The uncanny technology of a Living Story
(published in Storytelling Magazine as part of a conversation about digital storytelling.)
by Laura Simms
Storytelling has become a word used to refer to or describe different kinds of narratives or artworks that are more personal. The storytelling that I practice is more akin to traditional myth-telling where language is alive with meaning in direct response to a live audience. My personal study has emphasized developing a sensitivity to the dynamic qualities of spoken story and engagement as an embodied and relational event. Meaning for me in performance arises not only from content but more fully from the energized space and visualization existing between the audience and the teller. Many levels are felt at once; conceptual, imaginative, intangible.
In 2010, I created a mentor program that could occur via long-distance. This program facilitated in-depth preparation of a story for performance. I encouraged a tremendous amount of research, conversations and personal journaling as part of a step by step process of entering the heart of a text and finding deep personal associations to a story. Through various methods of communication, including one-on-one and group audio- and video calls, I helped people shape the story they wanted to tell. My students became attuned to landscapes, patterns of events, structure of the story, the process of engagement, and symbols and metaphors. They immersed themselves in the exploration of how structure, images, meaning, historical context, and place in stories manifest. I appreciated the teleconference encounters. I could speak with students across the world. Many participants could share their perceptions. And, the exploration offered new possibilities.
The uses I have made of audio- and videoconferencing in this process have been limited to discussion and dialogue about story. I have not invited students to tell stories via teleconference. For coaching of performance, I prefer to rely on the energy and insight generated by visceral presence between people. In my experience, the storytelling manifests in the context of the collusion and reciprocity with other and the environment in which the relationship occurs. It is in basic presence that I can best invest in sensing what is needed. For example, gestures can either obscure or enhance connection. Since for me each teller is very unique, it is the way I can help someone understand the sense of gesture by being with them.
Recently, working with a woman in my kitchen, I realized that how she used her hands while speaking closed off the space between herself and the listener. It was not a matter of where she placed her hands, but of how she accessed and embodied the energy of language and feeling of that energy moving between herself and others. She got it when I had her speak from different parts of her body and finally extend her hands outward letting aliveness move from her fingertips toward me. She I felt it. I felt it. Suddenly, the natural resonance of of her story between us was powerful enough to make my body tremble.
Sounds of words suffused by feeling also travel in space between teller and listeners. When a teller speaks from their body, alive with a sense of place and intention, something remarkable takes place. . A word instantly transforms into experience imagined like a waking dream. I am more able to listen into the sound when present with someone because I can see their breathing and feel them. When in reciprocity, and shared presence , the breath, sound, word and sudden poetic language can be vital and subtle. A memorised, repeated, and rehearsed narration in which the primary meaning is in the known words or message produces a different relationship. That kind of presentation can be entertaining and meaningful. It can be brilliantly wrought. The quality of involvement in live storytelling however, that is imagined and felt is mysterious. It is always in response. There is an almost sensory excitement and undercurrent of timeless calm aroused in this on the spot connectivity.
Audio- and videoconferencing have been brilliant for me. Technology is incredibly useful. However, we need both wings of the bird in contemporary society: a knowledge of technology, and a renewed commitment to our capacity for authentic presence and shared space. For me, the communication via teleconference can reveal many things about storytelling. It can relate text and content. But it is not live storytelling. It is time to become bi-cultural; to avoid an over reliance on digital communication and reinvest ourselves in the potent spontaneous presence of wisdom producing shared story and listening as well.