What is old is new again.
In Toronto only a few years ago there was only a handful of storytelling shows in the city, including the one I started with a friend. Today there are so many I am no longer able to keep track.
What is great about storytelling and its community is that it is very humanizing. The stage is a great equalizer when we are each taking turns being vulnerable. The act of sharing our stories breaks down barriers and brings people together.
I love the storytelling community. You can be whoever you want in this world. It doesn’t matter.
One fellow at an event shared that he is bi-polar, a recent diagnosis. He shared how a friend had told him that once you disclose people will see you differently.
My friend and I shared our HIV status with him and chatted. None of us were put in a box and were just seen as Brian, Paul and Jake.
What is storytelling? There is an art to it, trust me. There are different kinds; for today I’m writing about personal stories. These spoken words draw an audience into the world the storyteller creates. As the listener creates a movie in his or her head the experience becomes interactive.
Storytelling is not telling your whole life story in ten minutes. It is focusing on one narrowly defined narrative and event in one’s life. Srories have a beginning, a middle and an end.
Taking someone into your movie means most often speaking in the present tense. “In the year 1987 I am walking down a hot blistering street in downtown Winnipeg during an August afternoon.” There are many nuances in timing between the very serious and heartfelt to the lighthearted and humorous. This is where the art comes in.
I’ve spent hours and hours thinking of just the opening line, many more hours editing out details getting down to seven minutes. And on the other hand, I’ve gotten up on the spur of the moment and done quite well. But as a rule, this should be prepared. You need to know how to start and know where you are going.
Sometimes I am very serious, other times I like to make people laugh, or do both. This is why I love it so much more than stand-up. There are so many more options, textures and layers that can be brought to this format. Plus the audiences are so supportive and wonderful.
I do find being vulnerable in this format more intimate than just telling my story in what we call “reporter” style. Simply recounting my personal story at schools and other places allows me to distance myself from it, almost as if I were talking about someone else’s life.
As with my experience in stand-up, the subversion is simply being yourself (in this case weaving into the narrative being HIV-positive) in non-traditional environments.
One night I found myself in a downtown Toronto Jewish deli, Caplansky’s, at a storytelling show. While the audience is eating smoked meat and deep-friend pickles, I tell my story about how I got into public speaking. This means I have to disclose.
I bet that most of those people have never met someone positive, let alone someone who talks about it so casually and in a manner where this is not our sole defining factor. Speaking gigs before used to just be about one thing and one thing only, my status.
People take their cues from us. If we show them what a stigma-free world looks like, then they will hopefully help in creating a larger one. Isn’t that what we all want? These “micro” interventions and connections are what are going to advance us more than articles in newspapers and glossy social media campaigns.
I’m happy to say I’m not the only one doing this now. Another positive friend of mine has gotten into storytelling. I have another one who has been doing some stand up and improv.
We need more of this. It is the act of integrating ourselves into whatever we do. I don’t mean putting a stamp on our foreheads and talking about it all the time. Our lives are so much more than this. Storytelling is a format that allows me to perform and explore those other aspects of myself.
My “Tales of” show ran for a great two years. Now I’m working with a couple of friends to launch a new one. This one is more aligned with being ourselves and taking risks.
It is called “Dare! Stories We Thought We’d Never Tell”. It's on January 21st at The Ossington, 61 Ossington Ave, Toronto (pay what you can - all are welcome). 7:30 PM
I am also looking for storytellers. Newbies are great, and we can work with you to help you out.
Until then, I’ll be figuring out exactly how much I’m going to reveal in this first show.