Our Intrinsic Need for Storytelling

The job of an actor is to tell a story
The job of an actor is to tell a story
The job of an actor is to tell a story
We’re all actors here!

This is one of the first gathering songs I learned in one of the creative drama classes I assisted at Imagination Stage when I was first bitten by the teaching artist bug. This memory came to the front of my brain tonight after attending a professional development workshop for teachers and teaching artists with accomplished storyteller, David Gonzalez.

As David told us the story of The Fisherman and His Wife, I found myself asking the question, what does it mean to be engaged? As a listener, my role in the story was kinesthetic, as David signaled for us to follow his movements. We clapped the rhythm of the fisherman walking down to the shore. We rowed our boats along with David’s. We cast our fishing lines once, twice and three times. But then something shifted. My body stopped moving, but I was completely engaged. I was focused so completely on the story and what would happen next. The suspense was palpable. Wouldn’t it be exciting if we could all bring this into our work as teaching artists?

Our analysis of storytelling tonight focused on a few components of storytelling. One of them was the human biological imperative to rhyme. We are born with this cognitive urge to complete the rhyme when given the opportunity. This is connected to engagement. The rhymes in the stories tonight didn’t hit the audience over the head, and I appreciated that. They were subtle and clever and enhanced the story.

Another key ingredient in storytelling is repetition. When we’ve heard a word or phrase or a sentence before we are put in an exciting position. Repetition provides a way for us to enjoy a moment of mastery. When a rhyme or image is repeated, we are able to appreciate the craft behind it. The moment is elevated. It becomes a gift for the audience.

Learning more about the art of storytelling tonight reminded me of why I am a theatre artist. I love stories. I love to write them, tell them, and listen to them. We need stories in our lives. It’s something that is built into our biology. Now don’t get all scientific on me and ask me to point to the exact muscle or organ that tells me that. We just know it. Storytelling is how we explore and articulate what it means to be alive.

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