by Morgen Reynolds
And still I ached for it. I missed the work, the smells, the study, all of it. But, how could I do nightly rehearsals when dinner had to be made? And then there was the personal matter of content. I had some lines I wouldn’t cross for a character and that put a limit on what I could and would do on stage. It seemed my theatrical path had run its proverbial course.
Then, as silly as it might seem. . I had a dream. And in the dream I was on a stage, just me, all alone. I wasn’t really in a play. I was “telling” a play. I woke up and thought, “Hey, I could do that! I could just tell a play!”
What I didn’t know was that people were already doing this--they were just calling it storytelling. I had never seen or heard a storyteller, at least not a professional one. I had yet to discover the world of the teller and her festivals. Nope, I just had a hunch and an idea. So, I went with it. I started telling stories. Now, I was on the stage all by my lonesome. But even if I was the only one on the stage, I was not the only one in the story.
One of the most important rules as an actor is this: LISTEN. If you merely memorize your lines and recite them on your cue, then the audience might be impressed with your memorization skills, but they won’t go with you on your journey. Listening to the other actors, no matter how many times you’ve heard them say those lines brings you into that moment. You are aware of the nuanced changes and can shift accordingly. And the audience will be right there with you, experiencing it all for the first time, even if it is your 30th time in a row. Listening makes the magic.
Storytelling requires listening. If a story is too perfectly memorized, the audience might get the sense that it doesn’t matter if they are there or not. Listening to them, watching them, and responding to them completes the circle. Then, the story belongs to everyone. The best storytellers are tuned into the audience. They make eye contact, shift the story, and adapt to changes. Their stories are a living creation, not a memorized soliloquy. It is a wonderful thing to watch. How do we get there? I think we get there the same way we get anywhere we aren’t right now. We start moving and we practice.
We try to look people in the eyes more the next time we tell a story. We look for signals that we are losing them. We listen carefully to everything that is happening before we start our story, and try to add one detail on the fly that would feel like a little easter egg the audience finds in our story. We memorize our story, yes, but we also mark some points where we could play a little. And, once in awhile, if we are brave enough, we create a live story in the moment with the audience. I’ve done this before and it is a little terrifying and a lot magical.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that humans love stories. But, another universally acknowledged truth is this: people love being heard. Yes, we are the storytellers. But the story listeners have something to say as well. They say it how they are sitting, laughing, looking, and thinking. If we listen carefully, they will help shape the story into something new, right then. And we will all be better for it.
Morgen Reynolds will be a featured storyteller at the 2020 Florida Storytelling Festival. Learn more about her work below.
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