telling stories

Slovenian graffiti of an elephant, a mouse, and cat's head growing on a stem(It’s 6am and I’ll have to get ready for work in a half hour. for what work? for the paid work. Writing has never been the paid work. it’s the love work. it’s the thing I clear out my calendar for, and then sweat over. it’s the passion, the heartbeat, what I betray with television and busy-ness and food. )

I want to figure out how it is that we tell our untellable stories, the stories we aren’t supposed to know the words for.

Last night I went to see Words First at CounterPulse in San Francisco, because my friend Dominika Bednarska was going to be performing excerpts from her longer solo performance My Body Love Story. As I sat in the audience just before the show began, I had that experience that often happens for me when I’m out at a Bay Area performance, that I’m in love with everyone in the room — I’m in love with the performers for their ferocity and bravery, for their audacity and artistry, for their belief in themselves and their own work, their understanding that what they are creating is something that others will want to see/hear/taste/smell/feel/experience. And I’m in love, too, with the audience, for their time and commitment, for their willingness to spend their money not on french fries and a coke, not on a movie, at least not this night — on this night, we’re in a quiet performance space in the middle of noisy way downtown San Francisco, and we are here to see new live solo work. I fall in love with the spaces, too, the performance spaces and bars, the coffee houses & restaurants that will host these gigs, that believe in live art, in art-in-community. I find myself profoundly grateful to be living where I do, and understanding, too, that all over the country, all over the world, folks are standing up and sharing art and creativity this way. It’s stunning to me, and glorious.

Before the show began, I finally met Martha Rynberg, who runs the Solo Performance Workshop which a handful of my former writing workshop folks have participated in — I’ve heard great things about her workshop, and last night I got to see excerpts from a couple of performances that she’d worked with!

And then the lights went down and we were witness to excerpts to four different personal stories, stories that the performers told off the page, through their bodies and movements as much as their words: a story about the love of breasts, about mammograms and cancer; a story about race, acting, director expectations and an actor’s willingness and unwillingness to bend; a story about disability, dancing, body and being seen; a story about diabetes, online community, running and sweets. The whole show ran just over an hour, but look what we received! What a generous gift they offered us! The acting was varied, in that amazing way that happens when a performer is bringing themselves, as a performance, to the stage.

I left wanting to see more of each performer’s work, wanting to return to Words First next month (every first Wednesday!), wanting to encourage some of  ‘my’ writers to check out Martha’s workshop so that they can develop their own solo performance, and, too, wanting work on my own performance. That’s a lot to come away with in just one hour. Thanks, CounterPulse.

Do you have a story that you would want to work on as a solo performance? What is that story? Do you want to take 10 or 20 minutes today and write out an overview of what that show would cover, what the performance would include, how you would want to move or not move, how you would want to engage the audience or remain still. If that voice pops up that questions, “Why would anyone want to see that?” — just let it go quiet. You don’t have to answer that voice directly. This question comes up for all artists. If you have a desire to perform it, there is an audience for your story, as is true for our writing. (Then, if you want, think about checking out Martha’s workshop!)

Thanks for all that you tell, the way you find words for the things that there weren’t supposed to be words for, for your words and your sharing and your life.

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