Once again, I spent my entire weekend working—if you can call attending performances working, that is. I wasn’t really doing anything beyond sitting, but such is the job of a voice teacher. Last weekend I enjoyed four different shows. This is nothing new. Most singing and acting coaches dart all over town to support their students. What struck me about my weekend was that every show was original. New. Innovative.
The first show, a short comedic film screened down in Hollywood, cracked me up with the hilarious characters and crazy antics. The second showcased heart-wrenching scenes from the holocaust set in Italy through musical theater; the third—a new review of Broadway songs, stunned me with harmonies and emotional connection. The last one blew me away with its flawless acting, feminist themes, rhyme and musical score. I needed a weekend to recover from my weekend!
After every standing ovation (and they were 4 for 4), I found myself choked up on the way to my car. I was moved to tears by each original piece but more than that, each work carried an extra layer of emotion because it was new. And I knew the writers—I was part of something grand. I couldn’t contain my excitement for each writer nor could I restrain my joy at having shared in their Creative accomplishments.
To write a piece requires one type of Creative energy. To then rehearse, mount and execute a production warrants another. The collaborative nature of film and live theater employs even another form of Creativity. Add the audience, whose participation impacts the show, and Creativity abounds!
Original works seem to carry a poignancy that other performances may not. I find myself wondering, what drove these young composers to write new shows when there are plenty of famous works ready-made and packaged for the stage? Why did they feel the need to tell their stories?
Authors, playwrights, composers and poets use their craft to self-express. They’re in touch with the power of narrative, honoring the hero’s journey. When they share their version of life, it makes them feel connected and known. We, as the audience, might recognize ourselves in these stories as well, which allows us to feel known, understood and verified. Sharing in one another’s stories connects us.
Storytelling is an ancient art form. So ancient, in fact, that some historians believe it to be the first art form, originating around the fire when our ancestors shared myth and used chanting as a way to connect and preserve culture. Before the proliferation of books and the written word, stories were told and kept by poets, minstrels, troubadours, jesters, mimes and royal courtiers. Acting troops traveled all over, producing and delivering story for hundreds of years. In a sense, this practice still continues today, only the stories themselves are updated, made novel and more relevant. Some of the most genius, epic tales can be accessed with the click of a button. Expensive blockbuster series like “Game of Thrones” or “The Tudors” are accessed on demand from the couch, while donning our pajamas. Never has “story” been so readily available and pervasive as now.
Bearing witness to stories helps us realize our rich histories, to reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re going as a species. Sometimes the story is comedic, which brings laughter to our bodies and sprinkles a little perspective upon our journeys. Sometimes the story is tragic, but we may glean some redemption and learn something. Storytelling is in our genes, hard-wired into our DNA from past generations. We all engage in storytelling, and we all have our own tale to tell!
Next time you kick off your shoes in front of the big screen or attend live theater to partake in story, muse over the profound connection this activity can bring—a link back to humans of a distant era who, just like us, sans electronic technology, were moved and transformed by orange glowing faces, with dancing and drumming, laughter and tears, sanctified by togetherness and the conjoining of the human spirit.