Houses used to have front porches. People sat out on them in the evenings, knew the neighbors by name, watched out for each other, were a part of the space where they lived, felt connected. Strolling neighbors would stop and chat. Information / gossip was exchanged. Stories shared. People trusted one another more because they knew their stories. (In some small communities, this is still the case).
But in the inner cities, doors are locked and bolted, drive by shootings are common, trust is not present for each other or the law which is in place to protect us. Life has speeded up to a fast-food mish mash of channel surfing and immediate electronic mail delivery. Storytelling and its resurgence, brings back the front porch (not my words, I wish they were).
It is one of the few arts that brings us together in a non-elitist way, for a sharing and time travel experience. Like a warm hug, good storytelling is therapeutic, inviting, familiar somewhere deep inside. Who wouldn’t want to listen? Who wouldn’t want those feelings of being connected again? Who wouldn’t like to feel like a child once more?
Theatre’s prehistoric roots are firmly planted in storytelling: tales of the hunt. In ancient Greece, it’s purpose was to teach the moral lesson, to make the citizens better equipped to serve the state, to know right from wrong. Primarily educational with some powerful stories used to drive home the point.
Today, going to the theatre to see a good play is not the same experience for everyone. It is more like an acquired taste. But this is not to say that storytelling is not great theatre, because I think it is. In its most basic form, theatre is any witnessed event where those doing the action are aware that they are being watched. Period. (Oh my, a definition coming from these fingers!)
Only two elements are necessary: one performer and one witness (audience). That is why storytelling is theatre to me and theatre is storytelling. The only time it isn’t is when there is no one there to listen.
Stefani Koorey, Florida, USA © 1996
Stefani Koorey works as a full-time storyteller, performing 15 to 30 programs a week for children and adults.