Join us for a series of little interviews with some of Austin’s most experienced and successful storytellers. Subscribe to Austin Storytelling, on the right, if you don’t want to miss one! Brought to you by Carol Ramsey at carolmramsey.com.
Ava Love Hanna was a theater major in college and part of the forensics team. She has told stories at Testify, BedPost Confessions Poetry, Listen To Your Mother and has performed at Frontera Fest. You can find out more about Ava at avalovehanna.com.
Q: When choosing which story to tell, what is most important?
A: There are some stories that just need to be told. They become a part of us, little clips from the highlight reel of our lives. They’re the ones we always pull out at parties. I think those stories stick with us because they were transformative in some way. We learned something about ourselves, or stumbled upon some universal truth while being chased by a possibly rabid squirrel that came in through the chimney. We grew as a person because we had to have the talk about genitals with our son and it meant stepping up, fumbling through self-doubt and insecurity, and accepting our new role. Those things make a good story because they are unexpected and yet relatable. I look for those stories in my life. The ones in which I unexpectedly found an extraordinary experience, a heightened sense of self, or a grand truth in the context of an ordinary moment.
Q: Do you prepare your story mostly by writing your story down or by telling your story out loud?
A: For me, it’s like a sandwich: spoken-written-spoken. I’m a talker. Most of my stories start as spoken exchanges with my husband or a friend. Telling a part of a story out loud lets me get right to the heart of the funny or serious thing that happened. It’s also when I first notice that I might have something deeper to say. However, it’s only when I sit down to write the story out that I fully begin to understand it and to see how it fits into the broader context of my life. After that, I take it back off of the page and work on telling the whole story out loud. When telling a story for performance, you can use fewer words because you get to use your body, voice, and face to fill in the contextual gaps.
Q: What strategies do you have for remembering the details of your story?
A: I tend to break my story into chunks. I keep a general outline in mind: this happened and then this happened. Will I remember every single nuance that I included in the written version? Probably not. That’s why I like to get the story back off of the paper and into my brain as soon as possible. Story telling isn’t about perfect memorization. It’s about connecting with the audience in a meaningful way and talking to them, not performing at them.
Q: What advice would you give someone preparing their first story?
A: The best stories tend to be simple and involve a crystallized moment. Start by thinking about that moment and work your way out. I always start in the middle in order to find my beginning.
Q: Why do you perform true, personal stories?
A: I tell true, personal stories because I probably think too much and I yearn to see the connections in the seemingly random moments in my life. Also, it’s a tremendous feeling to share a story about a time in which you felt like an inept human being only to be met by people afterward who tell you that you could have been telling their story, and that they’ve been right there too. It’s the same reason I love listening to other people’s stories. I like knowing that we’re all mostly just fumbling our way through adulthood and learning from each other as we go.
Q: If you could make up your own question, what would it be and what is the answer?
A: Here’s the question I tend to ask everyone because it almost always means a good story:
My Q: What was your first car?
My A: A teal 70’s Toyota Corona (which I got in the 90’s). Standard, no air, no power steering, no insulation, and barely any brakes. It taught me how to stay calm in a spin out and is featured heavily in most of my “I nearly died in this really crappy old car” stories.
Many thanks to Ava Love Hanna! I’ve heard her story about having the talk about genitals with her son and I’m still laughing about it. I love her part about starting with a moment. The plot and details give them moment a home, but my favorite stories have a moment at the center.