’t utter or write? Let’s have a conversation -if you comment I will respond and visit you back!

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Copyright 2014 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

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