I had the pleasure of seeing a troupe of storytellers called the Big Apple Playback Theatre Company. They are from New York, as their name suggests, and their work is remarkable for a number of reasons.
Number 1: How it Works
One of the performers sits at the front of the room and serves as the moderator. Her position close to the audience creates an intimacy that is only reinforced by her conversation directly with the spectators.
The moderator asks for a volunteer to share an experience that created one, two, or three feelings . The moderator then reiterates the story for the approval of the spectator, creates a title for the story, and tells actors waiting nearby to perform it.
Number 2: Why it's So Powerful
Needless to say, most adults are not used to discussing their feelings, particularly in public. At first no one volunteered. However, after the second story was told, hands shot up all over the room when asked for a contribution.
Needless to say, most adults would like to talk about how they feel if they felt they were in a safe environment.
Number 3: Mirroring
The telling of the story can be moving, but the performance of it transforms it into a new sort of project. This happened for both audience members who hadn't spoken and for the original storyteller, I found out afterwards.
One rarely is offered an opportunity to see one's feelings interpreted in movement and sound (sometimes language, sometimes not). As with children, adults benefit from a validation of their experience. The evening was moving in a way that is hard to describe if you weren't there.
Number 4: Surprises
The stories that one thought would be moving in performance rarely struck a chord for the audience. The death of a loved one, for example, often caught sympathy with the audience in its telling but had little effect when performed. Perhaps we've become immune to dramatic emotional states through television and the stage. Rarely do you get a film that doesn't focus on some sort of upheaval.
The stories of subtle experience, however, were moving beyond words.
And so I'll leave it there.